By William I. Lengeman III

GyokuroFor serious connoisseurs and students of green tea there are primarily two countries of origin worthy of mention. Though a few other countries produce quality green tea in modest amounts, their output pales next to that of the kings of green – China and Japan.

Green tea fans would do well to look into Japan’s tea production, since almost all of the tea grown there is of the green variety. One of the best loved and most expensive of Japan’s premium green teas – with the possible exception of the powdered variety known as matcha – is gyokuro. This green tea, which is similar in many ways to a much loved Japanese variety called sencha, derives its distinctive color, aroma and flavor from the fact that its leaves are protected from the sun for several weeks prior to harvesting.

According to one tea researcher, gyokuro is “the most highly regarded tea in Uji and throughout Japan, instill[ed] into its flavor [are] such balsamic subtleties that it more resembles a perfume; it is as if some marvelous alchemy has succeeded in liquefying the aromas of flowers – garden flowers, wild flowers – transferring the pleasure of smell to that of taste.”

Nearly all green teas will benefit from cooler steeping temperatures and shorter steeping times than their black and oolong counterparts, but gyokuro, perhaps more so than any other type of tea, is particularly sensitive to high temperatures.

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the green tea maker’s curtain, check out this YouTube video, which looks at processing methods for gyokuro and matcha. Another gyokuro-related video takes a look at shinobi-cha, a method of brewing Gyokuro using ice cubes. This is a method that’s said to enhance the flavor of this delicate tea.