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Ocha no Kanbayashi Kami Gyokuro (ice)

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Shinobi cha is a tech­nique of ice brew­ing high-grade Japanese green tea that pro­duces a liquor that’s even sweeter and high­er in umami than hot brew­ing. Ice brew­ing gyok­uro is one of the best ways to under­stand what umami means. The amino acids in the tea leaves, which are respons­ible for sweet­ness and umami, can be extrac­ted at low tem­per­at­ures, but caf­feine and cat­echin, which are respons­ible for the bit­ter­ness and astrin­gency, are hardly extrac­ted at low tem­per­at­ures.

With the ter­rible sum­mer heat linger­ing well into March, I tried cool­ing down by pre­par­ing my Ocha no Kanbayashi Kami Gyokuro using the shin­obi cha tech­nique.

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Gyokuro is the pret­ti­est shade of green. With shin­obi cha, I covered 8 grams of gyok­uro tea leaves with a 250 ml ice block, to yield 100 ml of tea liquor.

Whereas pre­par­ing hot gyok­uro is a time-con­sum­ing pro­cess due to its time and tem­per­at­ure sens­it­ive qual­it­ies, shin­obi cha is a time-con­sum­ing pro­cess that’s all about patience. Once you’ve got the ice on the tea leaves at room tem­per­at­ure, it’s a mat­ter of wait­ing until the ice cubes melt. On a warm sum­mer after­noon, it took 2.5 hours for the ice to melt com­pletely, all the while watch­ing the tea leaves unfurl.

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The fla­vour of the first infu­sion is bold and robust, and the liquor is vis­cous and a bright, golden green. The first sips leave but­tery umami notes before giv­ing way to the sweeter veget­al fla­vours of Japanese green tea. Yielding 100 ml of liquor isn’t very much, but the fla­vour is truly intense and best enjoyed slowly and thor­oughly in small sips. The sweet­ness builds on your tongue after a few sips and trans­forms the umami taste into some­thing immensely enjoy­able and without the slight hint of astrin­gency or bit­ter­ness.

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In the second infu­sion, the umami taste is slightly weak­er than the first, mak­ing it more a tea that you can drink as opposed to sip. The liquor is less vis­cous and takes on a less golden and more jade col­our, while the sweeter veget­al fla­vours are more pro­nounced.

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By the third infu­sion, almost all trace of umami and veget­al fla­vours are gone, leav­ing a very bright and watery liquor. I’d be happy to stop after two infu­sions.

Being new to shin­obi cha, I was curi­ous if ice brew­ing under-util­ised the tea leaves, so I’ve also made this third infu­sion using water at 80°C for 30 seconds. I’m happy to report that this leaves an intensely bit­ter liquor, like excess­ively over­steeped green tea, which can only be attrib­uted to the cat­echin and caf­feine remain­ing in the tea leaves after all the amino acids have been extrac­ted via ice brew­ing.

This bag of Ocha no Kanbayashi Kami Gyokuro con­tained 100 g. The tea ori­gin­ated in Japan and was pur­chased in Uji, Kyoto, Japan in 2015.