What Is Amacha? How do you steep it? Is there more than one way you can use it? Those are all questions I’ll be answering in todays post about a phenomenally under rated traditional Japanese tisane.
The Amacha I’ll be featuring in this post was purchased* via Yunomi and you can find it on their website here. It is produced by the The Kunohe Village Revitalization Project and harvested September – October in the hills surrounding the village. The leaves from this plant (a non-toxic form of hydrangea: hydrangea serrata var. thunbergii) are rolled, withered, and dried in a small facility adjacent to the roadside station Oritsume Rest Area in the village. This tea is sometimes referred to in the west as “Buddha Ama Cha” because it is often used to celebrate the Buddha’s birthday.
What is Amacha?
Amacha (甘茶) is a traditional Japanese tisane made from the leaves of the hydrangea plant. Depending on where it is sourced from, the species of hydrangea used changes but the Amacha I am featuring in my post today uses leaves from from the plant hydrangea macrophylla var. thunbergii, a non toxic form of hydrangea. This is native to the mountainous regions of Korea and Japan and just like tea there are many cultivars, though some are only intended for garden use and can not be used to create tea.
Amacha Translates into Sweet Tea and upon sipping it for the first time you’ll instantly realise why it is given that name. The reason for that sweetness is due to the fact that the leaves of this plant contain a compound called Phyllodulcin, which is a natural sweetener some 400-800 times sweeter than sugar.
It’s not related to the Camlilea Sinensis plant that tea comes from which makes it naturally caffeine free, so it can be consumed at any point in the day. Though I wouldn’t recommend that this is something you drink on it’s own every day due to the intense sweetness it has. Upon trying it for the first time, I realised quickly why this is a tea reserved for special occasions like celebrating the buddha’s birthday.
The leaves are harvested just before the plant blooms and before processing they are actually very bitter. Usually they are withered, hand rolled, fermented and dried. During the fermentation process is where the intense sweetness is created, because the chemical that causes the initial bitterness in the leaves is changed into Phyllodulcin.
When it comes to steeping the leaves, this is not a tea that should be brewed using the same amount of leaves as you normally would with a loose leaf tea. With Amacha you need no more than 2-3g of leaf per litre of water, the water should be boiled and the leaves should be steeped for 5 minutes. Usually, if you have a full leaf Amacha each leaf is around 1g so not much needs to be used at all, as using too many leaves will result in a brew that is far too overly sweet to drink.
You can also steep this gongfu style, though you have to change the parameters to suit the brewing style a little more and avoid over sweetness. Per 100ml I would say one to one and half grams is the perfect amount to use. Start steeping times at 30 seconds and add 5 seconds as steeping goes on. This is the way that I prefer to brew it if it is only me that is going to be drinking it and also the way I brew it if I’m preparing it to use as an alternative to sweetener. The other method I mentioned is better suite to a preparing this tea for a group of people.
It’s overall flavour is complex and can start off tasting like a mild oolong or black tea, until that sweetness hits you and completely transforms it. With underlying notes of grass, hay and in some cases a subtle hint of liquorice root. While it may seem unassuming it creates an incredibly experience for the taste buds, that is something everyone should try and least once.
Have you ever tried Amacha? If you have I would love to hear your experiences with this tea in the comments. If you have found a way to use this tea in recipe please share those too as I’m always looking to experiment with Amacha and see what I can do with it.
Should you want to try Amacha out for yourself you can find the one I featured in todays post over on the Yunomi website. Remember to use the code START20 to get 20% off our first order.
Until next time, Happy Steeping – Kimberley