Ashikita Zairai Wakocha (芦北在来和紅茶) is a fruity Japanese black tea crafted from a zairai or ‘native’ cultivar. It is grown on a small family-run farm operating to organic standards in Ashikita District of Kumamoto Prefecture. Here the tea farmer utilises a zairai tea plant to create a unique tea that represents a more heritage style of processing. The current crop on offer is from the second flush harvest picked in June 2019. We source this tea direct from the grower, Mr Toshihiro Kajihara.
This Ashikita Zairai Wakocha black tea is crafted from a zairai (在来), or ‘native’ cultivar. In reality, this term does not refer to a single cultivar in a classic sense. Rather, zairai in Japan refers to any collection of ‘native’ tea plants. Generally these are old tea gardens with plants that pre-exist modern cultivars and have therefore evolved on their own. Most times these plants would also be grown from seeds rather than cuttings, thus greatly diversifying the variety of the plants of the garden. The zairai plants at this tea garden were planted over 60 years ago using seeds from other ‘native’ tea plants.
Generally zairai gardens produce lower yields and are less uniform in output. This is a negative aspect for the farmers as it makes harvesting and processing more costly and complicated while yielding lower returns. It also goes against traditionalist Japanese way of thinking regarding tea processing where uniformity of tea between different years and harvests is key. However zairai gardens are very much part of the Japanese tea heritage and give a fascinating insight into what tea used to be like before modern selection processes and cultivars were introduced.
Wakocha (和紅茶), or Japanese black tea, is still rather rare and sourcing it can be quite complex due to small production levels and mixed results. Different cultivars are utilised for producing different Wakocha black teas with different flavour profiles. For example our Makinohara Benifuki Wakocha has a more broken leaf and a much bolder black tea profile. This Native Wakocha by comparison delivers a much more delicate and complex flavour that results in a beautifully fruity profile that is reminiscent of lighter, fruitier Taiwanese black teas.
This Ashikita Zairai Wakocha black tea consists of neat and even, dark twisted leaves. The liquor produced has a red-bronze colour, with medium clarity and brightness. The aroma from the liquor and the wet leaves is that of sugared plums. The fruity profile has a delicate, light character with notes of red stony fruits and spiced stewed plums. There is pleasant savouriness to the liquor that is finely counterbalanced by subtle sweetness. The lasting aftertaste is clean, with mineral and stony flavours. This is a satisfying and comforting tea that achieves a good balance of flavours and medium complexity.
It is best brewed at 90°C for around 3 minutes, with multiple infusions.