Tea-Bagging: Uji Gyokuro

This series is called Tea-Bagging. In this series, I brew a new tea, give instructions on how to brew this tea, and give my personal reviews.

For my first tea-bagging, I thought I’d start with the best of the best; Uji Gyokuro Green Tea.

gr-gyokuro_uji_1

Having brewed this tea a few times now, I have a few words of caution; make sure that you brew correctly. The first time I brewed this tea, it tasted alright, but not phenomenal. This tea, however, should be phenomenal. The brewing of this green tea is a bit unorthodox.

When brewing Uji Gyokoru, it is important to follow the instructions. First, bring a pot of good quality water to a light boil; if you see smoke, then you should stop. Allow the kettle to cool down if you reach this point, just for a few minutes. If your tea is hot, it is recommended that you pour the water into a few containers that act as middlemen, cooling the water. The ideal brewing temperature for Uji Gyokoru is an astonishing 50-60 degrees celsius, or approximately 130 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, the container should feel warm to the touch, but should not be uncomfortable to touch.

Once the desired temperature is achieved, preferably verified with a thermometer,  the tea is ready to be brewed. This tea uses a lot of leaf compared to a relatively small amount of water. When I brew this tea, I use between 4-5 grams for 90 mL worth of water, typically measured using shot glasses (Each shot glass is approximately 45 mL). As the tea can cost upwards of $200 per pound, this is not an insignificant amount of leaf.

After measuring out my tea, I pour the water into an intermediate mug, and steep the tea for approximately 3-4 minutes. The tea will let you know when it is finished brewing; the leaves will open, and the scent will be indistinguishably Uji. Typically, once the aroma becomes noticeable in tea, I give the leaves another minute to brew.

After brewing, I pour the tea into my drinking glass. Considering the high quality of the tea, in addition to the minute amount of tea, it is advisable to get every drop of tea that you can. Then, it is time to drink.

As I type this review, I am drinking Uji Gyokoru for the second time today. I have re-steeped the same leaves that I used earlier in the day. The re-steeping took longer than expected (approximately 3 minutes), and the flavor is unfortunately noticeably weaker than the tea I had before. I dare say that I will not be giving this tea a just review drinking my current mug, but I will try my best.

The scent of Uji Gyokoru is unique. I must say, I can’t accurately capture the smell of the tea with words, but it is immediately obvious that this tea has a uniqueness to it. The smell is both refreshing and natural, while remaining very complex. The smell is both off-putting and attracting, creating the dichotomy of ‘I don’t want to drink this’ and ‘I want to drink this.’

The first thing I noticed while drinking this tea is how cold this tea is in contrast to other teas I have had. The temperature is comfortable, caught between a hot and an iced tea, allowing  the flavors of the tea to unveil themselves. Too often, hot teas, especially black teas, are scolding hot and numb the taste buds. The temperature is relaxed, and sets the tone of the tea. Uji Gyokoru has an earthy sweetness to it and an almost complete lack of bitterness. This tea is refreshing while enjoyed, but doesn’t seem to quench thirst, rather, leaving me even more thirsty than before. However, the most apparent part of this tea comes from the aftertaste and aftereffects. This tea leaves the mouth with the ultimate green tea aftertaste; think Arizona green tea with ginseng, but the taste is much less forced and has a higher quality. Additionally, the absence of sugar makes this taste very palatable. Additionally, soon after drinking the tea, I am left in an interesting state of mind, similar to the feeling left after doing yoga or meditating. This has happened every time I have had this tea, so I don’t believe it’s just a feeling that exists in my head. My mind is much at ease, and my soul lives more in the body and less in the head. I feel a relaxation in my frontal and sphenoid sinuses. The effect is momentary, lasting minutes at most, but provides an interesting experience. As I drink the tea, this tea becomes uncomfortably cool due to the length of time I have spent while writing this review [note: after finishing the review and researching this tea later in this article, I have found that some people preheat the glass they plan on drinking the tea from in order to maintain the warmth of the tea].

Sadly, the tea is now finished, and this brew wasn’t as good as my brew from earlier in the day; still, this tea blows most other teas out of the water.

sinus2

After drinking this tea and writing this review, I did some research on Uji Gyokoru tea. Uji Gyokoru is grown in the shade in Japan, and shielded from sunlight for weeks before harvesting. The shading of this this leaf results in an increase in the amount of theanine and caffeine present in the tea. These two chemicals likely explain the aftereffect I described; theanine is a psychoactive chemical that reduces stress and boosts mood when combined with caffeine, while caffeine is a stimulant that would likely provide the ‘live in the body’ characteristic that I had described.

Like many green teas, Uji Gyokoru has a number of health benefits, primarily due to the antioxidants found in high quantities in green tea. The antioxidants present in green tea, called polyphenols,  are thought to remove free radicals in the body which can come from sources such as smoke and UV rays, and are believed to reduce stress and signs of aging. Additionally, the caffeine in the tea can act as an appetite suppressant for short periods of time while boosting cognitive and physical performance, although I hesitate to say that ingesting large amounts of caffeine is ‘healthy;’ while small amounts of caffeine can improve performance and have health benefits, many people tend to take in too much caffeine as is, which can lead to restlessness, insomnia, and addiction.

Ultimately, Uji Gyokuro is a delicious treat that can be happily enjoyed in small quantities. Additionally, this tea would serve as a great meditation aid or a relatively healthy way to relax after a stressful day. This tea is brewed in an unorthodox manner, but when brewed correctly, the tea is phenomenal.

My biggest complaint may be in the strength of this tea. Having had just two 90mL servings of this tea within two hours of each other, I already feel as though I’ve had too much tea for one day. For comparison, a typical water bottle has 750 mL of water. In the future, I may brew this tea slightly less strongly, although this tea traditionally should be served to be very strong. Nevertheless, as is this tea is one of my favorites, and I look forward to enjoying this tea more frequently.