June 2022 Newsletter
Gyokuro - A Star from the Shade.
The best things sometimes come from accidents or happenstance.
In 1928, at Saint Mary’s Hospital in London, Alexander Flemming left a petri dish containing some bacteria on his desk. Usually, he would have placed the dish in an incubator especially as he was going on vacation. On returning from his holiday, he noticed not only the bacteria growing but also some mold. Where the mold grew the bacteria were absent – so began the discovery of Penicillin and the age of antibiotics.
Gyokuro is a type of Japanese tea that came about in a similar fashion. In about 1835 a tea scholar and merchant called Yamamoto Kahei traveled to Kyoto to buy some tea. In Kyoto, many farmers at the time covered their tea with straw to protect it from the frost during the colder weather. The merchant noticed this and also noticed that the tea from these covered plants had a sweeter flavor than the full sun teas he had tried before. He returned to his home and began shading plants to try and replicate the taste – Gyokuro was born. This is just one version of the several regarding the discovery of Gyokuro. Like all such stories, there is more to the development of Gyokuro than this, and Yamamoto Kahei did not perfect his method for gyokuro production but based on his accidental discovery of the taste benefits of shading the journey began.
Gyokuro translates into ‘Jade Dew’ and alludes to the pale green color of the prepared tea. The reason the tea tastes less astringent than non-shaded teas is because of the presence of an amino acid called L-Theanine. The L-Theanine exists in the roots of all tea plants. As the plant grows the L-Theanine moves to the rest of the plant including the leaves When the leaves are exposed to sunlight the L-Theanine is converted into a polyphenol called Catechin which has an astringent flavor. By shading the plants prior to harvesting this conversion is minimized and the tea produced has a sweet Umami flavor.
Gyokuro is premium tea and one of the most labor-intensive to produce. Typically, approximately 21 days prior to harvest time the plants are covered from direct sunlight.
The picture above shows a traditional reed blind roof covering. To adjust the ratio of shading, straw is placed over the roof from time to time. The picture below shows reed plants and blinds that make up the covering. This use of reeds is the traditional method and is labor-intensive. Nowadays synthetic black materials are often used. How the Gyokuro plants are covered, which part of leaves are used, cultivars, and how tea is processed all influence the final tea taste.
After harvesting, the tea is steamed and rolled. Steaming stops the oxidation of the tea. Like an apple that is cut and exposed to the air, the green tea leaves will react with the air once they are harvested and will slowly turn brown – this oxidation process is what leads to black teas. The steaming process stops the oxidation and accounts for the green color of green tea. The steaming/drying temperature for Gyokuro is lower than temperatures used while making Sencha.
We have many types of Gyokuro. We would like to introduce you to two of our newest Gyokuro offerings.
Gyokuro Nishio Rikyu 100g (3.53oz)
The first is our Premium Gyokuro tea from Nishio region in Aichi. Nishio has a history of green tea cultivation for over 700 years. The area is blessed with a mild climate, well-drained rich soil and the land is surrounded by rivers providing a misty environment providing optimal conditions for producing shaded green tea (Matcha and Gyokuro). Please see our article about tea plants and terroirs.
Only the finest leaves are used to create this great example of the art of tea making. This Gyokuro Nishio Rikyu tea has an elegant aroma and smooth taste. We are sure will meet your expectations when looking for a premium Gyokuro.
Gyokuro Karigane Stem Tea 80g (2.82oz)
This is a new tea for us, first introduced in May 2022. This tea is classed as a stem tea and is produced in Yame located in Fukuoka prefecture. Like Nishio, the area is renowned for its tea production, especially Gyokuro. Production levels in Yame are low, less than 5% of production in Japan comes from there but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality.
As mentioned, Gyokuro is grown under the shade for the final few weeks before harvest and is traditionally made only with the leaves. This tea is made from the stems and leaves of the plant. It tastes slightly creamy with a slight earthy tone. It has a smooth texture, is full-bodied, and has a pronounced sweetness along with wonderful freshness.
June in Japan is the quiet month for tourists
Japan has opened its doors to tourists again. There are restrictions still to visiting Japan so if you are planning a trip we are sure you will be checking out the current situation.
In tourism terms, June is considered a quiet month in Japan. Many visitors historically go to Japan in Spring and then again in late Summer. June is the quiet month in between.
Usually, when people think of Japanese foods and drinks they will think of sushi, sake, and tea – two of the three involve rice., the third can involve it as we will discuss, Rice is a very important part of Japanese life and culture, Japan has been cultivating rice for over 2000 years and June just so happens to be the best month to enjoy some of the wonders of ingenuity that produce Japan’s staple. June is a rainy month and the rice paddies are wonderful sites to visit during this time of the year with the flooded terraced fields of rice.
Rice is not just for the eating or sake of drinking though. Genmaicha is tea made with the addition of roasted rice that adds a nutty toasted flavor to refreshing Sencha. Genmaicha is a timeless comforting drink for year-round enjoyment. We have an extensive range of Genmaicha teas. Most Genmaicha is a mixture of brown rice and Sencha tea but we also have a Genmaicha with an additional ingredient - Matcha green tea powder.
Shown on the right is a paddy field growing rice and on the left the roasted rice working with the tea to produce the distinctive genmaicha nuttiness.
That is all for this month, we hope it is good tea-drinking weather where you are.