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What is gyokuro?
Gyokuro means ‘jewel dew’ or ‘jade dew’ in Japanese, a reference to the green colour of steep gyokuro (infusion). The jade reference in the name of this Japanese green tea also highlights how exclusive gyokuro is – it is only created once a year after a meticulous growing and production process. The tea plants that become gyokuro are shielded from the sunlight for the final three weeks before harvesting, which means it is a shade-grown tea and is also why gyokuro has such an exceptional flavour – sweet, deep and rich in umami.
What is a shaded tea?
The green tea that you can find on your supermarket shelves is generally ‘sun-grown’ tea – the tea plants that go into this green tea are constantly exposed to the sun until the time the leaves are harvested and processed. This sun-grown tea is the tea that is found in teabags, in traditional Chinese green tea, Japanese sencha and genmaicha.
Shaded teas or shade-grown teas are different and also taste differently. Shaded teas are valuable varieties of tea that have a deep green colour and flavour. For these shade-grown teas the tea plants are shielded from sunlight for a certain period just before being harvested – from a few days to some weeks, depending on the desired flavour.
By shading the tea plants, the natural photosynthetic process in the tea plants declines, resulting in an increased chlorophyll production. This not only makes the tealeaves greener, it also changes the flavour. The amount of chlorophyll affects the caffeine (or theine) levels as well as the natural sugars, flavonoids (the antioxidants) and the amino acids in the tealeaves. For example, levels of the amino acid L-theanine increase in the absence of photosynthesis. L-theanine counters the stimulating effect of the caffeine and it is responsible for that coveted Japanese umami in the shade-grown teas.
Umami is a ‘savoury’ taste that is considered as one of the five basic tastes by the Japanese, together with sourness, sweetness, saltiness and bitterness. The presence of umami in a foodstuff is prized, as it is indicative of its high quality. Umami is a difficult taste to obtain - this applies to the shade-grown teas as well - and requires much knowledge and experience for knowing when optimum harvest time is in order to acquire that desired umami taste.
What does ‘shaded tea’ or shade-grown tea taste like?
A Japanese green shade-grown tea has – depending on how long the plants were shaded – greater or lesser umami. Umami is best described as ‘savoury’, and it means that the green teas have a ‘green’, grassy flavour and are not as sweet as teas such as Chinese green tea or sencha.
How many shaded or shade-grown teas exist?
The differences between shade-grown teas are determined by the period for which the plants are shaded.
Kabusecha Kagesakura First Flush is considered to be a shade-grown sencha. It is a Japanese green tea or sencha that is shaded for ten days before being harvested, making it the perfect introductory tea for discovering umami and shaded teas.
Shincha Harumi First Flush is Kabusecha Kagesakura First Flush, but has had its tealeaves steamed a little longer during production.
Gyokuro Kimigayo First Flush is shaded for three weeks before harvesting. Japanese tea experts know that Gyokuro is an exceptional variety of tea that must be drunk with care. The tea has a subtle and gentle flavour and is famed for its high umami value.
Tencha is the name of the Japanese green tea variety that is ground into fine green tea powder – matcha (+link). The green tea used in matcha is shaded for four weeks prior to being harvested, the longest shading of all the teas. And that’s why matcha has such a clear and deep green colour.
Gyokuro Kimigayo First Flush is a fine and multi-faceted shaded tea for special moments of pleasure. Unmistakable umami taste, tender and sweet.
Gyokuro Kimigayo First Flush van Aiya
The tea plants used to make Gyokuro Kimigayo (Kimigayo is the national anthem of Japan) are protected from sunlight for the last three weeks prior to harvesting. It is the only Japanese green tea to be shaded for three weeks – Kabusecha Kagesakura is shaded for ten days while matcha tea plants are protected from the sun for four weeks.
The gyokuro in Aiya Gyokuro Kimigayo comes from small tea plantations in Kagoshima. The knowledge of exactly when a tea plant is ready to be harvested is handed down from generation to generation. Only the bud and the first two tealeaves are used to create gyokuro and they are picked by hand and not mechanically, as is the case with sencha and kabusecha. After the tealeaves are harvested and steamed the gyokuro is stored for a few months to give its typical rich and complex flavour a chance to develop.
Gyokuro is a tea that is drunk on special occasions in Japan. It is the most expensive of the Japanese green teas, which is why it is only drunk to welcome special guests or to gift yourself a unique moment of enjoyment.
100% Japanese organic green tea
Gyokuro is the most expensive of the Japanese green teas. In order to enjoy its quality it is important that you follow the directions on the packaging.
Use water with a low mineral content and ensure that the temperature never exceeds 60 °C.
Let the tea steep for about 5 minutes.
This Japanese green tea can be used for three infusions. The first and second steepings are important and give the tea a different taste – the tealeaves open up and their initial flavour is released during the first infusion, and because they are already open during the second infusion they steep in the water and release a different flavour.
For 1 cup: add 10 g of Gyokuro Kimigayo First Flush to 150 ml of water at 60 °C. Leave to draw for 60 seconds.
Add 150 ml of water at 70 °C and drink the tea immediately.
For a gentler taste:
Add 13 g of Gyokuro Kimigayo First Flush to 1 litre of water at 50 °C. Steep for 5 minutes. For the second infusion, add a litre of water at a temperature of 70 °C to 80 °C and leave to draw for another 3 minutes.
Tips for preparing Japanese green tea
Use soft water when making the tea. Soft water has a low mineral content, and water’s hardness can affect the taste and colour of the tea. Tap water is often hard so we recommend that you use bottled water with a low mineral content in order to get maximum enjoyment from your tea.
The better the tea’s quality, the lower the temperature of the water used for your tea. That’s because high-quality green tea is rich in tannins and amino acids – tannins give it that bitter taste and amino acids are responsible for the umami and the pleasant aftertaste. If the temperature of your water is under 100 °C, the tealeaves won’t release the tannins that make the tea taste bitter, while the amino acids can also do their job at a lower temperature. Gyokuro,which is considered to be the highest quality green tea in Japan, tastes extremely bitter when the temperature of the water exceeds 40 °C.
A First Flush Sencha and shaded teas are mild with a subtle but far-reaching flavour. In order to experience the umami it is important that you follow the directions on the packaging and use sufficient tealeaves.
- Shelf life
In theory tea can be kept for a very long time because it is dried. But to consistently enjoy the quality we recommend that you use the tea within six months of opening the bag.
Japanese green tea can be used for three infusions. The first and second steepings are important and give the tea a different taste – the tealeaves open up and their initial flavour is released during the first infusion, and because they are already open during the second infusion they steep in the water and release a different flavour.
Japanese green tea is never drunk with sugar. Good quality Japanese green tea has a gentle and naturally sweet flavour and has umami – the very properties that the Japanese tea aficionados want to taste and experience.
Instead of adding sugar to tea, Japanese tea is often served together with a pastry or other sweet treat, and the aftertaste of the snack means that the tea seems sweeter when drunk.