As one of the most sought out green teas in Japan, Gyokuro tea has a rich umami taste and almost jelly-like, foam thickness. This is due to its cultivation process being different from other green teas. The plant is shaded for more than two weeks prior to picking, and this process stresses the plant, which results in a higher chlorophyll content.
It means “round dew,” but could also be called “pearl dew,” or “jade dew,” and it originates from Uji, and Yame, Japan. In 1835 it was said to be discovered by Kahei Yamamoto. It’s also grown in places like Kagoshima, and Okabe.
Fun Fact: at the time it was discovered it was referred to as the Emperor’s tea, and was reserved for him.
The name Gyokuro “jade dew” could also be from the popular farming family the Sakamoto’s, when noticing the green hew the leaves left behind when rolled.
After harvesting the green tea leaves from the shade, they were steamed to stop them from oxidizing into black tea, and usually rolled in extremely tight balls, and are now more popularly seen rolled in their needle shape. This is why it may take a longer time for them to flower and open up to release its flavor.
Not Your Regular Tea
In fact, it is a regular tea plant that is commonly used for other types of green and black tea, but for it to be a Gyokuro tea it has to be shaded for up to two to four weeks before cultivated.
This shading process makes the plant develop more chlorophyll, but also more caffeine, and this is all done as a defense mechanism in order for it to sustain itself. The top three leaves are picked off of the plant –they’re the most nutrient dense.
Farmers first started covering these plants during winter months to help them from freezing, yet they realized it actually made the leaves sweeter and smoother when brewed as a tea.
Rolling the leaf tightly within itself in some way made it easier for the tea to be stored and prepared. At the time this process was created, green tea had been ground up into matcha. This fabulous steaming technique made it possible to serve the tea leaves whole and out of a teapot rather than a bowl like the powdered green teas were then.
Full Body Flavor
To find a sweet, nutty, sea salt flavor– it’s best to use boiled water of about 100 to 180 degrees fahrenheit for 8 oz of water and 1 tsp of tea leaves. This will need to steep for at least two to three minutes.
Gyokuro is best enjoyed with small slow sips. It has a cravable seaweed scent that would have anyone talking about it. On its first brew it will have sweet tones of flavor, yet the umami taste that green teas are known for.
Here For Seconds
The second brew will need a slightly extended steeping time to release the natural bitter flavor from the dark green leaves. At the same time it will brighten the seaweed taste to a slight ocean breeze. It’s a bit vegetal. The longer it’s steeped it’ll also lengthen the sweetness carried on the tongue.
This lovely feeling can be enjoyed for up to three brewing cycles. The sweet and savory aspect is from the high amount of amino acids of the leaves. It can even be savored for the smooth taste rather than extremely bitter, like other green teas, the longer it’s steeped.
Be careful not to over boil or over steep, add room temperature water or more leaves for a better, less bitter flavor.
The technique to stop the growth of the plant by shading it in the sun results in a vast amount of properties including flavor, but also caffeine amount. These dark dried leaves are even higher in caffeine than coffee beans. Coffee has about 95 mg of caffeine while Gyokuro has at least 120 mg.
Fun Fact: the caffeine is so strong that it’s lethal to some bugs.
It’s believed to keep people moving steady all day. Also unlike coffee, it may not cause those to become jittery, because of the l-theanine in the green tea. It may even be less likely to cause a crash midday, which is why it’s been popular to use for sport, study, or meditation.
That’s another reason to sip it slowly and savor: it’s high caffeine content!
Other Nutritional Facts
Gyokuro tea has roughly 20 calories in about an 8oz glass. In the same amount, there’s about 5 carbs. There’s little to no protein or fat.
The process of the dried, rolled leaves means that if stored properly, it may be one of the longest lasting green teas. An unopened package can last for up to six months, but once opened it can stay fresh for at least three months.
It’s not recommended to make this tea beforehand to store in the fridge. It’s meant to be relished with each small cup and brew, like a long anticipated glass of alcohol.
Worth a Try?
With more caffeine per cup than coffee –and a wildly rich, sweet and savory taste compared to coffee –is it a tempting change from the everyday dark caffeine-filled brew? It could be a valued contender based on its unique flavor alone.
Not to mention one tsp of leaves can be brewed more than once, so that could make the long shelf life of the tea well worth it. And each steep the brew gets thicker and more umami in flavor. With small sips it could last for hours in a cup.
The undertaking to put the plants in the shade contributes to all of the flavor and extra high caffeine content. The plant has a natural self defense of producing more caffeine, chlorophyll, and a darker color in order to protect itself from damage from bugs. The top three leaves are softer and richer in these nutrients –oh, how that has worked in flavors favor for this sweet green tea!