Organic Kamairicha from Miyazaki
Up in the mountains of Takachiho, Mr. Issin is hard at work crafting his famous Kamairicha, a rare pan-fired green tea with a beautifully nutty note. Last April, we got a chance to sit down and have lunch with his family in their 200-year-old house. He drove us around the village to see breathtaking mountain tea fields in the countryside. We learned all about Kamairicha production, from the special organic fertilizer he grows, all the way to the pan-firing method that gives this tea its trademark flavor.
What is Kamairicha?
While most Japanese green teas are steamed, this tea is actually turned in a hot pan, similar to a Chinese green tea. As a result, the flavor picks up a little bit of this roasted caramel or nuttiness. The tea is quite dense and creamy, making it a perfect tea for the wintertime. You get this slightly roasted flavor, but nowhere near as intense as a hojicha. If you normally prefer Chinese teas but want to venture into the exciting world of Japanese green tea, this is the best choice for you. If you are looking for something slightly different from the grassy sencha teas, this is also a good way to add a little variety to your tea collection.
How is Kamairicha Made?
We got the privilege of touring the factory of Mr. Issin, and we learned quite a bit about the production of kamairicha tea, hojicha tea and oolong tea, three of his specialties. The process involves high heat at the beginning and low heat towards the middle of the production process. The gradual, low heating that makes up a bulk of the production of this tea is primarily for reducing the moisture content of the tea. This is important, not just for kamairicha but for all teas. One of the ways they reduce the moisture content is by turning it in what looks like a giant drying machine, only with wooden walls. When the tea leaves hit against the wood, they impart some of their moisture into it, gradually drying them over time.
In the final stage of the production process, both kamairicha and hojicha go through one final stage. They are placed into a large wok with automatic levers that turn the tea slowly. If the farmer is making hojicha, a lid is placed on top of the pan to seal in the heat and a little bit of the smoke. The result is a darker, smokier tea that has been pan-fired at a higher temperature. Because kamairicha is only a partially roasted tea (somewhere in between a sencha and a hojicha) it is roasted at a lower temperature, with the lid off.
Philosophy of Mr. Issin
One of the best parts about meeting with tea farmers is finding out about all of their inspirations and passions. Mr. Issin lives in a very traditional home with multiple generations of family members that help out on the field. You could tell that he is quite close with his family, as they often eat lunch together at one big table in the middle of the workday. He takes great pride in his work and the land that has been in his family for generations.
He also makes sure to only use the best quality fertilizer. While a majority of the fertilizer he uses is made by him out of rice hulls and other organic food scraps, he also purchases some from other farmers. He only trusts fertilizer that is organic, plant-based and non-GMO. The level of pride he takes in his work really shows in the tea itself. The Kamairicha he has created truly is a masterpiece and is quickly becoming one of our most popular teas. Try some for yourself!