Yakushima Wakocha (屋久島和紅茶) is a Japanese black tea from the verdant island of Yakushima in Japan. Grown at an organic plantation, this tea is crafted from a blend of cultivars. This creates a very classic black tea profile with an approachable character and a pleasant sweet and malty flavour. We source this tea via a specialist tea merchant based in Tokyo who also has a traditional refining factory in Shizuoka with over 150 years of history. This batch was harvested in May 2023.
Yakushima Wakocha hails from an organic plantation in Yakushima Island. The island is part of Kagoshima Prefecture and is found south of Kyushu. It is a very lush, natural and somewhat remote island, a large portion of which is a designated national park. The remoteness, small population and abundance of flora and fauna do make this location a perfect choice for an organic plantation.
This Yakushima Wakocha is crafted as a blend of tea leaves of three Japanese tea cultivars: ubiquitous Yabukita, second most popular Yutakamidori and Asatsuyu. What is perhaps interesting to note here is that all of these cultivars are traditionally green tea cultivars. Most other producers prefer to use cultivars that were specifically developed for black tea production, such as Benifuki, Benihikari, etc; or at least those with more pronounced characters when made as a black tea, such as Koshun and Sayamakaori. Alternatively it seems that various cultivars used for Kamairicha such as Unkai and Takachiho also work extremely well for black tea.
The reason behind this pattern is due to certain cultivars having much higher catechin content, which translates into bitterness when made as a green tea, and especially so for a steamed green tea. Crafted instead as a black tea, the catechins are converted into theaflavins and thearubigins as the main polyphenols, thus reducing bitterness. These also add to the orange colour of tea liquor, although it has not been conclusively determined what actual effect these have on the taste or aroma.
So it is intriguing to see a black tea that was crafted entirely from a blend of green tea cultivars. While it certainly can be done, we think it is likely for the results to be a little underwhelming. But when we first tried this tea at the factory in Shizuoka in May 2023, we knew that we had to get it. The use of the green tea cultivars lends to a softer flavour that is very approachable. This tea was created with a classic black tea profile in mind, reminiscent of a good afternoon blend. The leaves are of a smaller size, which definitely helps with extracting some of the stronger flavours for a better balance. The rounded taste has malty and fruity notes with a pleasant lightly mineral edge. The finish is clean but has some very pleasant tannins in a nod to that classic black tea profile found in other more traditional teas and blends. This is not a typical wakocha by any means, and one that we found both intriguing, but also strangely familiar!
It is best brewed at 90°C for around 2-3 minutes, with 2+ infusions.