As you explore the world of tea, you’ll come to a point where you want something more. Something more exotic. Something that surprises. Something so delicious that your worries melt away leaving you squarely in the present moment, a cup in your hand and a smile playing on your lips.
That’s when it’s time to brew some Samovar Gyokuro—the fine wine of Japanese green tea.
Unlike most teas, Gyokuro is grown in the shade under straw mats for about 20 days prior to harvest. This stresses the plant and as it struggles to draw energy from the sun the chemistry of the leaves change. The result is higher levels of L-Theanine, responsible for increased mental clarity and focus, and a clear resonating note of the most unique of all flavors: umami.
If you are familiar with our standard brewing instructions (steeping one to two tbs. of tea in boiling water for 15-60 seconds) you’ll have to set them aside. They won’t help you here. Gyokuro has special leaves that you need to treat with extra gentle, loving care.
Watch Episode 9 from The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide To Tea, where Leo and I share a Gyokuro brewing and tasting session:
THE FIRST INFUSION—COLD BREW
- Add tea. Scoop one heaping tablespoon of Gyokuro into a 12 ounce teapot with built-in mesh strainer. You can’t use an infusing basket, but something like the Vivd Brewpot would work.
- Add water. Use room temperature filtered or spring water. Add enough to just barely cover the leaves, about two ounces.
- Steep for 7 minutes. Clear your mind and become rooted in your seat. Breathe. Open your senses. Your palate will thank you.
- Decant. The leaves will absorb most of the water. When you pour, allow the infusion to dribble out until you have about one tablespoon of tea. Share with your guests or savor it all for yourself. (If you get more than a tablespoon of tea, you’ve added too much water.)
Don’t be fooled by the small amount of tea from the first infusion. The pale green color gives this tea it’s name which translates to “jade dew.” The aroma is reminiscent of a warm, humid day at the sea. The tea is viscous and brothy. The flavor is pure, full-bodied umami. The first infusion is the only one with this intense umami flavor. There is only one first infusion. Cherish it. Share it with your friends. There is nothing else like it—they will be blown away.
- Add water. Use hot water, about 160 degrees (F). The temperature is right when you can touch your hand to the pot, and leave it there. Add about six ounces of water.
- Steep. The tea will brew much more quickly now. This tea can go for three to five more hot infusions. 15 seconds for the first, and then add a few more seconds for each subsequent infusion, letting your palate guide you—more time gives more intensity of flavor. Experiment and figure out what works best.
- Decant. These infusions will yield more tea. The color darker green. The flavor more grassy, much less umami, and a touch of astringency at the finish.
FINISH WITH A BOWL OF RICE
The flavor packed into this tea will be fully released after about the fifth hot water infusion. After that, mix the leaves into a bowl of steamed rice, add a little soy sauce and sprinkle on sesame seeds for a savory treat.
For a twist on chazuke, Japanese tea soup, add enough hot water to make a green tea broth. Top with pickled veggies and nori flakes. Yum…