Gyokuro green tea is a high grade of tea that is only produced once a year. The name "gyokuro" translates as "jade dew" – perhaps a reference to its rich green color and sweet taste.
Gyokuro green tea has been produced in Japan for hundreds of years, but is only recently getting wider distribution in the west. The unique qualities of Gyokuro green tea are due to the use of select tea leaves and the growing and processing methods.
Gyokuro tea is only produced from first flush tea buds. The tea plant is a special variety called "Yabukita" which is a small-leaf tea bush used for many of Japan’s top grade teas.
The tea plants are shaded for 20 days before harvesting the leaves. This alters the chemistry of the tea leaves to give them a sweeter flavor and darker color. Gyokuro tea has less astringency and more caffeine than other types of green tea.
Processing Gyokuro Tea
Care must be taken when handling the gyokuro tea leaves. Because of the special growing conditions, gyokuro tea leaves are high in moisture, making them tender and easily damaged. The leaves must be hand processed using labor intensive procedures.
Shortly after picking, the tea leaves are steamed to halt the oxidation process. They then undergo a light preliminary rolling and air drying before they are rolled a second time.
At this stage, the tea leaves are known as "aracha" – a raw tea with a high water content. Aracha is sorted into various grades called "tencha" and it is the finest grade of tencha that is used to make gyokuro tea.
Once the leaves have been selected for gyokuro tea they pass through many rolling and drying cycles that finished the tea into a needle shape. The finished gyokuro tea must be matured for at least a week to fully develop its flavor.
Brewing Gyokuro Tea
Gyokuro tea requires relatively cool water for brewing. The water should be about 60 degrees Ceslsius and the leaves should steep for about 2 minutes for the first infusion. During this first infusion the gyokuro leaves will unfurl, so the second infusion can be shorter – around 30 seconds. The third infusion should be about 45 seconds.
Gyokuro tea is a very refined tea with a sweet mild flavor. It is favored as an after-dinner tea in Japan and has a fresh, flowery-green aroma.