Gyokuro is considered the best of the best of Japanese green teas, due to its sweet full-mouth feel. The name Gyokuro translates into English as “precious dew”. A rather fitting name for this special tea.
Flavor aside, what really makes this tea unique is how man intervenes in the tea’s growing process to assist in amplifying the flavor. As written about in an earlier blog, Japan has been breeding specific tea cultivars for decades and the cultivar most used in Gyokuro is the Yutakamidori. The cultivars used to produce Gyokuro do have a generally sweeter taste, but they also react better to shade.
Gyokuro – An Accidental Discovery
Gyokuro was supposedly created in 1835 in Uji province Japan, by a farmer that put hay on his tea plants to protect them from a late spring frost and did not remove the hay until harvest time. The farmer discovered that the tea, when harvested and dried, had a much sweeter flavor than the usual Sencha. By shading the tea plant, the farmer caused the plant to increase its theanine production, which makes it taste sweeter. Today, most tea farms use shade cloth instead of hay, but some still use the hay. The tea stays under shade around 21 days. There may be some variation on the length because the farmers are waiting for the tea buds to get to ¾ inch in length before harvesting, and depending on the weather it could take the plants longer to get to the desired length (Kevin Gascoyne, 2011). Unlike the rest of the teas in Japan, Gyokuro is harvested by hand. Gyokuro is also only produced in one harvest each year. The tea plant then goes on to grow leaves for Sencha or Bancha, in a later harvest.
Finished Gyokuro and Steeping Instructions
Once the tea leaves are plucked, the leaves are separated from the stem and then steamed in much the same fashion as Sencha. The steaming processes will cause the leaf to fall apart, so the finished product has lots of different leaf sizes.
In making a cup of Gyokuro, the water should be well below boiling, somewhere between 149-170 degrees Farenhait. To get this, pour boiling water into a ceramic cup and wait about 5 minutes before putting in the tea leaves. Gyokuro being juried in a tea competitions in Japan are brewed even cooler, at 104 degrees Farenhait. When steeping at this temperature the tea pot and cup are preheated and the water does not get to boil. The tea is typically steeped for 90 seconds.
If you are even remotely interested in green tea, Gyokuro is a wonderful tea to try and nice change to typical vegetal and seaweed flavors of Sencha.
Kevin Gascoyne, F. M. (2011). Tea: History Terroirs Varieties. In K. Gascoyne, F. Marchand, J. Desharnais, & H. Americi, Tea: History Terroirs Varieties (pp. 98-99). Firefly Books Ltd.