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Richard Kilgore

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

170 posts in this topic

Adventures in Gyokuro Brewing

Gyokuro is considered to be the highest level of Japanese green tea and is expensive due to the special treatment it gets before and during harvest. The tea plants are shaded during the weeks leading up to the picking in order to make the leaf sweeter. I decided to buy a small portion of a Teance Uji Gyokuro at Central Market because it was convenient and I could buy a very small amount. Enough to learn on before going on to Gyokuro that I have more confidence in as to quality and freshness.

The teance.com site provided useless generic Japanese green tea brewing instructions. So I consulted a few sites that I am familiar with for ideas and the brewing sessions I'll be reporting on over the next day or two are based on my feeble attempts to follow these rather different sets of directions.

All the following brewing sessions used a Kuromatsu Tokoname teapot made by Tokoname craftsman Gyokko, Britta filtered water, a scale, a thermometer and a kitchen timer. The teapot holds 120 ml (4 ounces) to the rim, but only 2 - 3 ounces for brewing. The obiama 360 degree filter screen is very effective at holding back the leaves while letting the tea liquor through without clogging, but very slow pouring is helpful.

Kuromatsu Tokoname teapot made by Tokoname craftsman Gyokko

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Obiami Filter

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For my first session I winged it, loosely making up a brewing sequence based on what I recalled from visiting several vendor sites recently.

2.5 g leaf, 2.0 - 2.5 ou water with pre-heated teapot and cup

1: 120 sec, 140 F - more vegetal than sweet

2: 120 sec, 160 F - better balance, but thin

3: 60 sec, 150 F - sweeter, liked this infusion the best

Then I decided to attempt to follow specific vendor instructions as closely as I could, while also knowing that their Gyokuros may well brew differently than this one from Teance by way of CM.

This brewing session was based on directions on denstea.com which says: 2 - 4 ounces water, 2 teaspoons leaf, 140 - 160 F, for 2 - 2.5 minutes. Those are directions that cover quite a bit of brewing territory, and do not address later infusions, so I chose these parameters, based on past experience with a gyokuro-like sencha --

The 2 teaspoons weighed in at 2.7 g.

1: 2.5 min, 140 F, 2 ounces water - asparagus-vegetal, slight astringency, then creamy mouthfeel emrges with sweetness

2: 2.5 min, 140 F, 2 ounces water - creamy mouthfeel, sweet assparagus, slight astringency, very slight bitterness

3: 1.0 min, 150 F, 3 ounces water - sweeter, less vegetal, less astringency, nice.

4: 1.0 min, 150 F, 3 - 3.5 ounces water - reduced flavor, but still some ceaminess and vegetal sweetness

Yuuki-cha.com has an interesting approach to brewing suggestions - three brewing methods, different in important ways: the 3 minute method, 2 minute method and the beginner's method.

The beginner's method. That sounds like me, but Yuuki-cha Gyokuros are organic and organic Japanese teas typically require twice as much leaf as the non-organics, so I decreased the leaf from 6 g to 3 g to 2 ounces (60 ml) water. The second and third infusion parameters were based on past experience with a gyokuro-like sencha.

1: 90 sec, 140 F, 2 ounces (60 ml)water - asparagus, mild astringency, thinner than previous method on first infusion, very pleasant

2: 90 sec, 140 F, 2 ounces (60 ml) - veggie more than asparagus per se, a little sweet and some mineral

3; 60 SEC, 150 f, 4 ounces (120 ml) water - nice sweet-vegetal balance

I think it would be worth trying that same sequence with 4 g leaf instead of 3 g.

Gyokuro dry leaf, grassy aroma

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Gyokuro wet leaf after first infusion

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Gyokuro tea liquor from first infusion

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Gyokuro wet leaf after third nfusion

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More to come.

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This is quite an odyssey. The water temps are so low that I'm surprised any bitterness comes through that.

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The temps will go even lower on some of my next sessions.

I do need to add that I found small print instructions on the Central Market label for the Teance gyokuro: 3 tablespoons, 8 ounces water, steep for 1 minute at 140 F in glass or porcelain teapot. I may try that after the others, but it looks like a bit of a brief infusion for 140 F based on my experience with this leaf so far.

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This is quite an odyssey. The water temps are so low that I'm surprised any bitterness comes through that.

Almost no bitterness at any point. Astringency, just a drying sensation in the mouth - yes. Since I drank so much in a short period of time, I have to assume that some astringency accumulated over the infusions, so that some of the astringency I detected would be less or little if I was just doing one brewing of this Gyokuro.

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I should note also that I have no way of knowing if the Teance Uji Gyokuro from CM that I am learning on is the same Uji Gyokuro on the Teance site, since it is $195/lb at CM and $56 for 2 ounces on the Teance site. Didn't buy a pound of course; less than $10 gave me plenty to play with.

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Adventures in Gyokuro Brewing, Part II

Today I brewed using a spin on the yuuki-cha.com 2 Minutes Brewing method. Since the Gyokuro I am brewing is not organic I reduced the amount of leaf. and based on my impressions using the Beginners Brewing method (see above), I decided to use 4 g in 2 ounces of water for the first infusion. The water temp is lower this time, the lowest at which I have ever brewed any tea. The second and third infusion parameters I based on my limited past experience.

1: 2 min, 122 F - strong, vegetal in an unpleasant way to me, some faint background sweetness overpowered by the vegetal component. Astringency came on in the after taste.

2: 2 min, 122 F - sweet over vegetal, but the vegetal still not to my liking; this is not a sweet asparagus flavor, just veggie.

3: 1 min, 140 F in 3 ounces water - nicely sweet over a pleasantly vegetal flavor, very little astringency. Liked this infusion the best.

I should note again that the tea merchant sites that I have used as starting guidelines for brewing this Gyokuro can not be held responsible for any of my fledgling attempts. Different tea and I have altered their directions and made a lot of it up as I go along. (This is similar to the trials and tribulations of cookbook authors, especially pastry and baking authors, when readers change three parameters of a recipe and then complain that it didn't turn out like the picture in the book.)

I suspect that with Gyokuros, as with most new teas, other folks play around with their brewing parameters in various ways until they find something that pleases them. They just don't usually write about their flailing on the road to that perfect, sweet gyokuro.

Seems I frequently enjoy the later infusions better than the first one. How is it for the other Gyokuro sippers here? Any brewing tips?

At least one more brewing method yet to come.

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Adventures in Gyokuro Brewing, Part III

This evening I brewed using a modification of the yuuki-cha 3 Minute Brewing method. Again I used 4 g leaf instead of 6 g because this is a non-organic Gyokuro I am using, and 4 g is my best guess as to an appropriate amount. The first infusion starts out with an amazingly low temperature of 104 F. Yes, that's not a typo -- 104 F. For 3 minutes. The second and third infusions are just my best winging it guesses based on experience.

1: 180 sec, 104 F - sweetly vegetal and thick mouthfeel. Very nice and probably the nicest first infusion I have gotten out of this leaf so far.

2: 180 sec, 104 F - vegetal and sweet, but thinner. Not as interesting, blah. Wonder if I used more water than I thought I did?

3: 60 sec, 122 F - sweet, vegetal, thick and the infusion I liked best in this series.

Drinking Gyokuro at this 104 F brewing temperature must be an acquired taste. At this point it's just weird. Not hot, not warm, not iced, just floating somewhere out there in not quite warm temperature land. Not unpleasant, just really not-familiar territory.

I have a very little bit of this leaf left that I may play with intuitively, but the next step is ordering a proper houhin for Gyokuro brewing from Dan at kuuki-cha.com, as well as one of his good organic Gyokuros. I'll be able to report on this in two or three weeks.

Any and all tips from Gyokuro drinkers more than welcome.

Edited: to note that I did a fourth infusion at 127 F for 90 sec and it was delicious. And to add that there was no detectable astringency in any of the four infusions.


Edited by Richard Kilgore (log)

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fooey brought up an interesting green tea brewing issue in another topic, and I have copied the post below.

I have not had this houjicha, but I looked at the link to the Republic of Tea page for it and don't know what they are thinking when they recommend up to 4 minutes steeping. Houjicha is one of the easiest Japanese green teas to brew with regard to temperature, but anything over 2 minutes for the first infusion is likely to produce a bitter cup. Anything from 175 F to 195 F or so usually will make for a good cup, so your 203 F was not the problem.

The Republic of Tea's Big Green Hojicha.

The Tea Companion recommends a 20-second steep at 203F, but instructions on the package say 2-4 minutes at that temp, so who knows?!

I did 170 F for 3 minutes and it was great bitter, so maybe I'll risk the off boil.

It's quite wonderful, very low in caffeine/theophylline (5mg/cup), and is relaxing and enjoyable. If it didn't say green tea on the label, I'd think it an oolong.

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That was a typo, sorry.

I corrected the original post to say:

"I did 170 F for 3 minutes and it was great, so maybe I'll risk the off boil."

I'm not crazy enough to try for 4 minutes, though. :)

So what do you think? 2 minutes at 195 F?


Fooey's Flickr Food Fotography

Brünnhilde, so help me, if you don't get out of the oven and empty the dishwasher, you won't be allowed anywhere near the table when we're flambeéing the Cherries Jubilee.

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Right, even three minutes is too long.

My suggestion would be to try it for 2 minutes at 175, 195 and 205 first infusions and see what it's like at different temps. In a Tea Tasting & Discussion of a very fine and complex houjicha we found that it brewed well at a wide range of temps, displaying different interesting taste profiles. I have brewed another houjicha and it also works well at a wide range of temps.

So 2 minutes at 195 F is fine for a first infusion. You should be able to get a second and third infusion, too. You'll need to play with those a bit, but you could try 2: 195 F, 1 min; and 3: 195 F, 2 min.

Let us know the results of trying different brewing parameters, if you choose to experiment a little, and what works best for you.

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I brewed up a genmaicha that I just received from a friend in Japan. An excellent toasted cup, I used boiled spring water from the kettle, as opposed to my lower-temp water from the machine, and infused for about thirty seconds. A lot of toasted flavour, which is what I like, and not a lot of tea flavour. The second infusion had a much more of the "green" taste, and a milder rice punch.

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Boldly ordered a sampler and a bit of houjicha from denstea.com today.

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You're getting pretty wild with this tea-thing, don't you think, WmC?

BTW, for anyone else that orders a sampler, they include a hojicha sample.

The other tea I can heartily recommend to the astringency-challenged is the Kuki-cha Fukamushi from The Cultured Cup that we had in the recent Tea Tasting & Discussion here in this forum. It is still one of my favorite Japanese greens.

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A little, yes!

Seriously, I'm pretty much done with the buying spree for teawares and teas for a while. I have I have a nice selection of puerh that will keep a while, have found several oolongs I'm really enjoying, but most others (the black, green, and white/yellow) are being purchased in smaller quantities, including a raft of 1 oz or less samplers that have been very helpful. So the tea collection *is* a bit over the top at the moment. But, the tea group at work is expanding a bit (I am sharing the daily brews with 2-4 people at work), so I'm often filling the 1-quart thermos twice a day. Also, I'm using a bit more leaf as my comfort with brewing the different teas increases. I'll be more selective about the ones I replace after they run out, having used this 'spree' to better explore the available spectrum. But I won't be bulk brewing gyokuro or dan cong oolong for the thermos! And some people are getting tea for christmas.

And hey, no calories!

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Adventures in Gyokuro Brewing, Part IV, prelude

The Banko houhin tea pot and two gyokuros arrived from yuuki-cha.com a week ago and I have had a chance to brew one with a tea friend early in the week and then both of them since then. I'll do detailed tasting notes later after another brewing session or two, but I can say that these are delicious, easy to brew gyokuros. Interestingly, the inexpensive Banko houhin brews tea liquor that is softer, rounder, less astringent, much less bitter and, I think, has better balanced, more integrated flavor than with my friend's glazed houhin or my small Gyokko Tokaname kyusu. But all were good.

More to come.

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Is the banko glazed?

Just wondering how it might be affecting the flavor--different adsorption to the surface? Surface to volume ratios?

And on a related note, is there any reason not to use a gaiwan for brewing the Japanese green teas?

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Is the banko glazed?

Just wondering how it might be affecting the flavor--different adsorption to the surface? Surface to volume ratios?

Here's a link to the Banko, which is unglazed. It's the clay that does it, and the issue of the effects of various unglazed clays on tea is complex. Similar improvement with my larger Banko tea pot. The nice thing about the smaller houhin is that it's inexpensive and you can use it for other Japanese green teas, as well as for gyokuro.

And on a related note, is there any reason not to use a gaiwan for brewing the Japanese green teas?

You can use a gaiwan or a mug with infuser or a western tea pot for most Japanese green teas. I brewed sencha in mugs and western teapots for several years and thought it tasted great. A gaiwan is a little tricky since the leaves are small and it is more difficult to hold them back with the lid. But a kyusu is the best pot to use for all Japanese leaf teas, except gyokuro. A small (4 ounce) kyusu like my Gyokko Tokaname will work well for gyokuro due to the fine 360 degree stainless steel screen, but a houhin or tiny shiboridashi are the traditional and better options.

The roasted Japanese green teas do not do good things to an unglazed pot you're also going to use to brew delicate senchas and gyokuros. It's best to brew houjicha and genmaicha in a glazed brewing vessel and save the unglazed for the others. I think the Banko houhin is a very good inexpensive option for brewing all the unroasted leaf Japanese green teas. But not powdered matcha, that's another topic altogether.

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Hi everyone :)

I was wondering if anyone has any experience with "unconventional" brewing of Japanese teas.

A few days ago, I went to an international exhibition of natural products, where I bought some grade 1 matcha tea from this producer. There were a couple of Japanese people there (I later learnt that one of them was the general manager of Jona) who were giving sample tastings of their products. To cut a story short, they were "brewing" matcha in cold water (and I mean fridge-cold) - a chashaku shot in a teapot with water, a quick whisk with a chasen and they were done. I tasted it, and it was very good. I was impressed. The color was amazing, and the fact that it dissolved completely in cold water was a bit of a surprise. I had only had matcha at tea-tasting events and tea cerimonies and for some reason I thought it only dissolved with heat. So, the man suggested brewing some to carry around during the day, and that's what I've been doing since: I fill my one-liter bottle with water, a couple of chashaku shots (I haven't been very precise and haven't weighed the exact amount), I give everything a good shake and I'm good to go. This also solves the various problems I have with brewing tea at work. the only thing I noticed with this "method" is that the tea tends to deposit in the bottom of the bottle, so I need to shake it every time I pour a cup (a glass, actually - I like to drink cold tea in a glass rather than a cup). It keeps well, but the color tends to be a tiny bit off at the end of the day, the taste is still good, but not as "vibrant" as it is when I first make it.

The gentleman also suggested doing the same thing with gyokuro - he said 12-15 min brewing should do it.

Does anybody have any experience or comment to that? I would gladly accept any suggestion :)


Edited by Alessia (log)

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Adventures in Gyokuro Brewing, Part IV

I have been enjoying brewing and drinking two gyokuros from yuuki-cha.com. Here are some notes on brewing the Gyokuro Karigane, which is stems and gyokuro leaves and about half the cost of the other gyokuro I'll report on next. I have brewed using the yuuki-cha three methods and so far enjoy the "2 minute" version the best, and that's what I used today.

Brewed in a Banko houhin teapot with Britta filtered tap water.

6 grams Gyokuro Karigane

First infusion: 2 minutes, 2 ounces water at 122 F

Second infusion: 30 seconds, 2 ounces water at 122 F

Third infusion: 90 seconds, 2 ounces water at 122 F

Fourth infusion: 2 minutes, 2 ounces water at 122 F

Fifth infusion: 3 minutes, 2 ounces water at 122 F.

The first three infusions were similar, with more astringency on the first and a pleasant vegetal flavor for all three. The fourth infusion drew out the sweetness in the leaf and the fourth was ceamy, but thinner with a vegetal note and less sweetness. I liked the fourth infusion the best.

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I went back to the gyokuro-like sencha that gave me so much trouble initially, Organic Gokujo Sencha, and brewed it in my new Banko houhin instead of the Tokoname pot I used before. This was a much more pleasant result, and the difference was not subtle. It was still rather astringent on the first infusion and had an edgy vegetal flavor that I am not looking for, but also revealed sweetness and umami in subsequent infusions. The Banko houhin is really good at smoothing and rounding off the rough edges of teas.

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Adventures in Gyokuro Brewing, Part IV - Cont'd

Back to the gyokuro today.

Brewed the Organic Asahina Gyokuro Tsuyuhikari, also from yuuki-cha.com, in the Banko houhin. Again using the "2 minute method".

Brewed in a Banko houhin teapot with Britta filtered tap water.

6 grams Organic Asahina Gyokuro Tsuyuhikari

First infusion: 2 minutes, 2 ounces water at 122 F

Second infusion: 30 seconds, 2 ounces water at 122 F

Third infusion: 90 seconds, 2 ounces water at 122 F

Fourth infusion: 2 minutes, 2 ounces water at 122 F

Fifth infusion: 3 minutes, 2 ounces water at 122 F.

First and second infusions showed a little astringency, vegetal-whiff-of-the-sea and creamy umami with sweetness on the finish, better balance on the second. Vegetal over umami with less astringency and sweetness on the third. Astringency and sweetness over faint vegetal and creamy umami notes in the fourth infusion, still pleasant and sweeter as it cools. The fourth infusion - thinner, of course, but vegetal-sea, umami and sweetness still present, with astringency in the finish.

This is altogether a different gyokuro than the others I have discussed up-topic. While I like the Karigane, this is definitely "more better".

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Hi everyone :)

I was wondering if anyone has any experience with "unconventional" brewing of Japanese teas.

A few days ago, I went to an international exhibition of natural products, where I bought some grade 1 matcha tea from this producer. There were a couple of Japanese people there (I later learnt that one of them was the general manager of Jona) who were giving sample tastings of their products. To cut a story short, they were "brewing" matcha in cold water (and I mean fridge-cold) - a chashaku shot in a teapot with water, a quick whisk with a chasen and they were done. I tasted it, and it was very good. I was impressed. The color was amazing, and the fact that it dissolved completely in cold water was a bit of a surprise. I had only had matcha at tea-tasting events and tea cerimonies and for some reason I thought it only dissolved with heat. So, the man suggested brewing some to carry around during the day, and that's what I've been doing since: I fill my one-liter bottle with water, a couple of chashaku shots (I haven't been very precise and haven't weighed the exact amount), I give everything a good shake and I'm good to go. This also solves the various problems I have with brewing tea at work. the only thing I noticed with this "method" is that the tea tends to deposit in the bottom of the bottle, so I need to shake it every time I pour a cup (a glass, actually - I like to drink cold tea in a glass rather than a cup). It keeps well, but the color tends to be a tiny bit off at the end of the day, the taste is still good, but not as "vibrant" as it is when I first make it.

The gentleman also suggested doing the same thing with gyokuro - he said 12-15 min brewing should do it.

Does anybody have any experience or comment to that? I would gladly accept any suggestion :)

Interesting, Alessia. Never heard of this technique before. I may not be following this accurately, but it sounds like you are saying the matcha initially dissolved in cold water, but then deposits in the bottom eventually, correct?

I'll try this when I order matcha next month, and also try it with gyokuro in the next week or so.

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