Even if you don’t know much about tea, “Gyokuro” perhaps sounds like a high-class tea. Let us get to know more about Gyokuro, such a high-end tea also called “the king of tea.”
What is Gyokuro?
Gyokuro is a top-quality Sencha (steeped green tea). Its manufacturing process is the same as Sencha, but they differ in cultivation methods. Gyokuro is featured by the process in which the growing leaves are kept away from sunlight for about 20 days before plucking. In this way, Gyokuro gains full of umami. While the annual tea leaf production volume in Japan amounts to 86,300 tons, the production volume of Gyokuro is only 240 tons, or one four-hundredth of the nation’s output. Some of the highest-grade ones are plucked only once in a year and appreciated as an extremely rare tea.
History of Gyokuro
Gyokuro is a tea invented originally to develop a “high-grade Sencha” based on research. In 1835, the 6th head of the famous tea merchant “Yamamotoyama” applied the cover culture method to Sencha. There are several views on the story afterward, but it is said that the tea was named “Gyokuro (jewel dew in Japanese)” because its young buds were appraised for “a flavor like Kanro (dew from heaven in Japanese).”
Features of Gyokuro
Produced through time and effort, Gyokuro’s flavor and price are far above the others. A high-end Gyokuro, if it is hand-pluck Ichibancha (first picked tea), can be priced 20 times more than Sencha. The tea leaves produced through the special cultivation method called cover culture make a beautiful, deep-green liquid color. They yield rich sweetness and umami and tasty, mild flavor, and also entertain you with a distinctive aroma called “ooika (covered aroma in Japanese).”
Features of Gyokuro ingredients
Besides vitamins, caffeine, and catechin contained in Sencha, Gyokuro has a great deal of theanine, a kind of amino acids. Theanine serves as umami and also acts on nerve functions and psychology to provide various effects such as relaxation, sleep improvement, and even dementia prevention.
Features of Gyokuro process
The manufacturing process of Gyokuro is the same as Sencha, but they differ in cultivation methods. Gyokuro undergoes a 20-day cover culture to avoid sunlight three weeks prior to plucking. The purpose is to keep the leaves from gaining astringency with sunlight and let them store full of umami. Plucking is often done by hand. The cultivation of Gyokuro takes more time and effort than the other teas.
Production areas of Gyokuro
Gyokuro is produced across the country. Uji in Kyoto and Yame in Fukuoka are well-known producers.
Uji in Kyoto Prefecture
Kyoto has the largest production volume of Gyokuro and also of Tencha, the material of Matcha. Especially Uji, as a famous tea-growing area, has many domestic and international visitors seeking tea. It is said that Gyokuro’s unique cultivation method “cover culture” was developed in Uji. Many brands of Gyokuro are there. “Uji Gyokuro” is a synonym for high-grade tea. The time-and-effort-taking Gyokuro from hand-pluck ichibancha (first picked tea) is recognized as the top-quality tea across the world.
Yame in Fukuoka Prefecture
Fukuoka Prefecture has the second largest Gyokuro production. Fukuoka Prefecture started making Gyokuro in 1879. Fog arises easily in Yame, moderately shielding the growing tea leaves from sunlight so that they can contain a greater deal of amino acids. For this reason, Gyokuro in Yame has been appreciated as “Natural Gyokuro.” Its quality is one of the highest in Japan. Yame Gyokuro won the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Prize for 10 years in a row and has swept the first 26 places in the Gyokuro section at the National Fair of Tea. It has been receiving a high reputation.
How to drink Gyokuro
The best temperature to brew Sencha is about 80 degrees C, but Gyokuro should be brewed at around 60 degrees C. As with Sencha, you can enjoy only the umami of Gyokuro by brewing at low temperature. In the case of high-grade Gyokuro, you can take a sip in the mouth and slowly enjoy, or savor its flavor and aroma.