Yakushima Zairai Red
Yakushima Island, Japan
This is one of five teas I sourced from my journey to Yakushima Island in January 2023.
Zairai 再来 refers to a rare black tea, made from tea trees that are indigenous to Japan. We would consider these trees to be “wild” in the terms applied to Chinese teas, as they are grown from seeds instead of cuttings.
Most of the Zairai tea trees that remain in Japan are older, some of them have lived over a hundred years. They are increasingly rare, primarily because Zairai trees yield only half of the tea that other varietals produce. More prolific varietals, like Yakubita, have been crossbred specifically for higher yields, which easily gains them favour amongst producers. Currently, the Zairai varietal accounts for only 3% of all the tea produced in Japan.
As we would expect from both an indigenous varietal and an older tree, Zairai teas have strong energy and a unique character. They are also of a higher quality, as they are not commonly treated with pesticides or fertilizers. The trees have deep roots, and thus are naturally resistant to pests and can self-sustain in the wild. This also means the tea leaves will show a higher mineral content, deposited by what the roots have pulled up from deep below the ground.
Zairai tea trees have been cultivated in the Osumi Islands of Japan, (the archipelago of which Yakushima is a part), since ancient times. This tea comes from the small organic tea farm tucked away in the mountains of Yakushima. The trees growing here face the East China Sea, with towering sugi trees behind them.
The warm, subtropical climate of Yakushima means there are many insects, and most of the Zairai tea trees from this organic tea farm are bitten by them. The small perforations they make on the leaves do not threaten the health of the tree, however they do lend even more character to tea made from its leaves. Once bitten by insects, the tea leaves produce polyphenols as a natural defense mechanism – these polyphenols are then oxidized naturally by the sun. The result of this process is a tea with very unique and pleasing aromas, like honey and alpine flowers.
Net weight 100g
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|Steep time||10 sec - 90 sec
|No. of infusions||6