Why is Gyokuro Shade-Grown Green Tea Expensive?
Green Tea | | C. Xu

Why is Gyokuro Shade-Grown Green Tea Expensive?

It may be quite a shock to many how Gyokuro's price is quite more expensive than some may expect. Even in Japan, though most people know about the existence of gyokuro, most have not yet tasted this type of green tea. Gyokuro Shade-Grown Green Tea has a distinct aroma and flavor, with many health benefits. The famous regions that grow gyokuro include Uji, Okabe, and Yame.

In Japanese, the characters "gyo" and "kuro" translate to "jade" and "dew," referring to its vibrant green color.  While most green tea follows standard farming processes, gyokuro shade-grown green tea involves a more skilled approach to harvesting.  The result is an exquisite premium green tea with a fresh, often oceanic aroma that brews a jade green liquor packed with umami flavor. However, the price can be more expensive than some might expect, but why?

The reason for Gyokuro’s price tag involves nearly a month of shade and a limited harvesting window.

 

brewed gyokuro shade-grown green tea in a white teacup with senbird yozora kyusu teapot and gyokuro kotobuki tin

Limited Quantity of Gyokuro Shade-Grown Green Tea

From April through early June, farmers prepare their tea fields for the first tea harvest of the year in Japan, also known as Shincha. Since farmers only grow and harvest Gyokuro green tea once a year, the quantity available on the market reflects what they were able to produce within that time.

In the past, Gyokuro production spanned throughout Japan, but now the three main producing regions—Uji in Kyoto, Okabe in Shizuoka, and Yame in Fukuoka—dominate. The limited number of regions producing the majority of Gyokuro often restricts the supply.

 gyokuro shade-grown green tea shaded tea plant field

Production Time of Gyokuro Shade-Grown Green Tea

The limited quantity and harvest period, along with the extra labor that goes into cultivating contribute to the price of Gyokuro. For instance, the farmers shade the Gyokuro plantation for 20-30 days before harvesting. Additionally, farmers build bamboo structures called “tana,” to shield the tea shrubs from direct sunlight. This step in Gyokuro’s process is crucial and is the reason for its unique, jade green coloring.  The shading process allows the plant to produce more chlorophyll,  causing the leaves to take on a darker shade of green.

Farmers will begin the harvesting process after shading the green tea for an appropriate amount of time. Unlike modern tea harvesting techniques, farmers hand-pick the Gyokuro tea leaves. The farmers ensure that each leaf has just the right amount of time to grow.  The timing is key here.  The harvester must be careful since picking the tea leaves too soon or too late could compromise the entire batch.

Despite the time-consuming process, it ensures that only the highest quality green tea leaves make it to the next step. After farmers pick the tea leaves, they steam them to retain their natural green color, fragrance, and nutrients. Later, workers sort and cut the to remove certain parts, like the veins and stems, before rolling them.

 pouring brewed gyokuro shade-grown green tea into two white teacups

Difference in Taste of Shade-Grown Green Tea

In comparison to Sencha, Gyokuro has more sweetness and umami tones throughout. The reason for this is the shading process during production. With less exposure to the sun, there would be more amino acids, and theanine, which increases the umami flavor. Additionally, tea leaves that receive shade from the sun also exhibit less astringency. Astringency refers to the slight bitterness that lingers after drinking.

People have also compared Gyokuro to Matcha, a powdered green tea. Similar to Matcha, the amount of time in the shade determines the quality of the Gyokuro. For instance, people consider Gyokuro high quality because the shading process takes about 20-30 days. Although Gyokuro and Matcha have similar umami tones, Gyokuro's texture and taste are different. Compared to Matcha, Gyokuro is brothy and has a savory taste.

In conlusion

Brewing Gyokuro requires precision, as it is an elegant premium green tea. If you steep the leaves for too long or use water that is too hot, the tea becomes astringent.

Although the cultivation and harvest of Gyokuro green tea is an arduous process, it results in one of the finest Japanese green tea available. Premium Gyokuro shade-grown green tea may be a bit more expensive, but it is not without reason.  Between the farmers’ hard work and the limited quantity available every year, Gyokuro green tea is worth every penny.  

 

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