Ishizuchi Kurocha is thought to be the oldest Japanese post-fermented tea in Shikoku Island. And the tea had been made at Ishizuchi Village, at the foothills of Mt. Ishizuchi, the highest mountain in western Japan.
Ishizuchi Village is a small village located 1968 ft (600 m) above sea level, and the ancient village residents were Heike fugitives who escaped and settled there.
Ishizuchi Kurocha was actively produced from Edo to Taisho period, to be served for the mountain climbers at the approach to Mt. Ishizuchi and the mountain lodges. Shikoku is known as 88 pilgrimages and served teas freely to those pilgrimages, too.
The Seto Inland Sea where Mt. Ishizuchi is overlooking has many islands and fishermen’s villages. Their water from wells had high salt content and didn’t go well with Japanese green teas but got along with Ishizuchi Kurocha. So fishermen and island residents liked drinking Ishizuchi Kurocha with their water.
And time goes by, city water was laid out in islands, and people’s eating and drinking habits were changed.
The consumption of Ishizuchi Kurocha was decreased.
In addition, the natural environment was changed, too. Beech virgin forest was decreased and the plant environment was changed. The tea leaves that grew in the mountain turned unsuited for Ishizuchi Kurocha, and the change of the natural environment made the fermentation difficult. It made the tastes of Ishizuchi Kurocha stale. The last tea maker at Ishizuchi Village gave up tea making after 2007.
The tradition of Ishizuchi Kurocha seemed to end with that situation.
However, a local women’s group, a welfare facility for the handicapped, and a continuous employment support center started taking over the tea-making to preserve local traditional Japanese food culture. SONO supports Visee, the 3rd group.
Ishizuchi Kurocha tea making is started in the midst of the hot humid rainy season. Here we introduce the steps of making processes by Visee so far this season.
1. Cut the tea stems and branches
The harvest scene is so different from other Japanese teas. They blow down branches, not trim on top.
2. Cleanse leaves and branches
Wash branches and cut the branches to make them the same size.
3. Steam tea branches for 1 hour
Steam 1 hour – much longer than other Japanese teas. (less than 1 min.)
4. Take out branches and stems
Handpick branches and stems one by one.
5. 1st Fermentation
Ferment 1 week by storing barrel. This is aerobic fermentation.
6. Hand roll leaves to crush tissues
Crushing tissues of leaves helps lactic acid bacteria to grow in the next process.
7. 2nd fermentation
Ferment leaves in barrel for 2 weeks. Lactic acid bacteria create sour tastes. This is anaerobic fermentation.
Dry leaves well under the sun. Lactic acid bacteria die with this process.
Mature leaves in a cool dark place for one month. It makes harmonize the tastes.
Visee started tea harvest in June and the final packing process is ended in Oct.
The source of the sour taste is natural lactic bacteria that exist in the area. If someone makes the tea in other regions, although he/she follows the same making process, the same lactic acid bacteria don’t exist and can’t reproduce the same tastes. The tea can be maintained its tastes only if the tea is made around Mt. Ishizuchi.
The tastes of Ishizuchi Korocha are familiar, nostalgic tastes for Tomoe. SONO is located close to the Seto Inland Sea, and Kikuma-Cho is a fishing and agricultural town. The tea reminds Tomoe of the tastes her grandparents drunk, sour tastes like Ishizuchi Kurocha.
We recommend this tea if you have no appetite or after you have an oily or fish dish and want to clear your mouth.
If you make chagayu (tea porridge) with this tea, it will be gentle to your stomach and intestines. Ishizuchi Kurocha is considered the following health benefits.
The phantom tea, once the tradition was in danger of dying out, was handed down from person to person. And from Visee to SONO to you. Would like a sip?