Written by our guest blogger Tea Room Stories which is the tea log of Claudia, a longtime tea lover and student of the leaf. Claudia discovered tea in 2012 during a trip to China, and her tea journey brought her to study Japanese tea ceremony and volunteer at a Zen Teahouse in Chengdu where she learned Chinese tea ceremony. Currently she spends most of her time—and income—on drinking tea.
There is an art to enjoying tea. From visual and auditory, to olfactory, gustatory and tactile, a good cup of tea engages all the senses thus relaxing body and mind.
Looking at the beautiful colour of the dry leaves of this gyokuro saemidori, it is no wonder to learn that the Japanese word gyokuro translates as ‘jade dew’. The thin deep dark needles are the result of a series of meticulous tea processing steps. After the harvest, the gyokuro leaves are steamed to stop the oxidation and maintain the natural colour and fragrance of the leaf as well as all the natural amino acids and vitamins of the tea. After steaming, the leaves are rolled and then twisted tightly to give them the characteristic needle shape. The gyokuro is then dried in order to maintain the natural flavours of the tea.
Gyokuro is a tea that brews best at lower temperatures. This brewing method will take out the sweet flavours caused by the high levels of the amino acid theanine. Gyokuro is a tea rich in theanine due to its cultivation method that requires the leaves to be shaded from the sun for about 20 days prior to harvesting. This stops the photosynthesis process that transforms theanine into other chemical compounds. The shading elevates the alkaloid caffeine levels in the gyokuro leaves as well. But due to the calming effects of theanine, gyokuro is still less stimulating than coffee. Still, I don’t recommend drinking it first thing the morning on an empty stomach.
After the first steep, the colour of the leaves turns from jade dew to bright green and the tea liquor is a pale watery yellow-green. This is no wonder, as Gyokuro saemidori is made from the saemidori cultivar meaning ‘clear green’. The saemidori cultivar was registered in 1990 as tea cultivar no. 40. Originally, the saemidori cultivar was meant for sencha tea, but it’s now used for gyokuro.
The flat shiboridashi, or Japanese gaiwan, I used for brewing the tea helped with the even distribution of the leaves, ensuring that they all come into contact with water in a controlled manner, thus extracting the flavours from the leaves evenly brew after brew.
I bought this tea and the shiboridashi last autumn on a trip to Japan during which I had the pleasure of visiting the Sakurai Experience tea room in Tokyo. Blending modern design with traditional tea culture, Sakurai Experience is a place where you can actually witness the rebirth of tea for the younger generations. And this high quality gyokuro saemidori is proof that it is worth rediscovering the art of drinking quality tea.
Origin: Kyushu, Japan
Harvest time: 2020
Leave colour: Dark deep green with a needle shape
Liquor colour: A pale almost watery yellow-green, with a cloudy and thick consistency reminding of morning dew on a blade of grass.
Tea aroma: Creamy, roasted nuts, freshly cut greens, fruity.
Tea taste: A full bodied tea rich in umami, silky, creamy, and very refreshing with notes of baby spinach, seaweed, roasted nuts, and a deep sweet taste.
Steeping/brewing: 4.5g of tea for 80 ml of water. Best to brew in a shiboridashi, a Japanese gaiwan. First brew: 35°Cfor 3 minutes. Second brew: 40°Cfor 1 minute. Third brew: 95°Cfor 30s.
Shelf life: Gyokuro is a very fresh tea and should be consumed within 6 months after the production date.