Yame Gyokuro (八女玉露) is a fine Japanese green tea from Yame, Fukuoka Prefecture in the northern part of Japan’s Kyushu Island. Yame Gyokuro is also known as Yamecha in Japan and is one of the most popular and recognised types of tea. It is made from an unusual Asatsuyu (あさつゆ) tea cultivar that is known for producing flavoursome and aromatic teas with plenty of sweetness and lower astringency. Our Yame Gyokuro is from the first flush harvest, has been deep steamed and is more roasted than usual. May 2020 harvest.
The name gyokuro translates as jade dew and is a reference to the fine pale green colour of the liquor. Gyokuro undergoes a growing process that is unique and differs from most other tea growing. During growth the tea plants are shaded for about 20 days prior to harvesting that typically occurs in May of each year. High quality tea such as this Yame Gyokuro is normally shaded using traditional shades made out of bamboo that cover the tea plants from up to 90% of the sun. The covering of the tea forces the tea plants to slow the rate of photosynthesis, leading to higher levels of theanine. This change in chemistry of the leaves creates a much sweeter, mellower taste with a bolder character that is grassy and rich in umami flavours. The covering of the tea also creates a unique rich aroma that gyokuro is known for. This process is similar to kabusecha, however kabusecha is normally shaded for a shorter period of time.
This Yame Gyokuro is made from the leaves of Asatsuyu (あさつゆ) tea cultivar plants. It is an unusual cultivar that is relatively rare due to being harder to grow and producing lower yields when compared to other Japanese cultivars. It is, however, unique in producing a particularly flavoursome and aromatic tea, resulting in the moniker – ‘natural gyokuro’. It is said that even without shading, this cultivar produces teas that have a gyokuro-like quality. In our case, the tea was still shaded to produce a true gyokuro.
Yame Gyokuro is also a fukamushi gyokuro, which means that it was also deep steamed. This processing results in a much finer leaf that brings more sweetness with diminished astringency. In Japanese, fukamushi (深蒸し) means ‘deep steamed’ as the tea is steamed for 1-2 minutes as opposed to the usual futsuumushi (普通蒸し) steaming, which is only 30 seconds to 1 minute. There is also an even lighter version that is called asamushi (浅蒸し) or ‘light steamed’ tea, which undergoes steaming for less than 30 seconds. This longer steaming process results in a good balance between the classic umami depth and a pleasing sweet aftertaste. The steaming process makes the tea leaves very soft, so during the next processing stage, which is rolling, the leaves and tips can often break. This results in variable leaf size, with many very small broken leaf fragments. It can appear like a low-quality tea, but the reality is completely the opposite as it the result of the specialised deep steaming process.
Our Yame Gyokuro has attractively coloured dark green leaves with a bright, verdant and savoury aroma. The liquor produced has an attractive green colour and is somewhat opaque. The liquor is thick, mouth coating and definitely has a fresh green quality to its taste. The flavours are grassy and full of savoury umami notes. There is a kind of bitterness that you get from fresh green leafy vegetables present, yet it is refreshing and pleasant. The flavours continue on a more creamy note, leading up to herbs and buttered green asparagus. When brewed in Japanese style, this is a complex and full-bodied tea with a thick, herbaceous and umami-laden liquor that has a excellent, lightly sweet and creamy counterbalance. Brewed western style, this is still a flavoursome tea, however not as concentrated in flavour.
It is possible to brew this tea in the common Western style (2.5g of tea per 200-250ml) but you will not get the full flavour profile that Gyokuro is famous for. To get the most when brewing Western style, you should use at least twice the amount of leaves you normally would (5g of tea per 200-250ml). That way you are closer to enjoying the authentic flavours of real gyokuro. Using this method, brew at 70°C for 1 mins in multiple infusions. Gradually increase brewing temperature and time until no flavour is left.
But for best results we find 10g per 200ml-250ml of water to be the correct amount for this tea. Brew using good quality water that has been heated to 60°C and using traditional Japanese teaware. As you are using lower temperature water, preheating your teaware prior to brewing is a particularly good idea. In our testing, a first infusion of 90 seconds followed by further infusions of around 60, 90 and 120 seconds, worked particularly well. As always, keep increasing steeping time and temperature until no flavour is left.