Why is Gyokuro so Expensive?
Of all the leaf teas in Japan, Gyokuro is definitely the most expensive. In this article, we’re going to take a deep dive into gyokuro and find out what exactly makes this green tea so expensive.
First, let’s start out with the shading process. Gyokuro and matcha are the two longest shaded green teas in Japan. Certain senchas are shaded for around 7 days, Kabusecha is shaded for 10 days or more and Gyokuro and matcha are shaded for 21 days or more. The shading process reduces the bitterness of the tea and increases its sweetness. When the tea plant is exposed to sunlight it produces more catechins to protect itself from the UV rays, which creates a more bitter flavor. If the tea plant is shaded, it produces less catechins and retains more of its theanine. The theanine is responsible for the sweet and savory flavors of green teas. While this sweet and savory flavor is well sought after, it takes a lot of work to produce. For this Gyokuro, Mr. Sakamoto needs to set up a scaffolding to put the nets on top of. The nets will then be rolled on top of the scaffolding so that the plant can be cut off from sunlight, but there is still enough space underneath for people to come in and harvest the leaves.
Setting up the netting is just one part of the challenge. The second factor that influences the price of Gyokuro is what comes next. After the scaffolding has been set up, the tea plant now needs to be kept alive for 3 weeks without sunlight. This is a stressful time for the plant, and it needs to be strengthened in order to maintain its health for this long period of time. While most farmers would use chemical fertilizers to do this, organic farmers like Mr. Sakamoto like to do things the more natural way. He used nutrients from the surrounding area combined with compost to create an organic fertilizer that strengthens the cellular structure of the tea plants. He says he can even tell organic leaves from non-organic leaves by holding them up to the light. The organic leaves have less of a dense cellular structure, so they appear more see through.
After the 3 week shading process is complete, the tea is ready to be harvested. This is where the third factor comes in and that is leaf selection. Cheaper teas are made from the older leaves, lower down on the stem of the tea plant. To make premium sencha, matcha and gyokuro the top leaves of the plant need to be used. The top sprouts are the youngest, most nutrient dense and the sweetest in flavor. This careful leaf selection means that the farmer is able to produce less Gyokuro on the same acre of land compared to a cheaper tea like bancha, so the price becomes higher. It also adds additional work during the production process, as leaves have to be more carefully harvested and sorted.
After the leaves have been harvested, they are steamed, partially dried and rolled. This rolling process is common along all tea types, but it is even more precise when it comes to Gyokuro. Gyokuro has these unique, tightly rolled needle shapes that lock in the flavor so they can be released into the water in a strong infusion. This careful rolling needs to be done by a specific type of machine. This of course adds extra costs and extra steps to the production of Gyokuro, which raises the price.
The final reason for Gyokuros high price comes not from the production, but from the customer. Gyokuro has become famous for this super concentrated, sweet umami flavor that is very rare in the world of tea. As a result, producers work meticulously to perfect the ideal Gyokuro flavor. There are even competitions around this, where Gyokuro teas are compared to one another to see which has the best flavor. Once these flavors have been perfected, people are willing to pay high prices for these incredible teas. Even if the cost is a few dollars per gram, it is worth it for the occasional indulgence. Gyokuro is a tea for special occasions, so the price doesn’t need to necessarily accommodate daily drinking. When drinking Gyokuro, you’re meant to use a brew a small quantity of super concentrated tea, and really take your time as you sip it. While paying a dollar or two per cup may be expensive for every day tea, Gyokuro drinkers don’t mind paying for a special tea they can share with friends of family as a celebration.
So there are 5 reasons why gyokuro tea is more expensive, although not all gyokuro teas are this way. The Gyokuro Cha musume made by Mr. Sakamoto, is one of our most popular teas, and its comparable in price to a normal sencha. This tea has a really great sweet and savory flavor that has earned it a wonderful reputation. You can try it on our website, or you can sign up for the monthly tea club and get it in your first shipment. With the monthly tea club, you’ll not only get to try premium green teas from all over Japan, you’ll also get a free clay teapot to help prepare them. This is the perfect way to start off your journey into Japanese green tea.
Thank you all so much for reading. If you have any questions about Gyokuro, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. Until then, well see you next time.