The Japanese take tea drinking very seriously. The better it is, the more they are willing to pay. It is not uncommon for the top grade of Imperial Gyokuro to sell for more than $1,000 per pound, arguably one of the most expensive tea in the world. The name Gyokuro translates as “jewel dew” (or “jade dew”) referring to the pale green color of the infusion. The name comes from the product name given to the tea by the Yamamotoyama Tea Company. The tea was first discovered by Yamamotoyama’s sixth owner, Yamamoto Kahei, in 1835.
Gyokuro is one of Japan’s best green teas made from single buds that are picked only in April and May. In an effort to develop increased chlorophyll making the leaves dark green and reducing the tannin giving it a sweeter tasting flavor with no bitterness. The tea is covered with bamboo and straw curtains for three weeks in early spring before harvesting. This causes both the amino acid theanine and the alkaloid caffeine in the tea leaves to increase, which yields a sweet flavour. The tea also gains a distinct aroma from the covering process. It differs from the sencha (a classic unshaded green tea) in being grown under the shade rather than in direct sunlight.
The leaves are small, about ¾-inch long and extremely fragrant and tender. Immediately after plucking the leaves are taken to the factory and steamed for about 30 minutes to seal in the flavor and arrest fermentation. Next they are fluffed with hot air and pressed and dried to 30% moisture content. Repeated rolling takes place until the tea develops long thin dark green needles at which time it is finally dried to a 3%-6% moisture content.
Preparation: When preparing by the cup, this tea can be used repeatedly (at least 3 times). The secret is to use water that is about 140’-150’F. Place one heaping teaspoon in your teapot, and add 6 fl. oz. of hot water, and steep for only one minute. Since Gyokuro is typically steeped at such a low temperature, preheat both the teapot and teacups with hot water to maintain the warmth of the tea.
This is a great video on the labor intensive process of producing Gyokuro: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RcjT9mVfKE
by ITMA Certified Tea Master Chas Kroll