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Gyokuro has been well-known throughout Japan, for being aromatic and flavorful, especially the gyokuro produced in popular regions such as Uji, Okabe, and Yame. In Japanese, the characters of “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 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.
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 Gyokuro green tea is only grown and harvested once a year, the quantity available on the market is what the farmers were able to produce within that time. In the past, Gyokuro has been produced throughout Japan, but the three main producing regions are Uji in Kyoto, Okabe in Shizuoka, and Yame in Fukuoka. Since there are only three regions producing majority of Gyokuro, the supply is often limited.
The limited quantity and harvest period, along with the extra labor that goes into cultivating contributes 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.
The harvesting process will begin after the green tea has been shaded 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 had 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 its natural green color, fragrance, and nutrients. Later, the leaves are sort and cut to remove certain parts, like the veins and stems, before they are rolled.
In comparison to Sencha, Gyokuro has more sweetness and umami tones throughout. The reason for this is from the shading process during production. With less exposure to the sun, there would be more of amino acid, theanine, which increases the umami flavor. Additionally, tea leaves that have been shielded from the sun also have less astringency. Astringency refers to the slight bitterness that lingers after drinking.
Gyokuro has also been compared to Matcha, which is a powdered green tea. Similar to Matcha, the amount of time in the shade determines the quality of the Gyokuro. For instance, Gyokuro is considered high quality since the shading process takes about 20-30 days. Although Gyokuro and Matcha have similar umami tones, Gyokuro’s texture and taste is different. Compared to Matcha, Gyokuro is brothy and has a savory taste.
Additionally, Gyokuro is an elegant tea that needs to be brewed precisely. If the leaves are steeped for too long or the water 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.