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Japanese Green Teas - Sencha, Gyokuro...and more,


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#61 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 12:22 PM

How are you adjusting the gyokuro cold brewing, Alessia?

#62 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 12:25 PM

Wanted to be sure I didn't end up with bitterness, figured too short was better than too long for the first infusion. And it was so nice that I went on from there.


Two minutes for gyokuro is not over-brewing, so you're not going to get "bitterness". You will and should have some astringency (pucker at the front).

#63 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 01:33 PM

I'll be a little bolder next time.

#64 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 26 October 2009 - 04:37 PM

Organic Kumamoto Sencha Yabe Supreme
2009 Harvest
Mid Steamed
Tea Bush Varietals: Saemidori & Okumidori
Origin: Kumamoto, Kyushu, Japan
Certified Organic By: JAS
NET Weight: 100g (3.53oz)
Brewing Suggestion: 1 gram of leaves per 1oz of water at 70°C for 1 min.
Second & third infusions at 70°C for 10-30 seconds.
from yuuki-cha.com

I have been brewing this sencha for a little over a month in a small Tokoname kyusu and a larger Banko kyusu. About 5.5 ounces water in the latter and 2.5 ounces in the former. Britta filtered water. One gram leaf per ounce water. The infusion sequence was the same for both:

1: 158 F, 1 minute
2: 158 F, 10 sec.
3: 158 F, 30 sec.
4: 148 F, 1 min,
5: 148 F, 2 min

Banko kyusu - The first infusion displayed rich umami with no astringency or harshness. The second showed umami and a very slight astringent edge. Sweetness emerged on the third and the edge was gone and umami still present. The flavor was slightly diminished on the fourth, but still good with umami, sweetness and no astringency. Surprisingly, the fifth was still good, though thinner and diminished.

Tokoname kyusu - in contrast to the results with the Banko kyusu, the first four infusions showed more astringency and a roughness or harshness, but this was balanced with the sweet and umami elements. (Another sencha brewed very roughly in this pot without the balancing umami and sweetness.)

My taste preference runs toward the smoothing sweetness typically offered by the Banko, but the balancing act found in the Tokoname with this sencha was still interesting and enjoyable.

So far my experiences brewing gyokuros over the last few months and senchas over several years tells me that you can get a good result with various teapots, but you can get a superior result for your personal taste preference by matching the tea and teapot. Some tweaking and experimenting really pays off.

This sencha also reinforced the truth that it's best to drink a sencha, any sencha, as soon as possible after the vacuum package is opened. Some say within two months, but my goal is a month. After a month the fading becomes increasingly obvious.

#65 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 28 October 2009 - 09:37 PM

After my lovely experience with the gyokuro kin over the weekend, I tried it at work today. Based on 1 grams of tea for my six ounce pot over the weekend, getting 3 nice infusions out of that, I tried 2 grams with several infusions to net 1 quart for the thermos. It looked lovely--pale green liquor in the glass pot before pouring into the thermos--and with nice aroma holding through the multiple infusions. But the tea was less than satisfying despite having that lovely scent.

I think it really may be all about the teacup, because I mostly drink from the plastic thermos cup during the day; and this evening I drank the last bit from the thermos in a small porcelain cup, and the delicate vegetal flavor came through much better.

#66 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 31 October 2009 - 12:32 PM

Today started with the gyokuro kin again but this time a longer first infusion of 2 minutes. There was a little more of the astringency coming through with the longer infusion. I prefer the shorter first infusions I used before.

#67 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 09 November 2009 - 09:25 AM

Drinking the gyokuro kin after a couple of days with the sencha from our teaching, and today I tried the same infusion timings I've been using for the sencha--30", 10", 30", 30". On the 4th infusion it was distinctly less losing power, whereas the sencha lasted another 2 infusions. I guess the gyokuro just extracts faster.

#68 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 13 November 2009 - 09:29 PM

Curious now: After another batch of gyokuro this evening, I am curious as to why this gyokuro doesn't last through multiple infusions as well as the sencha does--the sencha has a lot to give through 6 infusions in my hands, but the gyokuro is pretty flat at 4. Is this a general property of gyokuros and senchas, or something specific to these particular teas? I'm referring there to the gyokuro kin I got from denstea vs the sencha select from the cultured cup we just did a tasting with here.

#69 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 13 November 2009 - 11:08 PM

I think that in general senchas and gyokuros are often brewed only through three infusions; I tend to go for five and sometimes six just because I want to see what will develop and sometimes I get a nice surprise. Usually they are very thin by the fifth.

I have not had the Den's Gyokuro you have, so I can't compare, but The Cultured Cup's Sencha Select is quite rich, much richer than the last one they had, which was very good, just a different style and much more delicate. I think the variation among senchas and among gyokuros - due to the various breeds of tea plant, where and how they are grown, and the way each is processed - is amazing.

Then you have to factor in your specific brewing style, which has not for the most part been the usual approach due to your wanting to avoid astringency and bitterness. It is impressive that you have persisted and found ways to brew that fit your palate. That said, my impression is that you have been trying to push the envelope a bit as you have had more experience with a sencha or two and a gyokuro. Recent experience suggests that if you drink these Japanese green teas on a regular basis you adapt or habituate to the strength of the leaf and can tolerate - or crave - a higher leaf:water ratio, so you may gradually be able to tolerate a higher ratio and a longer first infusion.

I have been thinking about this astringency and bitterness for a few days and it occurs to me that you may really like what Banko clay in a houhin or kyusu does to the taste. While I don't find any bitterness as such (unless they have been over-brewed), there is a certain mild harshness in many senchas and gyokuros that the Banko clay smooths out and integrates the flavors. That inexpensive Banko houhin at yuuki-cha.com is the best bang for the buck in my opinion. It's a size that works for both senchas and gyokuros; it's well balanced; and it pours well. It's a humble design and I have other houhins that are more attractive, but this one still feels best pouring it. I paid about $20 (plus shipping) for it and can not imagine doing better.

#70 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 13 November 2009 - 11:46 PM

The question of how many infusions with the gyokuro vs the sencha is not so much because there's anything wrong with getting fewer infusions from one vs the other, but more pondering whether the shaded gyokuro leaves are more delicate and release their contents faster than the senchas, in general, or if this might be more to do with the size of the leaf fragments in the different teas.

As for the question of what clays do to the teas brewed in them, that brings up a point to ponder: chinese yixing pots are used for oolongs and puerhs, but less often for green teas because the bitterness of an off-brewing might be absorbed and released into the next batch of tea. But these banko pots are unglazed, and being used for green tea, and prized for an ability to favorably alter the flavor profile of a tea. Why would the unglazed clay be preferred in the one circumstance but not the other? Different tea flavor profiles, brewing temperatures, clay chemical composition?

#71 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 14 November 2009 - 12:25 AM

I don't think I can answer that in any absolute sense, given the wide range within each category of green tea and differences in brewing techniques. But I'll do a little digging in my tea library and see if I turn anything up. The common brewing techniques for each categroy are sufficiently different that it seems difficult to compare. Gyokuro having double the leaf to water ratio of sencha and much lower brewing temps.

Regarding your second question, I think that people who use quality kyusus, houhins and shiboridashi teaware are simply careful not to overbrew. I have never over brewed in any of mine, but am pretty sure that if I let an infusion go for too long it would become bitter eventually and it would effect the clay and I would not enjoy doing what it would take to get the bitterness out.

Some people do brew Chinese green teas in a Yixing, and I have with good results, though I don't generally recommend it. Some Yixing clays probably do better with the flavor, but that is one more Yixing quagmire of complexity. Perhaps someone else can speak to how to match a Yixing clay to a Chinese green tea, but I have only limited experience with one Yixing and I am not even sure what the clay is - hongni, maybe. And I don't use it for that anymore. That said, I don't know of any reason not to brew a Chinese green tea in a kyusu. I just have never done it.

#72 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 14 November 2009 - 12:54 AM

Thanks for your thoughts. I will also need to go back to my tea books to review their sections on japanese teas also, but they are too basic and general to have much discussion at the level of effects of pottery on the flavors of tea. I'd like to find a good book on japanese teas but first attempts on amazon is overwhelmingly focused on the traditional tea ceremony.

#73 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 14 November 2009 - 01:11 AM

I don't think you are going to find answers to your questions about the effects of pottery on the flavors of tea in a book, at least not in a book in English. But I could be surprised, of course.

I can only say that I have done a good deal of experimenting with Yixing and Japanese pots and there is no doubt in my mind that different Yixing clays have different effects and different Japanese clays have different effects. It's not terribly subtle. Clays, shapes, both significant. But certainly behind brewing technique as far as the largest impact on the final result.

#74 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 14 November 2009 - 12:13 PM

Redoing, because apparently my browser ate my post.

It's going to be a while before I get around to my project of exploring Korean and Japanese stores here in LA for some nice teapots, but in the meantime, I decided to try a little experiment: brewed the last two grams of my sencha select sample, dividing one gram each into a porcelain gaiwan and my smallest yixing pot (which hasn't yet been used for any strong teas). I preheated the gaiwan and pot, used the same water/timing etc, but can only say that both made delightful tea, because the yixing held the the heat so much more that the flavor was noticeably influenced by the brewing temperature.

#75 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 14 November 2009 - 12:31 PM

More musing about japanese green teas: last night I was rereading that section in the Harney & Sons Book of Tea, and he says, in discussing the processing of Sencha teas:

"The sweetness is extremely faint compared with the honeyed quality of many Chinese green teas."

This and other comments discussing the desired astringencies made me wary of these teas, but in my very limited experience of 3 sencha samples, and one gyokuro, what astonishes me and draws me back and back again is that they are so stunningly sweet, when brewing conditions are just right. I have not worked with that many chinese green teas--mostly a variety of jasmines, a couple of samples of dragonwell, and probably two or three more generic teas--but have never experienced anything like the silky sweetness of these japanese teas, even when brewing the fanciest dragonwell at ridiculously low temperatures.

Edited by Wholemeal Crank, 14 November 2009 - 12:32 PM.


#76 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 23 November 2009 - 02:26 PM

A bit of a breakthrough today: I did a 'bulk' brewing of gyokuro to fill my thermos today, a proof of principle that it can work. Used 8 grams of tea, my 6 ounce teapot (not filled to the brim each time), and water at 160 degrees. Brewed 30", 10", 30", one last rinse at 10", and then filled the rest of the thermos with hot water. I usually enjoy three infusions of this tea brewed a small cup at a time, and this is quite comparable in quality. It also looks like a way to churn through this quite pricey tea very quickly....

Addendum: after holding for 30 minutes, the sweetness is diminished, and the bitterness is amplified. Will continue to brew and drink on the spot.

Edited by Wholemeal Crank, 23 November 2009 - 03:05 PM.


#77 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 23 November 2009 - 03:51 PM

Probably this is something for the "holding tea before drinking" topic: the color of the tea has changed over an hour in the thermos from green to yellow liquor.

#78 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 23 November 2009 - 07:51 PM

Interesting, WmC. Gyokuro is expensive, so much so that few people in Japan drink it. It is typically drunk in very small infusions of about 2 ounces or so in a relaxed moment, and I am not aware of people brewing it in large quantities to hold and drink over several hours. Your experience certainly contributes to my understanding of why this is so.

#79 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 23 November 2009 - 08:42 PM

Sencha and gyokuro will fit better into my life as breakfast teas, because their flavors are gentle and subtle, and they give up their best quicker than the oolongs and puerhs and even the chinese green teas--meaning they're easier to fit in before work.

As for the question of how often they're drunk, I can't say that there was really anything better about this gyokuro vs the sencha we tasted from the cultured cup. This was denstea.com's 2nd quality gyokuo, and a select quality sencha, and they were really quite comparable. The sencha may have had a slightly thinner body but also lasted for more infusions.

At some point I will try a really top gyokuro, because I'm curious how it would compare to these, but I think I will be content with a nicer sencha for most drinking.

Edited by Wholemeal Crank, 23 November 2009 - 08:47 PM.


#80 velveeta

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 01:28 PM

What an interesting thread - must reread it all with a notepad. Richard that silverish clay teapot is beautiful. Are you going to post the Matcha adventures here?

#81 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 01:37 PM

Matcha adventures to come...probably after Thanksgiving.

#82 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 29 December 2009 - 09:31 AM

For those of you who have more experience with these things....when a vacuum-sealed package of japanese Sencha or gyokuro is opened, how long before you start to see a drop off in quality of the brewed tea, assuming you keep it well sealed afterwards, with the dessicant inside if such is provided? And what elements seem to go first?

I am trying to figure out whether the less satifsying results I've been getting with the gyokuro in the last couple of weeks are more due to my infusion technique or the tea going off. It's been noticeably less sweet.

#83 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 29 December 2009 - 01:24 PM

How long ago did you open it, WmC?

Gyokuro and Sencha should be consumed as quickly as possible. I shoot for 30 days or less. It probably varies from one specific tea to another, but I can usually tell a difference between the day I open one and a week later because the first day is intoxicatingly good. A week later is still great. I think the deterioration after a month is quite noticeable.

I have not tried to track the elements as these age, but I'll pay more attention in the future. The sweetness, however, does decay.

#84 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 29 December 2009 - 02:04 PM

That's what I suspected. I posted here right after I first opened it, so it's been two months. I bought two ounces, the smallest size Denstea.com offers, and it's hard to see myself using it up a whole lot faster than this.

Now wondering if there is anything else I can do to preserve it--wondering if the putting half in the freezer as soon as the pouch is opened would help....hmmmm....maybe a vacuum seal-a-meal thingie?

Or just need to find a merchant who will sell it to me by the well-sealed ounce. And I will not buy it from Wing Hop Fung where they put all the tea in the bulk glass jars or cases, quite the wrong approach for this tea.

#85 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 29 December 2009 - 02:44 PM

I don't know any tea merchant who sells it by the well-sealed ounce. It's usually 50 or 100 g packages. Do let us know how it goes if you try vacuum sealing it.

#86 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 09:29 PM

Because I enjoyed the matcha iri genmaicha from the tasting, I bought a small sample of matcha along with some senchas when it was time to restock as my gyokuro is running out, came back to this topic, and.....how are you making your daily matcha now, Richard?

I also will be getting a bit of sencha select from the cultured cup, and have fukamushi sencha from denstea. I will be resealing and chilling what I do not use right away, for both of them--will try to remember to share notes on how that works. And I bought a plain kyusu with an integral ceramic filter, to help with the clogging problem I have when I use my chinese pots for the japanese teas, because it's clear that the japanese greens will continue to be part of my life. Tonight I'll baptize it to help finish off the gyokuro before I open the senchas.

#87 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 16 January 2010 - 10:08 PM

Here's a link to a post with photos of my matcha making routine in the "Everything About Matcha: show us your chawan" topic.

#88 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 12:28 AM

Thanks for the pointer.

#89 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 23 January 2010 - 01:28 PM

Not ready to try the matcha yet, but today opened the fukamushi sencha. For the first time. About 2.5 grams leaf in 6 oz kyusu, infused very short to avoid bitterness, 30", 15", 60". That last infusion was fairly flat; I guess the "deep steaming" makes it give up more of te sweet vegetal flavor earlier.

I'll work on optimizing the first infusions instead of trying to stretch it out to three or more.

#90 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 23 January 2010 - 03:39 PM

Fukamushi is typically sweet and with little or no astringency, so even with your sensitive astringency detectors you may be able to handle a usual leaf:water ratio (.6 g per ounce) and closer to usual steeping times. Worth experimenting anyway.

Can you clarify how much water you are using, WC? Is that 6 ounces (180 ml) when the kyusu is filled about 75 - 80%, or do you mean something else?