Japan is most know for their green teas, Matcha and Sencha in particular, but perhaps no tea is more prized in the land of the rising sun than the delicate and slightly sweet Gyokuro, or “jade dew”.
Gyokuro tea was first introduced during the Edo period in 1835. Tea merchant Yamamoto Kahei (the sixth) found himself in Uji, the oldest tea-producing region in Japan, where he discovered that the local shaping process added a sticky quality to the tea. After trying some of the tea for himself he was blown away by its taste and brought it back to Edo. Unfortunately, no matter what he tried he couldn’t recreate the process back home. It was another man, Eguchi Shigejura, who discovered that how the tea leaves were covered when during cultivation was key.
So how is Gyokuru actually grown? Well, it is made from the Yabukita tea plant that is used for most high-quality green teas in Japan. However, as soon as the first sprouts shoot out of the ground in April Gyokura fields are covered by straw or cloth to block the sun. By doing so, the level of photosynthesis in the plants is reduced which leads to higher values of theanine (an amino acid) and alkaloid caffeine which in turn results in a more mild and sweet flavor. After a period of at least 20 days of sun deprivation the leaves are harvested and carefully rolled.
To create the perfect cup of Gyokuro tea, the method in which it is ideally brewed is also worth mentioning. Firstly, an average cup of Gyokuro tea requires about twice the amount of dry tea leaves than a “normal” cup of tea. Secondly, at somewhere between 40 and 60 °C, the ideal brewing temperature is significantly lower than most other teas. Finally, the leaves are left to steep for a much longer period (up to 4 minutes). It is said that a good cup of Gyukuro tea is difficult to make, but that once you master it you have one of the finest tasting teas available.