I presented last week the gyokuro as a type of tea, very typically Japanese, with a very particular consumption mode which requires a different approach, but which gives the gyokuro all its charm.
As gyokuro producing area, we think Uji, but also Yame, and unfortunately less so, Okabe. Yet we have here the three major regions of the gyokuro.
Okabe is a town in the city of Fujieda (Shizuoka pref.), known for its Asahina gyokuro.
Fujieda is just west of Shizuoka city, we are then at the intersection of Hon.yama and Kawane mountain tea areas. Fujieda is also known for the inzatsu type cultivar Fuji-kaori, which the city presents under the brand name “Fujieda-kaori”. Mostly sencha is found in Fujieda, but the area of Okabe, especially an area on the banks of the Asahina River produces almost exclusively shaded teas, kabuse-cha of course, but also and especially the famous Asahina gyokuro.
It was at the end of the 19th century that the production of gyokuro in Okabe began, but these teas were essentially sent to Uji. It is from the late 50s, when tea finally develops for the domestic market in Japan, that Okabe tea, Asahina gyokuro becomes a known name and is sold as such.
Nevertheless, today, true gyokuro, grown on “shizen-shitate” plantation and hand-picked, are produced by only a dozen producers, all of them over 65 years of age, and unfortunately without a successor.
It is the first year that I propose gyokuro from Asahina, and I must say that I fell under their charm and under the spell of this small production area. At the same time as my desire to make the gyokuro better understood and appreciated, I would also like to highlight Asahina before it is too late.
From the point of view of the cultivars, we find essentially Yabukita, thus giving a typicity to this region. There is also Oku-midori. Of course, Saemidori, the cultivar that culture grows most for many years, for its strong umami, is also introduced in Okabe, but the risks due to frost in this region for this early cultivar slow down its development. There are also some shade tea cultivars from Uji such as Gokô and Asahi, but the plantations are old and these cultivars will surely no longer be planted.
I propose two gyokuro from the same producer, Maeshima Shin.ya, 70, a Saemidori and a Yabukita.
The Yabukita has a sweet fragrance, aromas evoking the scents of pastries. There is also a fresh vegetable fragrance with a touch of mint.
The umami is powerful in the mouth, with here aromas of nori seaweeds. Despite the mellowness and strength of the umami, one also has an astringent attack bringing contrast and relief. Thus, the liquor has much depth and richness in the mouth. In the length, umami and sweet continue to dominate, powerful and persistent.
On successive infusions, more fruity aromas, with notes of almond, camphor, aromatic herbs, develop gradually.
On the nose as in the mouth, this Yabukita cultivar gyokuro from Asahina offers a truly rich experience, which also seems to show a gyokuro typical of Asahina and simply sublime.
With Saemidori, we have, according to the expectations one might say, some more deeply oriented towards the umami and sweet. The scent of dried leaves gives a sweet impression of candy. This sweet fragrance emerges with even more force when pouring warm water. It is enchanting.
There is no astringency, and this gyokuro offers a calm attack, followed by the development in the mouth of a very full and strong umami, accompanied by sweet aromas of cooked vegetables, beans, very different from the greenish freshness of Yabukita.
It is a tea that fullfill the mouth with sweet fragrances and velvety flavors. Nevertheless, the omnipresent umami does not confer heaviness, I do not feel it as a broth, it remains very sophisticated.
Here are two gyokuro of course to drink in complements of each other. With different fragrances, they have a fragrant strength that seems to me unique to Asahina. The Yabukita may be more complex, but the Saemidori will give more sweetness typical of the gyokuro. In fact, the characteristics of cultivars are perfectly exploited, both of them finding a totally different balance. These are a must try !