Uji Gyokuro of Spring 2013

It’s been a long time since I last went to Teance, between research and editing, I can no longer afford 2-3 hours with tea. However, today was one of those days when things didn’t go as planned, I was up and down the streets, places were closed unexpectedly, and I had some business on Fourth Street, so I couldn’t help myself but stopped by the shop. The day called for a nice cup of tea.

The bar was almost full when I came in, which made me happy because Genevieve and Darius were busy tending to the other customers and I could relax watching everyone. After one and a half cups of Bailin Gongfu, my cool returned, but I was still picky and still had somewhat of a void to fill, so I asked Genevieve for the new gyokuro. “It’s one of the rare teas…?” she raised her eyebrows and the end of her sentence a little to confirm that I know what I was asking for. “Yes.”

Gyokuro (玉露, which means “jewel dew”) is a Japanese green tea, and it’s generally the most prized grade of green teas. Although Japanese green teas tend to share a common “umami” note, which most resembles the savoriness of nori and the butteriness of fish bone, gyokuro is on the lighter end of the umami spectrum. It’s not milky like sencha, it’s smooth like moss, with a slightly more prominent sweetness.

This season, Teance got the gyokuro grown by tea master Shimooka. Here’s a rather lively note on Teance’s website about master Shimooka and tea:

Mr. Shimooka, who produces the Gyokuro, is certainly considered the best tea producer in Japan. He won the Emperor’s Cup last year for his tea. In the past 50 years, there has only been 5 awards for tea, and he is one such recipient. That was extremely prestigious, it’s sort of like beating out all the Oscar contenders from music to costumes to acting to directing to win just one prize, for the Emperor’s Cup usually goes to a sports event and not agriculture. Gyokuro is literally ‘the dew of jade’ and when you infuse it at the proper temperature, which is about 45 degrees C, it is rich, viscous, slightly savory, and finishes sweet as morning dew. It is a sentiment producing tea. Mr. Shimooka has a photo with Mr. Koizumi the former prime minister as well as a house completely taken over with plaques, awards, medals, gold cups… Mr. Shimooka says it’s never appropriate to pour boiling water to Sencha. But, he said, you can pour boiling water if you wish to quickly suss out the good and bad Senchas, the bad ones will turn bitterly sour instantly. However, for the proper enjoyment of what the Sencha (called Sincha in the early Spring) was intended, to get the right balance of astringency and rich flavour, the proper temperature should be between 60 to 70 degrees C. You heard it here from someone considered the best tea producer in Japan!

Mr. Shimooka asked us very politely to please make sure that people in America enjoyed his tea, not only as a beverage ( and, please, he said, don’t make gyokuro lattes with them), but within the context of the great Japanese culture as well. In other words, DO NOT make his tea in tetsubins, cast iron pots meant for hot water only!

Like for all Japanese green teas, the water goes in first, then the leaves. Darius made the first steep, for which he waited roughly 40 seconds until pouring (when about half of the leaves sink to the bottom), and instructed me to do it “in and out” for subsequent steeps: pour in the hot water and immediately pour out the tea. You want to see a faint honeydew color.

The gyokuro is delicate from appearance to taste. It also calms the mind and fills the void. I left Teance feeling revitalized and ready to work until dawn.

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