Friday, December 16, 2016

Tea Appreciation: Gyokuro

Gyokuro (玉露) is a shade-grown Japanese green tea.  Due to a limited harvest time and specialized production, it's one of the most expensive teas in Japan.

The process of shading tea plants in Japan dates back to the 16th century.  Later, in 1835, Yamamotoyama tea company president Yamamoto Kahei introduced the process for producing a specialized variety of shaded tea that he named gyokuro, meaning jade dew.

Gyokuro is mainly produced in Joyoshi, Okabe, Uji (the oldest gyokuro producing region), and Yame which produces over 40% of the gyokuro in Japan.  It can be produced from several tea plant cultivars, with Asahi being most common, followed by Okumidori, Saemidori, Yamakai, and sometimes Yabukita, the cultivar from which most sencha is produced.  In a process similar to tencha, the tea plants are shaded with tana or jikagise for 20-30 days before harvesting.   Tana uses a framework to suspend mesh cloth over the tea plants and jikagise uses mesh cloth laid directly over the tea plants.  These methods reduce the sunlight by 80-90% and force the young leaves to work harder to grow, producing more chlorophyll, more amino acids like L-theanine, and fewer bitter tannins.  The results are sweeter and milder than unshaded teas like sencha.

Harvesting, Processing
Shade-grown leaves are delicate and require careful handling.  They are lightly steamed, rolled, dried, and rolled again to bring out the appropriate shape and flavor.  Then the leaves will be sorted and graded before they are left to rest and develop.

Use up to twice as many tea leaves as you would for sencha, approximately 5 grams or 2 teaspoons.

Heat water to 122°F/50°C-140°F/60°C and steep for 90 seconds to 2 minutes for the first infusion.  Repeat, steeping 30 seconds to 1 minute for up to 4 more infusions.

Higher grade gyokuro, especially those ranked by the National tea jury, should be steeped at a much lower temperature around 104°F/40 °C.

The spent leaves can be flavored with soy sauce or ponzu sauce and eaten.

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