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 Tea vs Sencha?
Let's start the Gyokuro Tea 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.
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 Sencha. 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.
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.
Gyokuro vs Sencha health benefits
Another difference in gyokuro vs sencha health benefits is theanine. In addition to affecting the caffeine content, the shading process also influences the theanine in the tea. As we mentioned before, when the tea plant is cut off from sunlight, it produces less of these bitter catechins and retains more of its sweet and savory theanine, but what is theanine?
Theanine or l-theanine in the case of tea, is an amino acid that can induce a calming effect on the brain. This is why you don’t get the same jittery feeling or crash with green tea as you do with coffee. The l-theanine can slow the absorption of caffeine and give you a longer lasting energy throughout the day.
Benefits of theanine
L-theanine can also influence alpha brainwave activity, the same brain waves stimulated during long periods of meditation. This is why the original consumers of green tea in Japan were the monks, who found it improved their concentration during meditation. As gyokuro is a longer shaded tea, in addition to having more caffeine, it will also have more theanine.
When it comes to the gyokuro vs sencha health benefits there is one arena where sencha has the edge and that is catechins. This has two benefits when it comes to weight loss and immune support. Let’s discuss both of these, as well as a few studies to back up the claims.
When it comes to comparing gyokuro vs sencha health benefits, one of the things people are interested in is weight loss. While green tea is no substitute for healthy diet and exercise, there have been some promising results in studies on the efficacy of green tea for weight loss.
There is a 2018 study where subjects were given green tea before going out for a 30 minute walk. The group given green tea showed enhanced fat oxidation during their walk when compared to the placebo group, which might lead to better overall weight loss.
Cold and Flu
Another thing people often look for when comparing gyokuro vs sencha health benefits is cold and flu prevention. This is another factor that can be helped by the catechins within green tea. If this is indeed the case, unshaded sencha teas would have an advantage over gyokuro.
This study compared two groups of healthcare workers. One of the healthcare worker groups was given a green tea catechin and theanine supplement and the other group was given a placebo.
The study found that the group that took the green tea supplement was 3 times less likely to come down with the flu compared to the group that took the placebo. This would suggest that the catechins in green tea might help people avoid getting sick with the flu at all.
Worried about getting sick? Check out our ultimate guide on 👉 tea for the cold and flu.
Gyokuro vs Sencha Caffeine Level
One factor that makes the gyokuro vs sencha health benefits different is the caffeine content.
Gyokuro caffein level contains somewhere in between 120-140 milligrams of caffeine per cup, while sencha caffeine level per cup is more or less 40 milligrams.
The reason why Gyokuro is so high in caffeine compared to a regular tea like sencha is because of its long shading process.
Why does tea have caffeine?
The tea plant produces caffeine as a defense mechanism to protect against insects, and when the tea plant is shaded it actually produces more because the shading process is a stressful time for the tea plant. This is why long shaded teas like gyokuro, and kabusecha tend to be the highest in caffeine.
We just made a full ranking of the caffeine content in different kinds of teas, and if you want to see it you should check out this article on the 👉 lowest caffeine tea
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 green tea in Japan and tea ceremony, 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.
1738 - Nagatani Soen developed the steaming method and Sencha was born
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.
Farmers started to cover the plants to protect them from the cold
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.
Yamamoto Kahei was the first to define Gyokuro as “Jade dew”
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.
Gyokuro vs Sencha Antioxidants
When it comes to the antioxidants in green tea, the primary compound is EGCG or Epigallocatechin gallate. These are produced in higher quantities when the tea leaves are unshaded, and they are extracted at a higher temperature. Because sencha tea is shaded for less time compared to gyokuro, it will actually have more catechins. If you really want to get the most antioxidants out of your green tea, you can brew them at a higher temperature but the flavor will become more bitter.
Gyokuro vs Sencha Taste Differences
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 gyokuro vs sencha taste in terms of aroma, taste, texture, finish, feeling and nutrients.
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.
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.
Gyokuro taste is something so unique that we even wrote an entire article about it! Make sure to checkout our article 👉 What does Gyokuro Taste like?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gyokuro vs Sencha Brewing Differences
When brewing Gyokuro vs Sencha, you have to respect a certain guideline based on each tea types. Without further ado, let's go through the brewing process gyokuro and 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. To learn more about gyokuro brewing methodology, make sure to read our article 👉 Gyokuro Brewing Guide by Tea Experts.
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.
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.
Gyokuro is shaded, Sencha isn't
To maintain a higher level of l-theanine in the tea plant, the tea plant is shaded prior to the tea harvesting. When the tea leaves are exposed to sunlight, they start converting l-theanine into catechins, the bitter components of tea.
Minimum three weeks
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.
Kabuse sencha is a rare shaded Sencha
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.
Only the top leaves are used to make Sencha and Gyokuro
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.
Processing of Gyokuro Green Tea vs Sencha
Step #1 - Production facility
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.
Step #2 - Steaming
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.
Step #3 - Drying
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.
Step #4 - Gyokuro additional rolling phase
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.
Grown under similar conditions in the same geographic regions
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.
They share some common flavor themes
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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 Tea vs Sencha
Is gyokuro the best green tea? Subjectively, I got to say yes. 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 green tea.