Saturday, December 17, 2016

Tea Appreciation: Kamairicha

Kamairicha (釜炒り茶) is pan-fired Japanese green tea and only accounts for up to 5% of the tea produced in Japan.  The name is a literal translation of the drying process.  Kama (釜) = pan/pot, iri (炒り) = fired/roasted, and cha (茶) = tea.

The pan-firing process in Japan dates back to either the early 15th or 16th century.  When a priest named Eirin Shuzui brought tea seeds from Soshu Reigangi Temple in China to Yame in Fukuoka Prefecture, he may have introduced the process.  Other accounts suggest that a Chinese man named Ko Reimin introduced the process in Ureshino in Saga Prefecture almost a century later.  The more ubiquitous process of steaming leaves would be developed later, in the 18th century.

Most kamairicha is produced in southwestern prefectures in Kyushu, including Kumamoto, Miyazaki, Nagasaki, Oita, and Saga.

Freshly plucked leaves are fired in an iron pan or kettle for approximately ten minutes at 570°F/300°C-840°F/450°C to stop oxidation.  The leaves are then rolled and given a final drying.  Today this process is largely automated and less frequently done by hand.  As a result of the firing process, the leaves usually take on a comma shape and have a flavor profile similar to Chinese teas, sweeter, milder, and less astringent than sencha.

Pan-fired teas in Japan were originally called Tōcha (唐茶), a name given to teas from China, before becoming known as kamairicha.

Kamairicha and tamaryokucha (玉緑茶) or guricha (ぐり茶) are basically the same except that tamaryokucha can be steamed as well as pan-fired.

Kamairi tamaryokucha (釜炒り玉緑茶) also called kamaguri (釜ぐり) is the most common variation.

Kamanobicha (釜伸び茶), meaning pan-stretched tea, is kamairicha rolled into a needle shape similar to sencha.

Heat water to 160°F/71°C-175°F/79°C and steep for 1-2 minutes before serving.  Kamairicha is more forgiving than sencha, so it may also be prepared with slightly higher water temperatures.

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