FOOD
2020.09.14

Capturing the full flavors of gyokuro in a bottle

Green tea has many varieties such as sencha, matcha and hojicha. Rich flavors and the beautiful color of brewed gyokuro (high-grade green tea) continues to attract fans.

Gyokuro’s umami is captured by cultivating the plant in the shade while it’s still sprouting. One of the places famous for gyokuro produce is Yame city in Fukuoka prefecture. Yame has been awarded first prize 20 years in a row as the best location for gyokuro plantation in the Zenkoku Cha Hinpyokai (the National Fair of Tea).

How does Yame achieve this despite its relatively small output of gyokuro? Takao Shiimado, a municipal officer and a technical instructor at Yame City Office, answered our questions.

“We went through many obstacles and hard work to make Yame’s gyokuro number one at the national tea fair,” said Shiimado. “Once, we used air cargo to send Yame tea to Kyoto, cited as the number one location for gyokuro production, and asked the producers there for advice on how to roll the tea leaves―the most important step in the tea production process,” Shiimado recalled. “Usually, farmers are reluctant to share their traditional expertise with rivals in other prefectures. But I think they understood our passion towards tea and kindly shared their tips.”


After handpicking comes the process of rolling the steamed tea leaves while checking their texture―a process that takes many years of experience to master.

In addition, Yame has boldly tried to adopt a new variety in the gyokuro-making process. “Around 30 years ago, we began using ‘Saemidori’, a brightly green-colored variety with little bitterness and rich sweetness and umami. The taste is outstanding but the delicate variety is easily affected by cold weather and very difficult to cultivate. At times, we only managed to harvest a sizable amount only once every four years,” Shiimado said.

“Above all, I think the high quality of Yame’s gyokuro comes from our strict adherence to producing dento hon-gyokuro which requires very stringent conditions for cultivation,” Shiimado revealed. For tea to be recognized as dento hon-gyokuro, it needs to clear many specific requirements such as strict management of fertilizer and handpicking of the leaves―a time-consuming and laborious process. “Our gyokuro is made through such careful processes and hard work. The batches are small, but the tea’s appearance, taste and aroma is absolutely amazing.”


Handpicking leaves one by one takes careful work: even experienced workers can only yield 10 to 12 kg per day. Of this, only around 15% make it to the final product.

Yasuhiko Kiya, a green tea evaluator who manages a tea shop in Yame, shared with us the best way to brew and drink Yame’s dento hon-gyokuro.“My favorite is koori-dashi, which uses melting ice to brew the tea very slowly. Brewing at a low temperature lessens the bitterness of the tea and brings out its umami to the fullest,” Kiya said. “Gyokuro’s strong sweet taste and umami flavor become even richer when brewed this way.”

Hopes to bring Yame’s dento hon-gyokuro brewed through this special process to more people have led to the release of bottled koori-dashi tea, which encapsulates the rich flavors of gyokuro in a bottle.


Yame’s gyokuro tea is bottled in a stylish, wine bottle-esque container. “Bottling Tea Yame Dento Hon-gyokuro Special brew”is available at 12,000 yen, each containing 180ml.

The bottled tea uses “Superlative”, the highest-grade tea leaves chosen at the National Fair of Tea. Perfectly capturing the umami and nutrients of the leaves, the bottle is best enjoyed in small amounts: pouring 25 to 30 ml into liquor glasses and drinking it slowly like whiskey is ideal.

The rich-tasting tea is best paired with not only Japanese sweets but also strong-flavored foods, such as chocolates with high cacao percentage and blue cheese,” said Kiya.

The bottled tea is expected to appear in restaurants overseas in the future. Why not enjoy this rich tea like a good glass of alcoholic drink at a special dinner table, or for a relaxing break time?

 

Bottling Tea Yame Dento Hon-gyokuro 【Special brew】
Available at the official online store:
yame-teashop.com
Preorders can be made between August 1 to November 15 through the website.
Shipments expected at the end of December.
For inquiries:0943-22-3000 (Yame Dento Hon-gyokuro Promotion Council)

 

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