2016 Uji gyokuro

It is not less than six new Uji gyokuro (again, that’s means gyokuro from Kyôto prefecture) that I added on Thés du Japon in September. It is almost inconceivable in Kyôto to release a gyokuro at spring. These are left to mature until at least the fall, some even preferring to let them age a year before putting them on sale.

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I will first present the two gyokuro from Uji-Shirakawa by Mr. Kojima. Like last year, this is “Aracha” (unsorted raw tea). I selected this year the Gokô and the Uji-hikari cultivars.

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The leaves of Gokô have a very green scent at first, however, there is also deep scent of candied fruit in the background.

The scent that emerges when pouring very warm water is much softer, velvety and round.
With 5g, 30ml of water at 50 ° C for 90s, we get of course a rich tea with a very typical shaded teas umami, but the whole is soft, umami develops afterwards, then that the first attack offers round and deep fruity aromas. Very sweet and pleasant to the nose, with a persistent vegetable flavors, diehard gyokuro fans will infuse 2 minutes.
The temperature can be increased quickly on the following infusions without astringency getting annoying.

This is the first time I present the Uji-hikari cultivar, but not the last, since I’ll also propose next month a Uji–hikari Matcha.
This cultivar seems more distinctive, and indeed, it is more rare to find it as a “single estate tea” than Gokô or Samidori.

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The dry leaves have a sweet scent, with no vegetable scent, rather with a lemony edge, or even bitter orange.
With similar infusion parameters as Gokô, a much stronger liquor is obtained, with a powerful impact on tha palate accompanied by a bit of astringency, but also rich and sweet aromas. This first infusion provides a stunning contrast between umami and tannin.
This time we will continue by gently raising the temperature of the following infusions. These then appear more mellow and soft, although still robust, with sweet fragrances very appetizing.

We realize that we could go down even more the brewing temperature for Uji-hikari.
This is not the ideal gyokuro to discover this type of tea, but it’s a great tea to further explore the gyokuro, their infusions methods too. At the same time it is also a tea that would delight those looking for a robust tea with touch of astringency while having lots of sweetness and fruitiness.

Here is another “pair” of gyokuro, from Mr. Nishikawa plantations in Uji-Tawara. I have long had a rather negative impression about “kari-gyokuro” (刈玉露), ie the gyokuro harvested mechanically, yet those of Mr. Nishikawa, have changed my mind about that. Its teas have all the typical flavors of gyokuro, with perhaps only less intensity in umami, but for a very affordable price which makes them particularly attractive. These are real “ooishitaen” 覆い下園, shaded under arbor, not direct covering.

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This is particularly the first of those two gyokuro who first stroke my attention. This is the Asahi cultivar. Asahi is most often used for tencha (matcha) than gyokuro, yet the result with this tea is great. Complex mix of woody scents, red fruits, orange, sugar, dried leaves are deliciously fragrant.

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With this type of gyokuro, we can infuse a little warmer, 60 ° C.
The perfume is then slightly sweet, rather developing the wooded pole. In the mouth it is light and airy, the attack is velvety, with a light but very elegant umami in a fruity together, typically gyokuro.
The fruity and sweet scents are more present on the following infusions, always sweet but more powerful. The sweet fragrance which remains in the cup is a delight.

The second is (again) a Gokô cultivar. This one has a more green and fresh scent, slightly sweet and tangy.
The infusion does not lie on the cultivar. It is indeed greener, but with that something candied fruit or ripe fruit typical of Gokô. The general impression is very sweet and round.

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The impact in the mouth is stronger, more stimulating. A touch of astringency accompanies strong umami. The after-taste is very intense and typical of Gokô. Softness of Asahi (we glimpse through gyokuro Asahi why the tencha Asahi are generally in the competition head) here leaves room for more brute power of Gokô (one can also understand there why Gokô, very popular for gyokuro is not for tencha). The following infusions leave much room for umami and pastry flavors too.
Both “kari-gyokuro” provide true gyokuro feelings, they also allow an easy comparison between two cultivars. They each have a different personality, and therefore should not be separated …

The last two gyokuro are hand-picked ones.
First, always in Uji-Tawara, the Gokô cultivar by Mr. Shimooka, already presented last year. Perhaps the most “smooth” the three Gokô I propose there, without strong vegetal pole, for a simple perfume, very soft and fruity.

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The liquor is powerful and fragrant, sweet, with fresh notes, but a certain thickness, lots of umami, and the after-typical Gokô it. No astringency, strength, this 2016  vintage is much better than last year.

I finish with the last of these gyokuro, a Samidori cultivar which comes from Kyo-Tanabe, the most famous production areas of gyokuro in Kyôto prefecture, appreciated for its powerful teas on the palate, with a rich umami.

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This is the Samidori cultivar, probably the most used of Uji shaded tea cultivar for both of gyokuro and tencha. This is a fairly productive cultivar, very easy to pick for pickers, and gives a typical umami, simple, without too much particularism in taste.
Indeed, the shaded tea fragrance is the simplest of the six teas, which does not prevent him from being very mild, mellow and pleasant.

This also applies to the brewed tea which has however a great intensity on the palate, umami is very strong, perfectly representative of this type of shaded tea. This is an excellent model of gyokuro, a very good introduction. However, for me it may miss the Gokô perfume of the Uji-Tawara one, or the personality of both the Shirakawa ones.
Both of Tawara and Tanabe gyokuro are excellent entries level in high grade gyokuro. Tanabe for taste, umami, Tawara for flavors and aromas.

Finally, it may seem that the latter two are easier to understand, more gently in the mouth than the first two from Shirakawa, nevertheless there is maybe less complexity. And if those from Shirakawa seem to have a stronger impact on the palate, successive brews are smooth, without any weariness. In short, we often think that the gyokuro offer less variety than the sencha, this is not completely wrong, but relatively speaking, we have here six gyokuro, including three Gokô cultivar, which are nevertheless all very different, all of which leave a different impression.

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Categories: Coverage, Reviews, Tea producing area

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4 replies

  1. Enjoyed this article. I’ve never heard of Gyokuro being aged. Could you tell me what the benefits of this might be? I would think that the quality of the tea would depreciate as it is left sitting. Thanks.

    • Thank you for your comment. ;
      In Kyôto, it is impossible to find matcha and gyokuro that has not been stored at least until fall. This is just common sense. By the way, the matcha jar opening ceremony is in november.
      Actually, quality sencha could also being aged, sadly, few people understand it because of stupid markekting made about “shincha”.

      • Hello! I am learning something new about tea each time I dug deeper into it, I am getting more and more intrigued.
        I am curious how tencha and gyokuro is stored until fall, is it inside the fridge? At what constant temperature? Do they “temper” the tea leaves after releasing it from the seal jar (or rest the leaves for a certain amount of time) before grounding them (tencha)? I read that you ground the matcha yourself? I think that’s very cool! It would be very interesting to know how you ground the leaves with a mortar. Last year it seems that you grind the leaves on two separate occasions, will you be doing the same this year as well?
        I did not know that sencha can be aged, how is the production done? What is the taste like as it matures? I have tried aged oolong and black teas, and also a experimental white tea that was aged for about a year thus far. I suppose if the process involves some kind of roasting or heating to remove moisture build-up every few years its possible to age Japanese roasted green teas, but I didn’t know that it could be done with steamed green teas.

      • Thank you for your comment.
        Tencha (not ground) like gyokuro and other type of teas are store in the fridge, generally into 30kg paper pack called “chaikai”. Tencha is not anymore stored into jar and buried during summer (only for the jar opening ceremony at fall it is place into a jar, for the tradition). I do not grind myself the tencha, this phase has to be done in a proper factory with stone mill (little manual stone mill are just fro demonstration, and do not grind the tea thin enough). But I have a certain quantity of tencha stored by the grower with whom I working with, and I ask all along the year to have tencha grind little by little. Matcha ground on september will be very different than thise ground in example on January or, May, etc.
        Aging one or two years high grade gyokuro or tencha is nothing uncommon, but for sencha it seems to be more difficult, very few material age well so long, it also requiere special care, it seems than very small quantity packing help to have a better storage. There is no additional roasting. By the way, additional roasting for aging wulong or black tea are made for very long storage.

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