Tea Class * Gyokuro
Gyokuro is the most highly prized green tea from Japan. Grown in the shade beneath a straw roof for 20 days prior to picking, Gyokuro is a highly labor intensive tea and requires special farming and production expertise. The aforementioned shading process drastically alters the taste of the tea. When tea plants are starved of sunlight (85-90% is blocked), they are unable to properly photosynthesize and in turn produce Theanine, an amino acid, to continue living. Amino acids naturally occur in foods like miso, dashi broth, some cheeses and proteins. They are responsible for the “umami”, or savoriness of many Japanese dishes.
Gyokuro is grown primarily in Uji, outside of Kyoto, and in Yame, in Fukuoka prefecture. Production of gyokuro is costly and difficult. Nitrogen rich soil, cool nights, and hired help are all necessary to produce true “Hon” gyokuro. “Hon” is a prefix meaning “authentic” or “real”. Often Kabuse, or partly shaded tea (10 days of shading) is sold as gyokuro. True gyokuro must be shaded for the full twenty days. Most often hand picked, Gyokuro is made from a blend of varietals usually including Okumidori, Gokoh and Saemidori. Tea pickers from around the villages where gyokuro is produced are hired seasonally to help with harvest. Picking tea is hard work and requires stamina, a gentle touch and a strong back.
Gyokuro is prepared differently than sencha and other Japanese green teas. Double the amount of leaf is used (about 10 grams) and water is cooled to around 140F. Gyokuro translates to “Jade Dew” or “Jade Drop”. A serving of gyokuro can be about the size of a thimble, but packed in that small serving is more flavor than some meals. The dense and aromatic flavor profile of gyokuro is unique, and often surprising. A smooth and rich tea, it only takes a drop to coat your mouth with the deep briny flavor of nori, roasted chestnuts and a viscosity found almost nowhere else. When I do tastings, people cannot believe what the flavor. “Soup” is a comparison I hear often, as the tea is so savory and “chewy”. Gyokuro is a must try for tea lovers and adventurous eaters.