If you consider yourself an â€œadvancedâ€ green tea connoisseur, perhaps you may have considered or have even tried brewing gyokuro. Since good gyokuro is expensive, itâ€™s common for people to try it once, not find it to their liking, and then give up on it. This is often a result of an enthusiast brewing it like they brew their normal sencha green tea. Once you have tried a good gyokuro brewed correctly, however, you will understand what a great green tea it actually is.
In case you are not aware, gyokuro is shade grown green tea. About 3 weeks before the anticipated harvest date, the tea bushes are covered under 90% shade. This is accomplished by building an enclosure around the plants using bamboo poles covered with rice straw. All of this of course means extra labor, which has a lot to do with why gyokuro is so expensive in the first place. Obviously, there is a reason why growers go to all of this trouble â€“ gyokuro is delicious!
Probably the most important aspect of brewing gyokuro is temperature. Gyokuro needs to be brewed at a lower temperature than other green teas, about 155 Fahrenheit (68 Celsius.) Since water boils at 212F, obviously the temperature needs to be reduced somehow. Even when cooled, however, one canâ€™t really start the process with water that is 155F for numerous reasons. If one pours 155F water into a teapot that has been sitting at room temperature, expect that the water will no longer remain at 155F, but will instead drop about 15 degrees. Great, now weâ€™re at 140F â€“ too cool for brewing. If in turn one pours that tea into two teacups sitting at room temperature, expect another 15 degree temperature drop. Now weâ€™re at 125 F, and two cold, boring cups of improperly brewed gyokuro. So the devil is in the details, and to brew a good cup of gyokuro, these things need to be taken into consideration.
To brew a good cup of gyokuro, you will need to use more tea. Where you normally can get away with a teaspoon of loose leaf sencha in an 8 ounce teapot, for gyokuro you will need instead about 1 tablespoons of tea per person, and about 5 or 6 ounces of water for each person served.
One other aspect of brewing gyokuro that is often overlooked is the teapot that one brews it in. Gyokuro, like other green teas, is compact. That means it needs a lot of room to expand when itâ€™s brewed. You will never be able to brew good gyokuro (or really, any other good green tea) in a paper filter, tea ball, or anything ridiculous like that. The preferred teapot here would be the ceramic Japanese type which has a stainless steel screen inside as a filter. Iâ€™m not talking about the kind where a steel infuser cup sits inside the lid, but instead where the screen actually is butted up against the inside of the teapot. This gives the tea plenty of room to expand. Additionally, Japanese teapots are usually just the right size for the job. This is not to say you canâ€™t use other types of teapots. Western teapots and the like can be used as long as you know what you are doing and take all of the above into consideration.
To get down to brewing, I think I can best sum this up by saying the traditional Japanese way of brewing their green tea is also probably the best way to do it, no surprises there. So letâ€™s make two cups of gyokuro green tea. You will need three empty teacups, your teapot, and a good gyokuro. Start off by boiling your water in a kettle. When the water â€œjustâ€ starts to boil, immediately turn off the heat and allow the water to cool on itâ€™s own for a few minutes. Pour your hot water directly into the empty teapot, filling it, and allowing the teapot to sit a minute or so and warm up. This not only warms the teapot, it also cools the water some. Next, pour the hot water from the teapot into two of the three cold teacups, and then empty the remaining water from the teapot. At this stage we now have a warm teapot, two teacups with hot water in them, and a cold, still empty third teacup. More likely than not, the hot water in those two teacups is still a bit too hot for gyokuro, so what you will want to do is pass back and forth the water between the three teacups, warming the cups and cooling off the water. You usually only have to do this once or twice. This also has the effect of adding oxygen to the water and will improve the taste of the finished product. All of this does take a little practice to get the hang of, but youâ€™ll soon be able to sense when you have cooled the water enough. Put about one and a half tablespoons of loose leaf gyokuro into the warm teapot, and pour the hot water from the two filled teacups directly into the teapot. Brew for 2 to 3 minutes, not disturbing the teapot. Lastly, pour from the teapot back into the warm teacups, draining all of the tea to the very last drop. If youâ€™ve done that correctly and were patient, you should have one of the finest cups of green tea youâ€™ve ever tasted. For subsequent infusions, simply re-brew for 30 seconds. Itâ€™s normal for the second infusion to have a more â€œgreenâ€ color than the first. Enjoy your superior cup of green tea!