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What Is Gyokuro?

Green tea is one of the most popular beverages in the world. However, even if you’ve drunk this iconic beverage in the past, chances are you may not know that there are several specific types of green tea grown. One of these green tea varieties is known as gyokuro.

Gyokuro is a variety of shaded green tea that originated in Japan. This high-quality tea is grown in the shade for several weeks before harvest to change its flavor, aroma, and coloring. Gyokuro’s growing conditions also change its chemical makeup to increase the health benefits it has to offer.

Gyokuro can be a little more costly than the sencha green tea normally seen in grocery stores, but it also has more to offer. Keep reading to learn more about this specialty green tea variety and what makes it so unique. 

What Is Gyokuro Tea?

Gyokuro tea, also known as “jade dew” tea, is only one of several different varieties of green tea that are grown in Japan and enjoyed around the world. Historically gyokuro green tea has been cultivated throughout Japan, but it is especially associated with the following regions

  • Uji (Kyoto Prefecture)
  • Okabe (Shizuoka Prefecture)
  • Yame (Fukuoka Prefecture)

Because these three regions are responsible for the majority of the world’s gyokuro production, this tea is limited in availability each year. That’s one of the reasons why this special tea is so highly prized (and expensive). 

How Is Gyokuro Tea Grown?

The main thing that sets gyokuro tea apart from other green tea varieties is the way that this variety is grown. Gyokuro belongs to a class of Japanese green tea known as kabuse tea, or shaded tea. 

Shaded teas are green tea varieties that are covered up for several days or weeks right before harvest in order to darken the tea’s color and encourage the build-up of certain chemicals in the leaves. 

The change in chemical composition makes this tea variety milder and less astringent than other varieties like sencha. Gyokuro tea is typically shaded for twenty days prior to harvest. 

Does Shading Gyokuro Tea Damage the Tea?

While shading tea plants can be very stressful for them, it doesn’t tend to damage the tea itself. The biggest challenge that comes with shading rows of tea is that light stress (a plant condition caused by lack of light) can leave the plants more vulnerable to disease. It’s the equivalent of a suppressed immune system in a person. 

Luckily, by the time that gyokuro tea is shaded and prepared for harvest, the tea plant has already stored a lot of energy from its previous exposure to sunlight. The tea is also still capable of taking up nutrients through its root system. This prevents the tea from dying when it is cut off from sunlight during the shading process. 

gyokuro tea in white cup

Is Gyokuro Tea Expensive?

Gyokuro tea is definitely not for people with a skinny wallet. This green tea variety is arguably the most expensive green tea in the world. There are several reasons why gyokuro green tea is more expensive than other styles: 

  • Limited production: There are only a few places in the entire world that mass-produce gyokuro green tea, and it can only be produced during very limited windows of time during the year. Competition for these yearly harvests is fierce among tea connoisseurs.
  • Long shading period: Gyokuro tea plants are shaded for almost a month during the growing process. This requires the tea plants to be maintained more carefully during shading to prevent stress to the plants, and the process of shading the plants requires extra labor.
  • Reputation: Gyokuro tea is generally considered a higher quality green tea than other, more readily available varieties. This reputation as being the best of the best causes an even greater demand for gyokuro in fine dining circles. Gyokuro tea is a popular offering for some of the most luxurious tea houses in the world. 

Qualities of Gyokuro Tea

Gyokuro tea has several qualities that set it apart from other green teas like matcha tea or sencha tea. While you might think at first glance that all green tea is basically alike, observing them and tasting them side by side would show that each of these drinks is quite different.

What Color Is Gyokuro Tea?

In its raw dried form, loose-leaf gyokuro tea has a deep forest green coloring with almost blue-green undertones. Once it is brewed, the liquor infused from gyokuro tea is a bright yellow-green, translucent color.

What Does Gyokuro Tea Taste Like? 

Gyokuro tea is described as having a silky, full-bodied mouthfeel that is denser and richer than other tea types. This green tea variety has flavor notes ranging from grass and seaweed to a vegetal sweetness. Like other shaded teas, gyokuro is prized for its umami or savory qualities. 

Unlike many other green teas, gyokuro is known for its light astringency and lack of bitterness, making it a very mellow drink.

How Is Gyokuro Different From Other Green Teas?

Gyokuro tea is different from other kabuse teas mostly in the length of its shading time during production and in the way it is served. Matcha tea is another kabuse tea that is popular, but matcha tea is ground into a fine powder. In contrast, gyokuro tea is hand-plucked and served as whole loose leaves to show off its fine qualities. 

Gyokuro tea differs from more common varieties of green tea (non-kabuse varieties) such as sencha mostly in terms of flavor. While these non-kabuse teas tend to have a light floral astringency and bitterness, gyokuro tea is known for a more intense flavor. 

Gyokuro tea is quite similar in its flavor profile to another kabuse tea known as kabusecha, with one exception – kabusecha tea is only shaded for a week, while gyokuro’s shade time during production can be up to three times as long. 

how to brew gyokuro tea

How to Brew Gyokuro Tea

You don’t have to be a tea sommelier to enjoy gyokuro tea, you just need to know a few important steps. If you’re used to brewing common green tea varieties like sencha, the methods for brewing gyokuro are slightly different from the methods you use for brewing other types of green tea. 

One thing you’ll notice is that you won’t be brewing a huge mug of gyokuro – you’ll brew just a sip or two at a time.  Follow these instructions for brewing the perfect cup of gyokuro tea. 

Cold Brew Infusion

One of the advantages of brewing gyokuro tea is that you can infuse the tea several times to experience different depths of its flavor with each serving.  To cold brew gyokuro, follow the following instructions from Samovartea.

  1. Add a heaping tablespoon of tea to a teapot.
  2. Pour in about ¼ cup of room temperature spring water.
  3. Allow to steep for seven minutes.
  4. The leaves should absorb most of the water, leaving you with about a tablespoon of beautiful pale green tea.

Next Infusions

Once you’ve put your pot of gyokuro tea through a cold brew infusion, the tea should steep more quickly after being moistened in the first infusion. 

Add about ½ cup water heated to 160F to your teapot and perform a second infusion for roughly 30 seconds before decanting and serving. 

Each subsequent infusion should increase the time of the infusion by thirty seconds to release the tea’s liquor. 

How Many Times Can You Infuse Gyokuro Tea?

Unlike other types of green tea, gyokuro’s quality allows it to be resteeped multiple times. Gyokuro tea can be infused up to four or five times, though it will decrease in the potency of its flavor with each subsequent infusion.  

Subsequent infusions may also cause the tea to take on a slightly bitter and astringent flavor as the umami flavors in the tea fade away. The purest flavors in the gyokuro tea will be infused in the first two or three infusions. 

Gyokuro Green Tea Is the Best in the World

If you want to experience the epitome of what a Japanese tea ceremony can be, gyokuro tea is arguably the highest quality tea you can purchase. While it might be expensive and difficult to procure, gyokuro tastes unlike any other variety of green tea on Earth. 

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