Gyokuro taste can be difficult to explain to people, so we thought we would write a whole article about it! In this article, you’ll learn what does gyokuro tea taste like and why it is able to develop such a distinct flavor profile. You’ll see how much work goes into producing the unique gyokuro tea taste that has become famous all around the world.
So what does gyokuro tea taste like...?
The gyokuro taste is very unique in the world of tea. When people ask us what does gyokuro tea taste like, the first things that come to mind are actually foods, rather than other drinks.
The savory or umami flavor gyokuro is known for is something more common in Japanese cuisine than it is in the world of tea. The closest comparison for explaining the gyokuro tea taste is something like a bowl of miso soup. You get the rich, thick mouthfeel from the miso paste, the savory flavor from the tofu and mushrooms, a hint of salt and these marine or vegetal flavor from the seaweed.
This may sound like a lot to take in, particularly with a simple cup of tea, but the gyokuro tea taste is something tea lovers all around the world have fallen in love with. Once you develop a taste for gyokuro, there is no turning back!
What Creates the Gyokuro tea taste?
The unique taste of gyokuro tea comes from a long and labor intensive production process. Let's break down the production steps that impact the Gyokuro taste:
First, the gyokuro plant need to be covered with a special type of netting called a kabuse to block them from the sun. When the tea plant is exposed to sunlight, it begins to convert theanine into catechins. Catechins can protect the tea leaf from the UV light, but they can also produce a bitter flavor in the final tea. In order to minimize the production of catechins and maximize the content of sweet and savory theanine, the tea plant needs to be covered in order to block it from the sun.
Harvesting the top 3 leaves
After the tea leaves have been shaded for 3 weeks, they are ready to be harvested. The farmer will only select the top 3 leaves of the tea plant, as these are thought to be the sweetest and smoothest in flavor. They also are the most nutrient dense part of the tea plant.
Did you know that some people are even eating gyokuro leaves? To learn more about it, read our article 👉 Why people are Eating Gyokuro Leaves?
After the leaves are harvested, they need to be steamed. This deactivates the enzymes that cause oxidation and prevent the tea from turning into a black tea. The steaming process locks in these marine or seaweed notes of the gyokuro tea.
Drying and rolling
After the leaves are steamed, they are partially dried and then rolled. The tea leaves need to be slightly pliable when they are rolled, and with the case of gyokuro they are actually taken through an additional rolling phase, which takes place in a special machine. This is how gyokuro tea is able to develop its distinct, pine needle shape. Once the leaves have taken on their final shape, they are dried one last time to create finished gyokuro tea.
Is there any tea that tastes similar to gyokuro
There are really no other teas that can replicate the gyokuro taste. The closest you may get is with a long shaded sencha like Kabuse sencha.
Kabuse sencha is made from tea plants that have been shaded for 10 days or more. As you know, to be considered a gyokuro tea the plant needs to be shaded for 21 days or more. This means that kabuse sencha falls somewhere in between 10-20 days of shading.
Compared to the gyokuro taste, the taste of kabuse sencha is much lighter. It does replicate the sweetness of the gyokuro, but without this strong umami or brothy flavor. This may be a positive for some people who have not quite developed the gyokuro tea taste.
If you are a fan of these strong savory or umami flavors, you really need that extra 2 weeks of shading in order to get it. The Gyokuro caffeine level will be higher compared to kabuse sencha as well.
Gyokuro tea taste without the shading
There is a tea plant variety that is known for having a natural gyokuro taste. This cultivar is called the Asatsuyu and it is used to make sweeter sencha teas.
Even though the Kasugaen Asatsuyu sencha is not a long shaded tea, it does have a really pleasant sweetness to it that is akin to the gyokuro taste. This tea is made using the deep steaming method, where the leaves are steamed for an additional 30 seconds or so.
During the longer steaming process of the Kasuagaen Asatsuyu, the tea leaves are broken down, allowing more of them to flow into the cup, creating a cloudy green color and a rich vibrant flavor.
Reasons why your gyokuro tastes bitter
Some people have told us that gyokuro tastes bitter, and there is one main reason for this. Gyokuro brewing temperature is extremely important. If you brew it too hot you will end up with a very bitter tea. This makes it very important to follow the gyokuro brewing parameters, particularly the temperature.
To prepare a cup of gyokuro tea, we recommend you use 5 grams of tea leaves, 150ml of water, a temperature of 140 degrees F (60 degrees Celsius) and a brewing time of 2 minutes. The reason you need a longer brewing time is that gyokuro tea is rolled more tightly into these needle shapes, and the leaves need a full 2 minutes to open up and release their flavor into the water.
Is gyokuro the best green tea?
While the question is gyokuro the best green tea is a matter of opinion, we believe that when you look at the health benefits, the production and the unique taste characteristics of this tea, you can certainly make a case for it. We wrote an entire article in which we are taking a look at what gyokuro is, how it’s made and why it just might be the best green tea. Checkout the article 👉 Is gyokuro the best green tea?
Final thoughts on the gyokuro taste
The gyokuro taste is certainly an acquired one, but once you get it nothing else will come close to satisfying it. Gyokuro has a heavy and thick mouthfeel with a rich savory flavor and a smooth finish. It also has plenty of sweetness to it. It is rare to find a drink that has the complexity and nuance of a full meal, but gyokuro seems to pull it off beautifully.
Where to buy the tastiest gyokuro?
Now that you know what does gyokuro taste like, you are ready to prepare your own! Where to buy gyokuro green tea is a question we often get asked, and the answer is a bit complicated. We wrote an entire article in which we will teach you everything you need to know before you buy gyokuro, how to buy gyokuro green tea and where to buy gyokuro. If you want to read it, here is the link for the article 👉 Where to buy gyokuro green tea.
Mr. Sakamoto Gyokuro
If you are looking to try some gyokuro tea for yourself, you can try some from the legendary farmer, Mr. Sakamoto. Mr. Sakamoto has been growing tea without the use of pesticides or chemicals since 1985, and during that time he has developed his own blend of organic fertilizer. With this more natural fertilizer, he is able to grow strong, healthy and flavorful tea plants without harming the local ecosystem.
After traveling around Japan for the past few years, we have met with dozens of farmers and sampled many different gyokuro teas. The best gyokuro we have found are the gyokuro cha musume, gyokuro sasa hime, gyokuro cha meijin and the gyokuro wakamusha.
The Cha Musume for example is the beginner’s gyokuro from the Yabukita cultivar. It has a strong and direct savory flavor with some nice floral notes.
The Cha Meijin is the master’s gyokuro. It has a much lighter and sweeter flavor with notes of caramel and brown sugar. Whichever gyokuro you decide on, I’m sure it will change the way you look at tea forever!