We want to thank each of the participants who were at Sip Tea Lounge with us on Sunday, April 28, 2013, for our first Gyokuro Tasting Event. We would like to send a special thanks to Dr. Ralph Faerber, who joined us live from Japan via Skype.
We discussed the cultivation and grading of Gyokuro. Of course, we also tasted several infusions of three different grades of the tea. A one word summation of the event: FUN!
For those of you who missed the tea tasting, don't be sad. We missed you too, but we will have Gyokuro tastings again at Sip Tea Lounge. Check the calendar at siptealoungeny.com to learn more about our upcoming events and tastings. In the meantime, this post provides a quick Gyokuro brewing guide so that you can experiment at home.
The cultivation of “Gyokuro” or "Jewel Dew” began in Kyotonabe. This precious, shade-grown, green tea from Japan is grown and picked with extreme care. Due to the growing method (the tea plants are grown under scaffolded tarps), the leaves of the plants used in Gyokuro production contain larger amounts of the amino acid L-theanine. The result is a sweeter, softer tea leaf.
Tasting Gyokuro can be fun and interesting, especially if you have never tried it before. Unlike other green teas, the resulting brew can have a thick, almost soupy mouthfeel with vegetal notes of spinach and asparagus. Once brewed, the tea liquor is meant to be sipped in small amounts, but the flavor and aroma are quite big. The higher the quality of the tea, the smoother and more delicate the taste. Despite the grade you are tasting, one thing is for sure with Gyokuro, the flavor will grab each part of your tongue to produce a very memorable experience that will tickle all of your senses.
At Sip Tea Lounge, we tasted three grades of Gyokuro tea: High, Extra High and Premium. The "high" grade was scissor cut. The "Extra High" and "Premium" grades were hand picked. There is an obvious difference in the smell, taste and appearance of the leaves of each of the teas.
As mentioned above, the best way to enjoy Gyokuro is to sip it slowly to savor the aroma, flavor and color in the cup. Though you do not need to have a special brewing set, using one can help you slow down and enjoy the moment, making the experience more memorable and authentic.
The Gyokuro brewing accessories include the following:
Houhin or Kyusu - tea pot
Yuzamashi - hot water cool off vessel
Yunomi - cup/vessel
Should you like to conduct your own tasting, here are some Gyokuro brewing steps to follow:
1. Cool off the temperature of the hot water
This step is very important. If the water is not cooled to the correct temperature, the tea will lose its refined flavor and develop a bitter taste. The initial temperature of the water is approximately 90 degrees celsius or 194 degrees Fahrenheit. Decanting the water into the empty teapot first will allow the temperature to decline more rapidly.
2. Cool off the temperature of the hot water
To further reduce the water temperature by about 10 degrees, pour the water from the tea pot into the yuzamashi (the vessel used to continue the cooling process during brewing). Following this step will reduce the temperature of the water by about 10 degrees. Your water will now measure around 70-80 degrees celsius or 158-176 degrees Fahrenheit
3. Cool off the temperature of the hot water
From the yuzamashi, the water is poured into the three small cups. The temperature of the water should reduce by about 10 degrees during this step, resulting in water that is around 60-70 degrees celsius or 140-158 degrees Fahrenheit. Discard any excess hot water from your yuzamashi at this point in the brewing process.
NOTE: At this point you should notice that cooling the temperature of the water is very important.
4. Place Gyokuro leaves into the tea pot
Use approximately 8 grams of tea. It is best to weigh the amount out. If you don't have a scale, this may be about two tablespoons. This amount seems large, especially once it is in the tiny tea pot, but if you use high quality tea leaves, even a larger amount will produce a wonderful brew!
5. Pour hot water on the leaves
When the temperature of the hot water in the cups has declined to about 50 degrees celsius or 122 degrees Fahrenheit, pour the water on to the tea leaves in the tea pot. Do this in a circular motion, working from the perimeter of the tea pot first. Leave the center of the mound of leaves dry. The amount of water should be just enough to cover the outer leaves. If you are not used to brewing Gyokuro, the amount of water may seem too small, but do not be tempted to add more. Even if the water looks like too little, it will be just the right amount. Discard all excessive warm water.
6. Let the tea infuse for about 2 minutes and pour to the last drop
When tea leaves have just begun to open, it is ready to be served. After 2 minutes of steeping time, pour the tea into the cups. When serving several cups of tea, pour a little into each cup alternately, so the richer tea at the bottom of the pot will be distributed evenly between all cups. For example, if you are using three cups, pour in the sequence of 1-2-3, then 3-2-1. Do not fill a whole cup at once. Be sure to pour until no water is left in the pot. The leaves should be as dry as possible once the brew has been decanted into the tasting cups. Shaking the last bit of water out can help the leaves to make better tea the next infusion(s).
7. Sip slowly and enjoy the moment.
We hope you have fun and look forward to seeing you at Sip Tea Lounge soon!
Sip Tea Lounge
286C New york Avenue
Huntington NY 11743