After the excellent Gokô cultivar gyokuro from Uji-Shirakawa, two new gyokuro on Thés du Japon to deeper exploration of high grade Uji gyokuro and Gokô cultivar. Like that of Shirakawa, these two new teas are what I would call “real gyokuro”, ie manually harvested on unpruned tea bushes plantations and shaded under arbors in two levels.
I also want to explain what I call “unpruned tea trees”, the culture mode called in Japanese shizen-shitate 自然仕立て. Shrubs are not cut in a circular arc, and branches grow freely. After the first spring harvest, the tea plants are cut to a few tens of cm of soil, then let freely grown for one year. In autumn, however, usually is done what we called tekishin 摘芯. The upper buds at the end of each branch are cut off. This is a long process, which can only be done by hand, branch by branch. This is a very important phase in preparation for the harvest the following spring, as this then provides tips and leaves of uniform size.
If shizen-shitate plantation provides high quality leaves, it is not very productive, requires manual harvesting (while it is more and more difficult to find qualified pickers), and allows only one harvest a year .
Furthermore, Gokô is native cultivar from Uji, reproduced from a local “zairai” tea plant, and is one of the most representative and most appreciated varieties for shaded tea.
Let’s go back to my two gyokuro. The first one comes from the town of Ujitawara 宇治田原 and is what we should call an entry range in this universe of “real Uji gyokuro”. The second one is much more high-end yet, and comes from Kyô-Tanabe 京田辺 city, probably the most famous of gyokuro production areas of Kyôto prefecture. One and the other that exudes sweetness and fragrance typical of shaded green teas, but Kyô-Tanabe gyokuro clearly is richer, with a mineral impression. Deeper green leaves for the latter show a longer shadow.
The Gokô from Ujitawara is of course very full and rich, but with a feeling of lightness served first by a well pronounced fragrance, sweet and fruity. Despite the strong presence of umami, fresh aromatic sensations, reminding herbs like fennel come against the rich flavors of red fruit and ripe fruit.
There is a slight bitterness, even with a touch of acidity.
The fruity umami of gyokuro in the after-taste stay on the palate with finesse and elegance.
With the Gokô from Kyô-Tanabe, we have very close aromatic elements, but with more impact in the mouth, more roundness and density. No bitterness, no astringency here. Umami reigns as master, forcefully, but here again, not heavy, not ‘’too much’’, it’s still very elegant. While the aromas of red fruits, and ripe fruits are now stronger, there is also a pleasant vegetal aftertaste in addition to aromatics herbs aromas. Mineral texture brings great depth to this gyokuro.
Also adding to this comparison the gyokuro from Shirakawa in Uji, we see better the qualities of the Gokô cultivar. Like other shaded tea cultivars, I think it gives an umami both very dense and very delicate. Aromas are a balance of ripe fruits and fresh herbs. True to its reputation, Kyô-tanabe gyokuro giving the most strong impact in the mouth, coming to oppose Uji-Shirakawa, in which sensation in nose and throat seeems enlighter. For me, Tawara would be placed in the intermediate (keeping in mind that this is the less high-end of the three).
To continue with Gokô, unfortunately kabuse of Wazuka (again Kyôto / Uji) is not available anymore this year, but I just added a superb kabuse-cha from Hoshino in Yame of the same Gokô cultivar, which will be the subject of my next post.