One of the meanings of ?Gyoku? is a beautiful stone similar to jadeite or nephrite. Both of these are often classified as Jade. ?Ro? has a meaning of dew. Consequently Gyokuro means beautiful or Jade dew. As important, a brewed cup has a bright green color like liquid Jade.
Gyokuro contains more chlorophyll than other teas since it grows under shade cloths for several weeks and that brings out its dark green color both in the tea leaf and cup.
After new buds start to flush on the tea plant, Gyokuro is grown in the shade for a few weeks until harvest. The shading reduces photosynthesis resulting in leaves containing a high level of chlorophyll bringing out Gyokuro?s dark green color. It also increases theanine, the amino acid which brings its sweet full-bodied flavor. Theanine can only stay in the leaf while it is in the shade. It will turn to tannin under full sunlight.
At harvest in the Gyokuro garden, new buds and tea leaves are left to grow longer than those in a Sencha garden. The picker sandwiches the stem softly in their fingers and pulls off several young leaves at the same time. For Gyokuro, pulling is a better description than picking as for Sencha.
The processes after picking leaves are the same as Sencha ? steaming, rolling, kneading, drying, sifting, roasting and often blending. Gyokuro is considered to be the highest grade of loose leaf tea among Japanese green tea and in fact is more expensive than any other Japanese loose leaf teas. This is due to its intensive labor process, but worth of it!
Gyokuro is a very relaxing tea. It contains higher amount of Theanine than any other loose leaf green tea because of shading process. Theanine is a unique amino acid found in tea and very few other sources and is known for its benefits as a relaxant. It generates alpha-waves in the brain. Alpha waves are emitted when the brain is in a relaxed state. Theanine also suppresses the stimulant function of caffeine and this is why high quality green tea makes you relax even though the tea contains caffeine. This is a great health benefit (especially for mental health) for us this busy world.
You should expect a natural sweet umami taste with little bitterness for Gyokuro, but Gyokuro's taste could vary between very sweet or bitter depending on your brewing technique. To really enjoy this tea you should brew with the goal of more sweetness and less bitterness, but how do you do that?
The key is water temperature. Bitterness in brewed tea comes from catechins and caffeine while sweetness comes from Theanine, an amino acid. Catechin and caffeine are more easily extracted with hot water, while the extraction of theanine is relatively stable regardless of water temperature. Since Gyokuro also contains relatively high amount of caffeine, it could be a very bitter cup if you brewed with very hot water. The quality of the brewed cup depends on how you extract theanine, the sweetness, while not extracting the caffeine, the bitterness. This is done by adjusting the water temperature.
For Den's Gyokuro, we recommend 140 F for Gyokuro Suimei and 160 F for Gyokuro Kin. The brewing time is 150 seconds for Suimei and 90 seconds for Kin. Note that you should brew longer if you use water below the suggested temperatures. Here is how to adjust water temperature manually.
The brewing technique is the same as we recommend for Sencha (Click here to see Sencha brewing video) but we usually use less water to brew a slightly stronger cup for Gyokuro. However, similar to any other tea, the only brewing rule is to find a combination of temperature and time that fits your taste. You can enjoy Gyokuro more casually with hotter water to experience a combination of fresh bitterness and umami or any combination in between!
Yes, good quality Gyokuro has a taste and aroma a little seaweed. Some people believe that Gyokuro is grown near the ocean, and that's why Gyokuro has a flavor similar to seaweed. Unfortunately it is wrong. Green tea's aroma is composed by about 300 aroma components. Dimethyl sulfide is one of aroma components which is developed while the tea leaves are grown during the shading process. This dimethyl sulfide is also contained in seaweed, consequently Gyokuro's aroma reminds you of seaweed. But again, it is sign of good quality if you sense a resemblance to seaweed!
There are 3 major Gyokuro producing areas in Japan. From south to north they are - Yame, Uji and Asahina. Each area has rich soil and good weather and the tea species may vary among the areas. All of Den's Tea Gyokuro is from Asahina in Shizuoka. Gyokuro grown in Asahina is known for mellow umami, elegant aroma and refreshing aftertaste.