Gyokuro tea is the most sought after leaf tea in Japan. There are many reasons gyokuro is so highly desired, but the main reason comes down to its taste, which is unique in the world of tea.
Gyokuro has a powerful sweet and savory flavor, that is perfected during its careful production process. In this article, we are going to walk you through what gyokuro is, how it’s made and how you can prepare it. Without further ado, let’s get started 🍃🍵
Everything You Need to Know About Gyokuro Tea Complete Video
What is Gyokuro Tea?
Gyokuro tea is considered to be the most sought after leaf tea in Japan, and there are a few different reasons for this. The first is of course the unique flavor of Gyokuro tea.
The flavor of gyokuro can be described as sweet, savory, brothy, salty and even seaweedy, sometimes all at once. This comes from the strong presence of amino acids in the gyokuro, which is unrivaled in the world of japanese green tea. This strong presence comes from the unique methods used to produce gyokuro tea.
The labor intensive production is another reason why Gyokuro is so sought after, but it is crucial for creating this trademark sweet and savory flavor gyokuro is known for.
To produce this tea, the farmer needs to cover the tea plants in a type of netting called “kabuse” for a minimum of 3 weeks before the harvest. When the tea plant is cut off from sunlight, it completely alters the chemical composition of the leaf. 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.
History of Gyokuro tea & Yamamoto Kahei
The history of Japanese gyokuro tea dates back to the 1830’s when a tea merchant named Yamamoto Kahei was traveling around Japan and meeting with tea farmers. He noticed that some of the farmers were covering the tea plants with a type of netting to protect them from the frost.
He noticed that this shading actually had a profound effect on the leaves and actually gave them a “sticky” texture during the production process, producing a green residue. The tea was named “gyokuro” or jade dew, and it soon became one of the most desirable types of tea in Japan, even by the emperor.
If you're interested in the history of Japanese tea, the article 👉 History of green tea in japan & Tea ceremony is made for you!
Why is it called Gyokuro Imperial Green Tea?
The reason you often see the tea be called gyokuro imperial green tea or imperial gyokuro is because gyokuro used to be the tea of choice for the emperor himself. Before the use of refrigeration and modern packaging, a lot of teas would go bad after a few months, with the exception of Gyokuro.
The best gyokuro tea would not decline in flavor with age, and in many cases the flavor would actually improve over time. The emperor saw this as a sign of good quality. He would sometimes even wait a few months after the harvest to see which teas maintained their flavor and only select these for his personal collection. As a result, Gyokuro is still known today as the emperor’s tea, and we like to think that the emperors of the edo period would be proud to drink some of these incredible green teas.
Why is Gyokuro Green Tea so Special?
#1 Shading process
When the tea plant is exposed to sunlight, it begins to convert the amino acid theanine into catechins, a natural antioxidant found in green tea. This protects the tea plant from being damaged by the UV light, but it also produces a bitter flavor in the tea. If you try a tea that is high in catechins, you will notice that it has a bitter or astringent flavor. This may be enjoyable in certain drier Sencha teas, but it is avoided at all costs when it comes to Gyokuro. With Gyokuro tea, the goal is to stop the tea plant from converting theanine to catechins and maximize the content of theanine in the leaf. This is achieved through the long shading process, which is carried out in different stages. The farmer may start by blocking out 70% of sunlight and then block out 80% and finally 90% for the last week before the harvest. This really stresses the plant, but it allows it to maintain more of its theanine.
#2 Mental Alterness
Theanine doesn’t just affect the taste of the gyokuro tea, but also the effect it has on the brain. L-theanine is able to cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore it is possible to alter the mental state in a similar way to caffeine. L-theanine helps to induce a more calming effect on the brain and it is thought to be the reason why monks were among the first to drink tea, as it helped them during long periods of meditation. When combined with caffeine, it creates a calm alert feeling, which is much different than the feeling of just consuming caffeine alone. While coffee drinkers report having a burst of energy followed by a crash later on in the day, consumers of high theanine teas like matcha and Gyokuro claim that the energy lasts longer, without the jittery feeling or the crash afterwards.
#3 High in caffeine
Gyokuro and matcha also tend to be higher in caffeine as well as theanine. This has to do with the shading process as well. Caffeine is poisonous to small insects, so it is used as a defense mechanism on the outside of the tea leaf. Because younger leaves tend to be tender and more vulnerable to insects, these leaves tend to contain more caffeine than the older, tougher leaves on the tea plant. Gyokuro is made from these younger leaves, which increases the caffeine content, but the caffeine content is further increased by the shading process. As the shading process used to produce gyokuro tea is incredibly stressful for the plant, it produces more caffeine to protect itself. While the main objective of the shading is to produce a sweeter and more savory green tea, the high caffeine content is a byproduct most gyokuro drinkers enjoy.
#4 High level of Chlorophyll
The third aspect of the tea that changes during the shading process is the chlorophyll content. Chlorophyll is a green pigment found in plants that is essential for photosynthesis. It helps the plant to convert sunlight into energy, and if there is less sunlight, the tea plant needs to produce more chlorophyll to compensate. This causes the leaves to change from light green to dark green. It may be easy to notice this color change in the live leaves of the tea plant, but it is especially evident in the dried tea leaves. The leaves of Gyokuro and certain shaded senchas become this extremely dark green, nearly black color.
What Does Gyokuro tea Taste Like?
Gyokuro tea is famous all around the world for its sweet and savory flavor. This savory or “umami” flavor is perfected during the long and careful production process.
You might normally associate these more savory or “brothy” flavors with a soup rather than a tea, but gyokuro pulls it off beautifully, making it very unique in the world of tea.
Other types of Japanese green tea like sencha have this savory flavor but it is no where near as intense as with gyokuro. If you want to learn more about the different between Gyokuro and Sencha, we suggest you to read the article 👉 Gyokuro vs Sencha: Differences & Comparisons.
What is Organic Gyokuro?
Organic Gyokuro uses no chemicals like pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or chemical fertilizers, to grow or process the tea after it is harvested. Instead, farmers use natural processes to create a sustainable tea crop, like the solar-powered or sticky bug catchers pictured below.
How is Organic Gyokuro produced?
Step 1 - Shadding process
The shading process is particularly difficult when it comes to the cultivation of organic gyokuro. Normally, to keep the tea plants alive during the long shading period, a farmer can simply apply more chemicals to temporarily strengthen the tea plant, but when it comes to organic gyokuro, it simply comes down to the talent of the farmer.
Step 2 - Making the best fertilizer to make the Gyokuro Tea survive the shadding process
Mr. Sakamoto is the best organic gyokuro farmer we have met to this day, and he has developed his skills over many decades, experimenting with different types of organic fertilizers. He has developed an organic fertilizer made from a combination of sedimentary rock and bokashi fertilizer, made from organic foods. This strengthens the cellular structure of the tea plant, and allows it to last 3 weeks without sunlight. It’s crucial that the tea plant doesn’t begin to wilt during this shading process, otherwise it will negatively impact the flavor of the tea.
The organic gyokuro produced by Mr. Sakamoto is top notch, and it’s all produced without applying chemicals or pesticides to his tea plants. After the three weeks are finished, the tea harvest begins and the top 3 leaves are selected. These tend to be the sweetest and highest in nutrients, making them the perfect choice for a tea like gyokuro.
Step 3 - Harvesting
After the leaves have been harvested, they are produced in a similar way to any other Japanese green teas. They are steamed and dried to bring down the moisture content.
Step 4 - Drying and rolling the Gyokuro leaf
Finally, before the leaves are completely dried, they go through an additional rolling process to create these unique needle shaped leaves that Gyokuro is known for. This tea is tightly rolled to lock in the flavor, and once the leaves are exposed to warm water, they begin to open up and release their flavor all at once into the water.
How to brew Gyokuro Tea with explanatory Video and instructions
When it comes to gyokuro brewing, it is extremely important to follow the following parameters. Gyokuro brewing is very different from sencha brewing for a couple of reasons.
First, the water temperature is usually much lower, to extract the sweeter flavors of the tea. This is really important for gyokuro tea as it is a celebration of these sweet and umami flavors, and a lot of work goes into creating the perfect flavor profile.
The second thing to keep in mind when it comes to gyokuro brewing is the steeping time. Because gyokuro is made from very tightly rolled leaves, they need a full 2 minutes in the water to open up and release their flavor.
This separates it from a normal Japanese green tea which requires only 1 minute. The gyokuro tea leaves can then be brewed 3-4 more times with the same temperature water at 20 seconds each.
Brewing with a Higher Leaf to Water Ratio
If you really want to get serious about Gyokuro brewing, you can actually use a method that is practiced by certain tea masters in Japan and that is to increase the leaf to water ratio.
With most Japanese green teas, you should be using 5 grams of leaves and 150 millileters of water, and this also works well for gyokuro brewing, but if you really want to take the flavor to the next level, you can use 5 grams of leaves and 50ml of water.
This will create a small quantity of super concentrated tea that can be enjoyed not just for its taste, but also for its texture. When gyokuro is served with such little water, the texture becomes much thicker, almost like an oil.
Gyokuro is often enjoyed in these small cups so the guest is forced to take very small sips and appreciate the sensation as the tea glides over the top of the tongue.
Cold brew your Gyokuro Tea
Gyokuro is already close to a cold brew green tea, because it is prepared with water between 104-1040 degrees fahrenheit. If you want to become more knowledgeable in cold brewing, we recommend you to read the article 👉 Cold Brew Green Tea explained by Tea Experts.
Preparing Gyokuro Green Tea in a Shibooridashi
You may notice that at some tea shops, they will prepare gyokuro imperial green tea in a teapot that is very different than a kyusu. This teapot is called a shibooridashi and it is specifically designed for teas like gyokuro.
You will notice that the design is much flatter, with a wider base and a shorter build. This allows you to really concentrate the brewing of your gyokuro tea. The tea master will essentially fill the base of the shibooridashi with leaves and then drizzle a tiny bit of water on top of the leaves. After the brewing time is up, it is time to pour the gyokuro green tea out of the shibooridashi and serve it to the guest.
This teapot design allows the leaves plenty of space to expand, even when you prepare them with a high leaf to water ratio like this. Of course it is also perfectly fine to prepare gyokuro tea in a kyusu teapot as well.
What are the other different types of Gyokuro Tea?
In addition to gyokuro, you may see some other variations like gyokuro karigane and gyokuro kukicha. These teas are made from both the stems and leaves of the tea plant.
Gyokuro karigane refers to a tea made from both the stems and leaves of the tea plants used to make gyokuro. Karigane can also be made from the plants used to make matcha and kabusecha. This is a shaded stem tea, which gives it a sweeter flavor and differentiates it from kukicha, which is a stem tea made from unshaded tea plants.
Mr. Sakamoto also makes a Gyokuro kukicha, which is made with a higher ratio of stems, giving it more of this light hay flavor, and less of the sweet umami flavor. If you find the flavor of a normal leaf Gyokuro to be too intense, you may want to first try one of these stem tea varieties to get used to the flavor.
11 Benefits of Gyokuro
This section is a brief explanation about the benefits of Gyokuro. If you are interested to learn more about the topic, we recommend you to read the article 👉 Learn More about the Gyokuro Tea Benefits
#1 Mental Alertness
Gyokuro tea has a very high caffeine content, somewhere in between 120-140mg per serving. The reason why Gyokuro contains so much caffeine is because of its long shading process. The tea plant produces caffeine as a defense mechanism to ward off insects, and when the tea plant is shaded it actually produces more.
#2 Calm Feeling
L-theanine can help slow the absorption of caffeine, and as a result it is thought to buffer some of the negative effects of caffeine. Instead of getting this quick burst of energy and then a crash shortly after, you’ll notice a more sustainable energy throughout the day. For this reason, a lot of people use green tea for long periods of work, study and meditation.
#3 Supports a healthy heart
In addition to cardiovascular disease, gyokuro is also thought to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Green tea appears to block the absorption of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is often referred to as “bad cholesterol”. As long as you are drinking the green tea unsweetened, it can also improve blood sugar.
#4 Keeps your skin looking clear and youthful
Gyokuro and other green teas also have a high vitamin C content. Vitamin C can be effective when it comes to lightening dark spots caused by scars or acne.
These scars and marks can build up over time, and can make your skiing look older. Of course the best thing to do is try and prevent these from forming in the first place, but the marks can also be reduced overtime to show younger looking and healthier skin.
#5 Fat burning
One of the key nutrients in gyokuro is EGCG or Epigallocatechin gallate. This antioxidant can help to improve the metabolic process and lead to a quicker consumption of caloris and more fat loss..
#6 Dental health
Gyokuro also contains flouride and minerals which appear to prevent tooth decay and other infections of the mouth. Studies show a decrease in the development of gum disease and gingivitus for those who drink green tea.
#7 Cancer prevention
Not only can green tea be helpful in the prevention of oral cancer, but also other types of cancer such as bladder cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, ovary cancer and pancreatic cancer.
#8 Good for digestion
In certain studies, the EGCG has been associated with decreased inflammation in the digestional tract. Drinking gyokuro tea may also help with excessive gas and bloating. This can lead to a more healthy, regular and comfortable digestion overtime.
#9 Reduces inflammation
According to a study out of the tea science center at the university of Shizuoka, the Epigallocatechin gallate in green tea has been demonstrated to have anti inflammatory effects. The findings also indicate that green tea and the EGCG contained within can suppress the gene/protein expression of inflammatory cytokines and inflammation-related enzymes.
#10 Boost your immune system
Apparently, green tea can not only strengthen the immune response, but also modulate it. A study from Harvard Medical School states that In the immune system specifically, accumulating evidence has revealed an immunomodulating effect of green tea/EGCG.
Rather than eat handfuls of pomegranate seeds, why not drink a cup of Gyokuro in the morning? In addition to creating a nice healthy morning routine, it can also be a good and delicious source of antioxidants in your diet.
Is gyokuro the best green tea?
It is hard to answer the question is gyokuro the best 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?
The emperor of Japan himself even preferred the flavor of gyokuro. This is why you often see gyokuro be sold as gyokuro imperial green tea. If it’s good enough for the emperor of Japan, surely it must be good enough for us!
Finally the question of is gyokuro the best tea comes down to the health benefits. With promising data showing the benefits of gyokuro green tea on everything from inflammation to dental health to weight loss, it is hard to argue that gyokuro is not the best green tea. Of course other green teas have health benefits of their own, but the long labor intensive production of gyokuro tea ensures that it is jam packed with nutrients.
So is gyokuro the best tea? To us the answer is yes, but we’ll let you be the judge of that. Below, we have a buying guide to help you pick out the best gyokuro green tea to enjoy at home. After you’ve tried this special tea, you can let us know whether or not you think it is the best. We’re interested to hear what you think!
Why you should not buy Gyokuro in tea bags?
If you want buy Gyokuro in tea bags, we advice you to read our article called Gyokuro tea bags: Read this Before Buying. However, here is a quick sum up of the article below👇
You may have heard us discuss before that teabags are perhaps the worst way to prepare green tea. This is especially true in the case of gyokuro green tea bags.
Like other types of Japanese green tea, Gyokuro tea goes through a rolling and drying process. What makes Gyokuro unique is that it is rolled an additional time in a special type of rolling machine. This really compresses the leaves into these tight, needle shapes. This rolling is meant to really lock in the flavor so it can be released all at once when the leaves are rehydrated.
Because the leaves are so tightly rolled, they expand to many times their original size when they are added to water. Because of this, gyokuro needs even more space than a typical green tea. This makes gyokuro tea bags not a good option for preparing tea. In the next sections, we’re going to talk about the taste difference between gyokuro tea bags and gyokuro prepared in loose leaf form.
Comparison between Gyokuro Teabags vs Gyokuro Loose Leaf Tea
We have done a few side by side comparisons between gyokuro teabags and gyokuro imperial green tea in loose leaf form. We found that, for a number of reasons, the gyokuro in loose leaf form was far better than the gyokuro teabags.
The most noticeable difference in the flavor is the complexity. When comparing the Gyokuro sasa hime, you get this pleasant floral note, a cooling sweetness and a rich umami finish. With the gyokuro teabags, you get some of the sweetness but it feels faint and distant. The floral notes are completely lost and the umami can be found only with some imagination.
In other words, you are only getting part of the experience when you use gyokuro teabags. If you really want the full effect, you will have to drink the gyokuro tea in loose leaf form. Another downside to the gyokuro teabags is that you get the flavor of the teabag itself. All the materials used to make teabags impart some flavor into the tea that can negatively impact the taste. Even the silk teabags that we use provide some disruption to the flavor.
Finding Gyokuro Tea
While gyokuro green tea can appear intimidating at first, you may soon find it to be one of your favorite teas. The flavor is so unique, no other type of tea can really come close to matching it. A lot of people have switched out their morning coffee for a cup of gyokuro, and noticed a huge difference in both their mood and their energy levels throughout the day.
If you are interested in trying gyokuro for yourself, we encourage you to check out a few of the teas from Mr. Sakamoto and see which one looks the best to you. To this date these are the best organic gyokuro tea we have found, and we are proud to share them with all of you.
To simplify the search process, we wanted to highlight three of the Gyokuro teas that are available on the market:
If you’re looking for the best gyokuro tea for beginners, we would recommend the Gyokuro cha musume. This is one of mr. Sakamoto’s famous Gyokuro teas and it is made from the Yabukita cultivar, the most popular tea cultivar in Japan. This tea has a powerful savory flavor, but it is smoothed out by a pleasant sweetness.
If you’re looking for the best gyokuro tea for seasoned tea drinkers, it would have to be the Gyokuro Cha Meijin. This tea is produced in the same way as the cha musume, but it is actually made from the Saemidori cultivar, one of the more sought after tea cultivars in Japan. The reason that Saemidori is so prized is because it has a light sweetness to it and very little bitterness. The long shading process of course improves the flavor even further to create a gyokuro tea with a nice warm sweetness of caramel and brown sugar.
If you are interested in my personal favorite, it would have to be the gyokuro wakamusha. This is one of the newest teas we discovered from Mr. Sakamoto and it does a good job of encapsulating all aspects that have made gyokuro famous. It has a light sweetness to it, a thicker mouthfeel, strong umami and these more vegetal characteristics of edamame and even seaweed. These taste profiles may seem like they couldn’t possibly go well together, but after you’ve enjoyed a few cups of gyokuro, you will begin to understand and appreciate the unique flavor. Similar to the Saemidori, the okumidori gyokuro is also well sought after for its lack of bitterness. The okumidori cultivar tends to produce rounder and smoother teas, so its a good choice for high end green teas like matcha and gyokuro.