Do I still have to repeat these two essential things about gyokuro?
1- We don’t drink gyokuro (no more than matcha) in spring as shincha (new tea); it is expected that September or October tea has reached a sufficient level of maturation, affirming its umami and its aromas, erasing the too greenish character of these very long shaded teas.
2- The gyokuro cannot and should not be compared with the sencha. The idea that sencha is standard, average Japanese tea, and that gyokuro is the superior tea is completely wrong. Shaded at least 20 days, often much more, manually harvested on unpruned plantation for the best, the gyokuro requires a method of infusion, and therefore of very particular consumption, which make it a tea quite apart, neither equal nor superior to sencha, simply different.
Indeed, infused as a sencha, the gyokuro will be bland, empty, and without interest. The gyokuro is prepared in order to highlight its great richness in amino acids, umami. Many leaves, very few water (very warm), resulting a few drops, very dense, intense, extremely sweet, umami, which last on the palate for a long time.
It is a very special experience, very typically Japanese too.
After this small introduction, let’s move to my 2019 gyokuro. This year I propose a very nice selection of Uji gyokuro, with very interesting new comers. It is on the two Uji-hikari cultivar gyokuro that I will focus a little today.
Like most cultivars developed at Kyoto, Uji-hikari is designated for shaded teas, and was selected from “zairai” indigenous tea trees from Uji.
It is safe to say that it is one of the three most popular Uji tea varietal. We have indeed Asahi and Uji-hikari for matcha, Goko and Uji-hikari for gyokuro.
The regulars know my love for the Gokô cultivar, with its typical fruity aromas and softness, its character sometimes too typical for some.
Uji-hikari has a completely different profile.
Here are two, a very high-end by M.Yoneta (some already know his sublime Gokô), in unpruned plantation (shizen-shitate), under arbor, and another, more humble, mechanical harvest and direct shading.
The latter from Uji-tawara, particularly surprised me.
If it does not have the richness and the density of an high end gyokuro from a shizen-shitate plantation, one finds him all the same a great softness, a beautiful umami, fine and ample, which makes it clearly a gyokuro and not a simple kabuse-cha.
Its aromas are most pleasant, evoking cooked corn and vanilla. After we are rather in a sweet fruity, very slightly creamy, with beautiful vegetal notes after.
In short, a beautiful aromatic bouquet, rich and complex.
Of course, with a Kyô-tanabe gyokuro by Mr. Yoneta, we go to a much higher dimension in terms of the density, the potency, the magnitude of the liquor.
Nothing strong on the nose, it is much more refined. Here we do not find the nuances of cereals, the perfume is purer, sweeter, may be less present than on the gyokuro Tawara.
On the palate, on the other hand, one finds immediately the power and density of Kyô-Tanabe productions. The umami, although extremely strong, is not heavy, not sickening. Without imparting astringency or bitterness, Uji-hikari provides a sharper feeling than a Gokô of the same level. The impression left by this deep umami is livelier and firmer than the soft fruitiness of a Gokô.
Successive infusions make us progress towards more floral nuances, more sweet citrus fruits.
Even if this Uji-hikari undergoes less roasting than that of Tawara, it does not allow to perceive any raw vegetal sensation, while it provides sweetness, umami and voluptuousness.
A fairly simple comparison may give the impression that the Uji-Tawara gyokuro, a mechanical crop, would be aromatically richer, but simply much less intense than that of Kyô-Tanabe in manual harvesting. In fact it is especially a material of necessarily less quality, of less uniformity which gives the Uji-Tawara more aromas (asperities in sums) to hang on (perfumes coming from branch tips, from harder leaf tips, etc). Of course the umami of Kyô-Tanabe is incomparable, its depth and density are exemplary.
Rather than comparing these two gyokuro, we should rather see two types of different experiences that provide two teas grown according to different standards, with the same (excellent) tea tree variety.