When you think of Okayama Prefecture, what tea comes to mind?
For those of you who answered mimasaka bancha, you are right on point! While Okayama Prefecture, located West of Osaka, may be better known for its sunny days and fruit production (also known for their bizen-yaki pottery), there is a traditional bancha that is made in the summertime. Specifically, around mid July once the monsoon season clears and the Obon (festival) season starts. Yes, the hottest time of the year. One of the key features of the mimasaka bancha is its lustful amber color. Similar to many of the regional banchas, the process of making mimasaka bancha is quite particular.
How Mimasaka Bancha is made:
- Tea leaves are harvested from mid July - mid August, along with the stems.
- Harvested leaves and stems are then boiled in a big iron pan for about 40min to an hour. The leaves are turned over and over during this time.
- Boiled tea leaves are spread onto a straw mat (Sun-drying process). Today, the sun-drying process occurs more frequently over a blue/black plastic sheet.
- Once the leaves dry, the broth from when it was boiled is poured over the tea.
- This process is repeated 2-3 times.
- The final finishing touch is to let it completely dry in the sun again. So, one can imagine, it takes a lot of work to make this tea!
It is said that this traditional bancha originated during the Muromachi (1333-1573) period and was a favorite tea of Miyamoto Musashi, a well known swordsman and philosopher in Japanese history. Interestingly, it is said that in one of the texts in the Muromachi period, the three major teas were from Musashi in Sayama, Yamashiro in Kyoto and Mimasaka in Okayama. Tea cultivation in Okayama Prefecture is known to have initially started in a temple in Magiyama (South of Mimasaka) as the monks were drinking tea. And then tea cultivation spread around this region. So, while Okayama prefecture may not be one of the first prefectures that comes to mind as a major tea producing region, the Mimasaka area is well-known for their bancha.
If you are a hojicha drinker, the mimasaka bancha will certainly please you. When finished, the tea leaves, together with the stems will have a sort of glazy look with an amber glow. It is a humble, gentle and delicious tea with a deep flavor coming from the energy and heat of the summer sun. In fact, while banchas generally tend to be on the refreshing side, the way mimasaka bancha is made gives this bancha a sweet roundedness and mellowness. It is a tea that one may wish to drink to perhaps heal the fatigue from the hot summer days or as an act of being gentle to oneself. With the fall equinox behind us, it is getting to be the time to relish in warm drinks. I consider it to be my recent pepp-in the step elixir and look forward to pairing this delightful bancha with autumnal treats like persimmons, chestnuts and cheese.
A warm cup of Furyu's Mimasaka bancha with persimmons from the marché (farmer's market).
Further Reading on Regional and Unique Japanese Banchas:
- Interview with Tea Farmer Yuuki Kayashita at Tea Farm Mitocha who is preserving traditional Japanese folk teas
- Discover Japanese Tea: Sannnen bancha
- Kancha, A Rare Japanese Tea Harvested in the Winter Time
- Regional Japanese Onomatopeia Teas
Photos from the Mimasaka Bancha making process were provided by Ogura Tea Garden. While based in Odawara, the photos are from when Ogura-san participated in making this bancha in Mimasaka, Okayama Prefecture.