Gyokuro vs Sencha: Differences & Comparisons

Gyokuro vs sencha is an easy comparison to make. The two teas share a lot in common when it comes to their flavor, history and production.

There is also a lot that makes the two different. In this article, we’re going to compare the differences between sencha vs gyokuro and give you all the information you need to know about these incredible Japanese green teas.

Without further ado, let’s get started 🍵🍃 

Gyokuro vs Sencha Explanatory Video 

What is the difference between Gyokuro vs. Sencha?

Let's start the Gyokuro vs Sencha battle by clearly defining the two Japanese green teas: 

What is Gyokuro Green Tea?

To learn all you need to know about Gyokuro, we strongly recommend you to read the article 👉 Everything You Need to Know About Gyokuro Tea. It's the ultimate guide about this magical tea! But here is a quick sum up of what you need to know about this plant.

Gyokuro is considered to be the highest quality green tea in Japan. This super flavorful green tea was once reserved for the emperor, but now is enjoyed by tea connoisseurs all across the world. To understand this special tea, we visited a farmer that has been producing it for decades. 

These teas are incredibly unique for a few different reasons. First, they have these incredibly dark, thinly rolled needle shaped tea leaves. These leaves are so tightly rolled, they need a full two minutes to open up and release their flavor into the water.

The other aspect that makes Gyokuro unique is its powerful sweet and savory flavor, a key differentiating factor between gyokuro vs sencha. The savory or “umami” flavor is greatly celebrated in Japanese cuisine. Similar to a hearty miso soup, this tea also develops a seaweed flavor as well.

Some describe this flavor as savory, salty and even as a light ocean breeze. The unique sweet and savory flavors come from the high concentration of amino acids in the tea. 

What is Sencha Green Tea?

To learn all you need to know about Sencha, we strongly recommend you to read the article 👉 Everything You Need to Know About SenchaIt's the ultimate guide about this magical tea! But here is a quick sum up of what you need to know about this plant.

Sencha is the most common japanese green tea variety, making up approximately 70% of the total tea produced here. While sencha is a broad category, it generally refers to tea leaves that have been steamed and rolled to form these tightly rolled needle shapes.

The leaves of a sencha are not quite as tightly rolled as gyokuro leaves, but they are more tightly rolled compared to a tea like Tamaryokucha or kamairicha. 

When the tea leaves are steamed, the enzymes in the tea that normally cause oxidation are broken down and the tea is able to lock in these more grassy notes.

These grassy or vegetable flavors come from the presence of the polyphenols in the tea leaves, one of the main sources of antioxidants. If the tea leaves were not heated directly after harvest, they would oxidize naturally overtime and the polyphenols would be converted into Theaflavins to produce a black tea.

This is why black teas don’t have the grassy or vegetal taste profiles that green teas do.

 History of Sencha vs Gyokuro

Of course all the innovation around Gyokuro production took many years to develop. When green tea was first grown in Japan, there was very little known about it. To really learn more about the history of Japanese green tea, we took a trip to Uji, where gyokuro was first discovered.

In medieval Japan, the primary way to consume tea was in powdered form. Of course this powdered tea “matcha” is still popular today but in modern Japan, loose leaf tea is king. Sencha is by far the most common way to consume green tea in Japan, but the switch was made relatively recently. In 1738, a tea farmer by the name of Nagatani Soen in Ujitawara developed the steaming method. 

After tea leaves are picked, they can then be steamed in order to lock in their fresh vegetable flavors and prevent them from oxidizing into a black tea. With this steaming method, the tea leaves could be prepared without being ground into matcha. This gave rise to the preparation of tea in a teapot, rather than the bowl that had been commonly used in the tea ceremony. For this reason, Nagatani Soen is considered to be the father of Japanese green tea. His childhood home is now a popular tourist attraction, and there is even a nearby shrine built in his honor.

After loose leaf green tea became more common in Japan, many different farmers began experimenting with new methods of growing and production. Farmers used to cover the tea plants to protect them from the cold, but they soon learned that by cutting them off from sunlight, they actually became sweeter and smoother. 

Once these amino acid rich leaves were taken through the steaming process, a farmer by the name Yamamoto Kahei, noticed a green residue left by the tea leaves and decided to name the tea “Gyokuro” meaning “Jade dew”. People soon fell in love with this super sweet and flavorful green tea, and it even became the tea of choice for the emperor, who loved how the tea maintained and even improved its flavor with age. This monument in Ogura, Uji was built to commemorate the discovery of Gyokuro.

Once Gyokuro was discovered, people soon built specialized machines to produce this legendary tea. Producing Gyokuro can be quite a long, labor intensive process. This is the key difference in the history of sencha vs gyokuro. Sencha was discovered first and later gyokuro was created through additional ingenuity.

Growing and harvesting

The amino acid l-theanine can create a beautiful sweet and savory flavor in a green tea. The difference between dry and bitter green teas and sweet and smooth green teas is the concentration of l-theanine. To maintain a higher level of l-theanine in the tea plant, the tea plant is shaded prior to the harvest. When the tea leaves are exposed to sunlight, they start converting l-theanine into catechins, the bitter components of tea.

These bitter flavors have to be minimized with Gyokuro, so the plant is cut off from sunlight for at least 3 weeks leading up to the harvest. During this time the tea plant also produces more chlorophyll, which turns the tea leaves from a yellowish green into a dark jade green. This is another contrast between sencha vs gyokuro. Gyokuro has to be shaded for 3 weeks before the harvest, but sencha can be either unshaded or shaded up to 20 days. If you want to learn more about the Gyokuro tea plant and cultivation, we advice you to read the article 👉 All you need to know the Gyokuro Plant.

Some sencha teas are left out of the shading process altogether in order to develop some of these catechins.These catechins are not always a bad thing, some tea drinkers actually prefer the milder and slightly drier flavor of these unshaded sencha teas.  By definition, gyokuro has to be shaded for 3 weeks or more in order to develop its trademark flavor.

After being shaded for 3 weeks, the Gyokuro tea is ready to be harvested. To make Gyokuro, only the top leaves are used. These top leaves are the youngest and more tender, yielding a lighter and sweeter flavor, with less bitterness and astringency. This is a key similarity between sencha vs gyokuro, as both teas are usually made from the top leaves. The young sprouts are also the highest in nutrients and caffeine giving them advantages beyond simply their flavor.

Of all green teas, Gyokuro is perhaps the highest in caffeine because of how long it has been shaded. Gyokuro is also the highest in l-theanine, which induces a more calming effect on the brain. This works in synergy with the caffeine, to create a relaxed but alert feeling that many people enjoy for long periods of work, study or meditation. Rather than getting a crash or jitters after drinking it, Gyokuro can give you long lasting energy throughout the day.

Processing

After the leaves are harvested, they are collected into a pile and transported to the production facility. The pile of freshly picked tea leaves needs to be separated so that it can be processed evenly without overloading the conveyor belt. 

Next the leaves need to be steamed. This is perhaps the most important step in the production of Japanese green tea. Once the leaves are picked, the enzymes in the leaf will naturally start to oxidize the tea, which will turn it into a black tea. In order to lock in these more grassy and vegetal notes that Japanese green tea is known for, these enzymes need to be deactivated with heat. 

After the leaves have been steamed, they will then go through a few different stages of drying. In order for the leaves to infuse properly, they need to have an incredibly low moisture content, around 4-7%. This is accomplished through a series of small ovens that heat the tea leaves at a very low temperature so that the flavor is not affected but the leaves dry evenly. While the leaves are still pliable, they can be rolled into these characteristic needle shapes. 

Up until now, the processing of gyokuro vs sencha is more or less the same. The only difference comes later when the gyokuro goes through an additional rolling phase. These machines are important because they give Gyokuro its characteristic pine needle shape, and it's why there is such a difference in the leaves of gyokuro vs sencha. These tightly rolled leaves protect a lot of the flavors until they are ready to be released by the water. 

Organic Gyokuro is far less common than non-organic Gyokuro. The reason for this is that the farmer needs to keep the tea plant alive for 3 weeks without much sunlight. Most tea farmers accomplish this with a heavier use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. While this may lead to a short term improvement in growth, it can degrade the health of the soil and the ecosystem over time. Luckily, organic Gyokuro farmers like Mr. Sakamoto are able to grow incredible quality green tea, without the use of chemicals! The organic Gyokuro from Mr. Sakamoto is healthy, great tasting and it’s produced using more sustainable methods.

Taste difference between Sencha vs Gyokuro 

The taste difference between sencha vs gyokuro is truly astounding. While the two teas share a lot in common with regard to taste, there is a lot that separates them. In this next segment, we will be comparing the taste differences between gyokuro vs sencha in terms of aroma, taste, texture, finish, feeling and nutrients.

Aroma

It is difficult to pick up a noticeable difference between the two teas in terms of aroma. A drier sencha will have more of this citrusy scent to it, while gyokuro while smell sweeter with notes of seaweed. The real difference will come once you brew up the two teas and compare them.

Taste

In many ways, gyokuro is a more intense version of sencha. These steamed vegetable flavors are intensified, far more umami is extracted and the finish is more powerful. There are some aspects of Gyokuro that make it entirely unique however. This intense brothiness and seaweedy flavor is difficult to detect in a sencha, but it can really dominant the flavor profile of a gyokuro.

Texture

The texture of Gyokuro is much denser than sencha, particularly when it is prepared with a high leaf to water ratio. A fine gyokuro takes on more of an oily consistency you can notice as it glides over the top of the tongue. The texture of sencha is definitely much thinner and it can have a bit more of a drying sensation on the palate.

Finish

Of course the finish of Gyokuro is much stronger and longer lasting. What you really notice is the savoriness of this tea that leads to a very satiating finish. The sencha on the other hand tends to have more of a citrusy, mouthwatering finish. Both of these can be enjoyable, but very different. 

Feeling

Because gyokuro will have almost double the amount of caffeine compared to sencha, you will notice more of an energy rush from drinking it. The energy boost from gyokuro won’t be quite as rapid or as jittery as it would be with coffee, but it will likely lead to this enhanced alertness throughout the day.

Nutrients

As we mentioned before, gyokuro will have about double the caffeine compared to sencha, but it will also have more theanine as well. Sencha on the other hand will have more catechins, which are the antioxidants produced as the plant is exposed to sunlight. If you are looking for a tea to drink during cold and flu season, it can be a good idea to drink a tea like sencha and brew it at a hotter temperature to extract more catechins. 

 

How to Brew Gyokuro vs Sencha? 

Brewing Gyokuro Instructions

When preparing this special green tea, it is important to use a very low temperature, around 60 degrees celsius, 140 degrees Fahrenheit, a smaller amount of water and a longer brewing time of 2 minutes. This creates a dense, powerful infusion. When enjoying Gyokuro, it is common to use an incredibly small cup. When enjoying Gyokuro, it is not just about the flavor, but the texture as well. A good Gyokuro is heavy on the palate, and you can really feel the weight of it gliding over your tongue. This tea is meant to be enjoyed in small sips so you can really savor each and every drop.

Brewing Sencha Instructions

There is only a slight difference in the preparation of sencha vs gyokuro. Although it does depend on the type of sencha, in general sencha tea can handle higher temperatures and a shorter brewing time compared to gyokuro. For fukamushi sencha, you can use a brewing time of 45 seconds and a temperature of 140 degrees. For drier sencha teas like the sencha isagawa, you can use a temperature of around 160 degrees Fahrenheit and a brewing time of 1 minute. 

 

What are the Similarities of Gyokuro vs Sencha? 

Rather than focusing on the differences between gyokuro vs sencha, let’s take a little bit of time to focus on the many similarities. Both of these teas are grown under similar conditions in the same geographic regions. While gyokuro may be slightly more common in the south of Japan, it is also grown in Shizuoka. 

The production of the two teas is nearly identical, save for a few small details. Both teas have a rigorous leaf selection process and they are only made from the top leaves and sprouts of the tea plant. This makes both teas high in nutrients, caffeine and amino acids.

Although the flavors are very different, they share common themes. This is due to both the selection of the leaves and the steaming process. The steaming process used to produce just about every Japanese green tea really locks in the fresh and vegetal flavors of the tea. With both gyokuro vs sencha, you will get notes of steamed vegetables and a hint of this slightly grassy flavor. 

 

Gyokuro vs Sencha: which one suits your taste best?

If you are new to tea, you may prefer the taste of sencha vs gyokuro. Gyokuro tends to have a very powerful taste profile that takes some getting used to. Sencha may have more of the classic “green tea taste” you’ve come to know and love, whereas gyokuro will have more of these savory or brothy flavors you may only have experienced in something like a soup. Either way, both teas are certainly worth experiencing at some point, and we have a few recommendations below we’d love to share with you. 

 

Which Gyokuro and Sencha would you recommend?

Here comes the most interesting part of this article, the tea tasting! First and foremost, we insist on the fact that you have to make your own opinion. At the end of this battle to know which Gyokuro vs Sencha are the best, we can clearly recommend you the following teas to start your own tea journey:

Gyokuro tea

Cha Musume

The Gyokuro Cha Musume is the most popular tea produced by Mr. Sakamoto, and it is made from the Yabukita cultivar. This is the most common tea cultivar  in Japan and although it is not known for having the sweetest taste, it does develop a powerful umami flavor. The gyokuro cha musume is a good example of this, as the tea has this deep, straight to the point savory flavor. 

 

Sasa Hime 

The Gyokuro sasa hime is made from a blend of 3 different cultivars, Yabukita, Okumidori and Saemidori. A skilled producer is able to blend different tea cultivars together to encapsulate the best elements of each. The sasa hime shows a light sweetness a bold full bodied umami flavor and it even has some pleasant floral notes to it. This tea is the second most popular gyokuro produced by Mr. Sakamoto.

 

Cha Meijin  

The Cha Meijin is the highest grade gyokuro available from Mr. Sakamoto. This tea is made entirely from the Saemidori cultivar, known for its light and sweet flavor. The taste of this tea is unique in the world of gyokuro, it actually plays more on these warmer sweet tones like caramel and brown sugar. If you prefer light and sweet teas, this is the gyokuro for you!

 

Sencha tea

Fukamushi Sencha Murasaki

The Murasaki sencha is perfect example of a fukamushi or deep steamed sencha. It’s produced by Mr. kawaji outside of Kagoshima, and he has really found a way to perfect these super green and flavorful fukamushi teas. This tea comes from the yutaki midori cultivar and it has a nice round and full-bodied flavor, with notes of banana and papaya.

 

Fukamushi Sencha Yamaga no Sato 

The fukamushi yamaga is another classic deep steamed tea. This tea is produced by the farmers at Satoen in Shizuoka, Japan's largest tea growing region.

 What makes the Yamaga no sato so special is this beautiful lychee berry note that comes out, particularly when the tea is prepared as a cold brew. The feedback on this tea has been universally positive, and it is also ranked as one of our best green teas for cold brewing.

Sencha Henta Saemidori 

The Henta Saemidori has sweet, almost syrupy taste to it and a smooth finish. Normally a flavor like this is something you would experience on a premium gyokuro or kabuse sencha, but the saemidori sencha is able to deliver it at a fraction of the cost. The henta saemidori sencha is consistently one of our most favored sencha teas. The reviews speak for themselves and the fans of this tea seem to always be scrambling  to keep it in stock. 

Final words on Gyokuro vs Sencha

Subjectively, I got to say that Gyokuro is my favourite tea. When it comes to flavor and drinking experience, the price tag seems to speak for itself. Gyokuro does seem to command the highest price in the world of Japanese green tea, and because so many people are willing to pay top dollar for it, the taste must be well loved. To learn why Gyokuro is so expensive, we advice you to read the article 👉 Why is the Gyokuro Tea Price so High?   

Sencha is the most popular green tea in Japan, and it's also one of the most diverse categories. The question of which sencha is best comes down to a matter of preference. If you like your tea to be a little bit more on the sweeter side, you can go for a shaded sencha or even a Kabusecha. These teas will come with a higher price tag, but it is well worth it for the sweet and smooth flavor profiles. If you tend to be a fan of drier, more citrusy teas, you can go for an unshaded sencha. Finally, if you are simply looking for a tea that has a lot of strength to it, you can go for a deep steamed sencha. These senchas also have the added benefit of working exceptionally well as a cold brew.

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