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.
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.
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.
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.
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.