Gyokuro is a type of shaded green tea from Japan. It differs from the standard sencha by being grown under the shade rather than the full sun, and from kabusecha by being grown under the shade for ~three, rather than ~one, week. It is one of the highest grades of Japanese green tea.
The Uji district is the oldest gyokuro-producing region in Japan. So, of course, we sourced this Ocha no Kanbayashi Kami Gyokuro when we visited the shop in Uji during our 2015 Japan trip. We’d sampled their highest grade (¥10,800 or ~$135 per 100g), which you can eat dry, before settling for this more affordable kami gyokuro. To enjoy the freshest taste, the leaves should be used within 2 weeks of opening the package and 4 months of purchase.
Japanese green tea differs from Chinese green tea as the leaves are first steamed (rather than roasted) for between 15 – 20 seconds to prevent oxidization and then rolled, shaped, and dried to create the customary thin cylindrical shape of the tea. This method of steaming results in Japanese green tea having a more vegetal or grassy flavour.
While many teas are served hot and consumed to quench thirst, gyokuro is infused at 50 – 60°C and meant to be savoured and not rushed. It uses twice the amount of leaf (1 g/30 ml) used for sencha. The first infusion is steeped at a comfortable 50 – 60°C for 90 seconds until the tea leaves begin to unfurl with great care taken not to agitate the tea leaves. This first infusion awakens the leaves, so subsequent infusions (up to 4 – 5) are for 60 seconds in water ~5°C warmer than each previous.
The name gyokuro translates as ‘jade dew’ in Japanese and refers to the pale green colour of the infusion. Being rich in theanine, the gyokuro is high in umami flavours with a full-bodied mellow sweetness and slightly viscous nature. It’s a deliciously brothy flavour akin to dashi that yields to a slightly astringent sweet finish (like unripe stonefruit).
This umami is strongest in the first infusion (and increases with the quality of the gyokuro). With the leaves awakened, the second infusion yields a more astringent flavour and viscous consistency, which clears gradually to a greener flavour and clearer consistency by the third and fourth infusions.
Of the four infusions, the first and the third are my favourite — the first is packed with unami flavour, which is lost by the fourth but lingers in the third without the astringency and leafiness of the second.
This bag of Kami Gyokuro by Ocha no Kanbayashi contained 100 g. The originated in Japan and was purchased in Uji, Kyoto, Japan in 2015.