Me and green tea have had an uneasy relationship. Brewed properly, green tea can be deliciously refreshing and invigorating. But so often, a combination of poor quality leaves and bad brewing results in an affront to the senses. The Lipton Green Tea tea bag is the perfect example of the catastrophe that green tea can be – never again shall a drop pass my lips. Yet it doesn’t have to be a cup of green floor sweepings to make me grimace in pain; even green tea produced by notable tea companies can still be bitter and well, frankly quite gross.
My mistrust of green tea is so deep that for many years now I’ve nursed an unhealthy level of suspicion and hostility towards it. I therefore assumed that our relationship could never be repaired.
So in this context, when a lovely friend recently gifted me a packet of Japanese green tea, I was hugely grateful on the outside, but on the inside I was nervous and fearful. I assumed this scenario could only end badly.
In the spirit of not being an ungracious wretch however, I set about making a pot there and then. I followed the very specific instructions, then took a sip.
Holy Dooley! It was astounding! I loved it! It was the best green tea I’d had since… since… I was in Japan.
After a slow and painful resuscitation of my Japanese, I laboriously translated the packaging and learned this was ‘gyokoru‘ tea. With a bit more tasting (and a bit more researching) I discovered that there are three very compelling reasons why I am entitled to be adulterously in love with it.
1. It’s very special
Gyokuro is the most highly prized green tea from Japan; its production is costly and difficult, in part because it’s all handpicked and is harvested only once a year in the early spring. According to the Japanese Tea Sommelier, ‘true’ gyokuro is cultivated by only a dozen producers, all of them over 65 years of age. Unfortunately none of them have a successor.
Not only is my beautiful packet of tea gyokuro, it’s from a premium area: Okabe town in Shizuoka, near Mt Fuji (where the mortality rates from cancer are especially low due to the high consumption of green tea). Tea from this area is really hard to get hold of outside Japan.
This means gyokuro can be pretty expensive. One American importer is selling 5 grams of the gyokuro that took first place in the 2017 National Grand Prize at $US150. Wowsers.
2. It’s very needy
The brewing instructions for gyokuro are very, very specific. If you want to know how to brew gyokuro like a tea sommelier, check out O-cha.com. Otherwise, you can read my amateurish highlights here.
The proper brewing temperature for gyokuro is between 50- 60 degrees, which means you’re drinking it tepid. (This is much lower than for sencha). The ratio of tea to water is also pretty important apparently – 2 teaspoons (which is double than what you’d use for sencha). It should only be steeped for 2 to 2.5 minutes (longer than sencha). So if you take nothing away from this, don’t treat gyokuro like sencha. It won’t thank you for it.
3. It tastes amazing
Even with my inexact methodology of brewing, this tea tastes outstanding. In a flash I’m back in Japan. As the spring days in Melbourne have very quickly turned outlandishly hot, this tea is a perfect way to cool down and rehydrate. There’s nothing bitter or sour about it; its full bodied yet delicate, and each mouthful makes me go ‘ahhh’.
The most important thing to know about gyokuro is that it’s grown in the shade beneath a straw roof for 20 days and its this shading process that dramatically alters the taste of the tea. Due to some complex science-type reason, this lack of sunlight results in its delicious ‘umami‘ flavour.
After the leaves have been picked they’re immediately steamed, dried and carefully rolled into their distinctive pine-needle shape. The result is a gorgeous bundle of dark green and that just makes you want to inhale it deeply.
Thank you my lovely friend Lizzle, for rekindling my extinguished love of Japanese green tea. Thanks to you, the flame of our relationship has been relit. Me and gyokuro – turns out, we’re a match(a) made in heaven.