Ashikita Heritage Kamairicha (芦北町在来釜炒り茶) is a pan-fried green tea that is handpicked from zairai ‘native species’ plants and then hand-processed in a traditional way. It comes from the Kajihara Tea Farm that is run to organic standards, located in the Ashikita District of Kumamoto Prefecture. Careful hand-processing at every stage results in a complex taste, while delivering the balanced flavours that pan-fried Japanese teas are known for. This Heritage Kamairicha is made from old tea trees that grow semi-wild on a steep rocky slope. The old tree rocky section of the garden is very small, so the production each year is extremely limited. We source this tea direct from the grower, Mr Toshihiro Kajihara, who calls this tea Miyama (深山) – literally deep mountain. This batch is from the May 2021 harvest.
This tea is part of our new 2021 Rare & Limited tea selection. Every year there is an extremely limited quantity of this particular fine tea available. This year Kajihara-san was able to supply just a very small quantity for our shop. Once this batch is sold out, we will not be able to bring it back in stock until next spring.
While we do stock a wide selection of teas from Kajihara-san, including various versions of his kamairicha, this is by far the best and most authentic heritage-style tea. While our Ashikita Zairai Kamairicha is mostly made up of leaves picked from zairai ‘native species’ plants, it is blended with a small amount of leaves of other cultivars. The ratios and types change every year in order to bring out a more consistent taste year on year. By contrast this version is made solely of zairai plants. Mr Kajihara’s grandfather discovered these plants in the mountains (possibly from other people growing tea) and has planted some of the seeds on a rocky, steep slope on his land. While the plants were originally purposefully planted, they originate from seeds of wild native species plants and are left to grow in semi-wild conditions. The plants vary in age but reach 60+ years. The rocky terrain means that the plants grow slowly, absorbing nutrients and minerals from the soil.
The zairai ‘native species’ 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. In this case the seeds originated from wild tea trees found in the mountains. As there is no real ‘native’ tea tree in Japan, these trees would have been descendants of plants planted elsewhere that naturally started occurring in various parts of the landscape.
Ashikita Heritage Kamairicha consists of large, neat leaves. The careful processing by hand is immediately evident. Being a pan-fried tea, it also holds the shape of the leaf better, resulting in an attractive curly dry leaf appearance. It produces a bright green-yellow liquor with good clarity and a lightly grassy mineral aroma. The flavours are particularly smooth, with a pronounced herbaceous profile. There are vegetal, light mineral and wild berry notes and an overall floral herby taste that has a vaporific sensation that is reminiscent of notes of menthol. The aftertaste is lasting, without any astringency, bitterness or dryness. There is a pleasant complex sweetness running throughout. This is a heritage style of tea that is very rare and hard to find. It has a unique charm and strength to it due to plant origin, growing conditions and traditional processing methods.
It is best brewed at 80°C for around 2 minutes, with multiple infusions.
You may also be interested in other teas crafted by Kajihara-san.