For anyone out there who’s not aware, I’m a big tea drinker and do the whole free leaf tea thing. Gyokuru is my personal favorite kind of tea. It’s the highest grade of Japanese green tea and has a very strong flavor. If you like green tea, you’ll probably like it a lot, if you don’t you won’t. If you’re not sure, start with sencha and if you get hooked, you can give gyokuru a try when you’re ready to move onto the hard stuff. It’s an expensive tea, although not quite as bad as it seems at first glance because you can generally get many infusions out of the same set of leaves. Also, while it may look expensive next to the other loose teas, in the scheme of things tea leaves are pretty cheap, even something top shelf like this works out to less than $1 per cup.
Brewing gyokuru correctly is a tricky. It is very easy to end up with a glass of undrinkable, bitter green liquid. Before you get started, I would have a thermometer and a stopwatch or watch with a second hand to try to get things right. If it ends up being bitter, you know next time to either steep it shorter or at a lower temperature. It may take some experimentation. You should also have something to steep the leaves where they have room to expand. Gyokuru leaves expand a lot when steeped.
The highest grades of gyokuru, which are only available in Japan are generally steeped for several minutes at very low temperatures (120-140 degrees). For lower grades it should be steeped for a shorter time at a higher temperature. I haven’t had any luck getting it to come out right with temperatures that low with what I can get in Boston. Here’s what seems to work well for me:
1. Steep the first infusion at around 150 degrees for just 45 seconds.
2. Steep the second infusion again at around 150 degrees for just 30 seconds. The leaves have opened up during the second infusion and will steep much more quickly the second time.
3. Steep the third infusion at around 160 degrees for 1 minute.
4. Steep the forth infusion at around 170 degrees for 2+ minutes. At this point it’s much less sensitive and you don’t need to be so exact.
Gyokuru should be brewed at double strength (2 teaspoons per cup) because it’s brewed with such low temperatures and or short times. If you are using a teapot, make sure to warm up the cups before pouring it into them because it’s already at such a low temperature, if the cups are cold it will cool down very quickly.
If you done it right, the tea should have a very strongly umame taste with natural light sweetness (without having to add any sweetener) and a complex grassy character. I realize grassy doesn’t necessarily sound like an appetizing flavor profile but it’s good! Or at least I think it’s good.