Gyokuro

Gyokuro (玉露, litegyokurorally translates as jade dew) is considered to be one of the highest grades of green tea in Japan.

This high quality also comes with a high price, because gyokuro is one of the most expensive types of Japanese green tea!

Gyokuro has a dark green color, and when brewed it is slightly sweet, with a refreshing aroma.

How is gyokuro made?

The process to make gyokuro is very similar to sencha, the only difference lies in the cultivation method. At least 20 days prior to harvesting, the tea leaves are shielded from sunlight. Because of the added difficulty in shading, the production cost is higher.

The video below shows how the green tea field is shaded. The same process is used for both gyokuro and matcha.

What difference does shading the tea make?

The characteristic taste of green tea is due in large part to an amino acid called L-theanine. This compound intensifies the umami taste in tea and also adds sweetness to it.

As a side note, L-theanine is only found in some members of the Camellia genus (such as the green tea plant), the Boletus badius mushroom and the guayusa plant.

L-theanine is produced by the roots of the green tea plant and is then sent to the leaves. When light hits the leaves, L-theanine goes through a process which breaks it down to finally form catechin.

Catechin is a polyphenol that is responsible for green tea’s astringency. Although catechin is a powerful antioxidant with many health benefits, it must be balanced with L-theanine for an optimum taste.

With less sunlight, there is less photosynthesis. Therefore, there is less L-theanine being converted into catechin when the leaves are under the shade. This is why gyokuro is rich in L-theanine and why it has its characteristic taste.

History of gyokuro

The origin of gyokuro can be traced to the Yamamotoyama company. In 1835, Yamamoto Kahei (山本嘉兵衛) the sixth traveled to Uji to study tencha processing. It’s been said that the practice of shading the tea before the harvest was invented by Uji farmers in an attempt to protect the green tea leaves from frost by using straw umbrellas.

Yamamoto tried to replicate the results but ended with a different kind of tea, which nevertheless tasted great and became popular. He named it tamanotsuyu (玉の露).

Eguchi Shigejuro (江口茂十郎) used the method to process sencha (invented by Nagatani Soen: 永谷宗円) and further refined the production of gyokuro in 1841. Eguchi gave gyokuro its name.

How to brew gyokuro

Remember that gyokuro is considered a luxury even in Japan. You should take care to brew it properly so as to fully enjoy its flavor and aroma.

Use a small kyusu (Japanese tea pot: 急須), or if you want to take it one step further, there are two types of kyusu especially designed for brewing gyokuro: houhin (宝瓶) and shiboridashi (搾り出し). The other utensil you may need is a yuzamashi (湯冷まし), which is basically a container to pour water in order to cool it.

If you don’t have a yuzamashi, don’t worry. Just use something similar, like a mug. The yuzamashi is mainly used for aesthetic purposes. Check the video at the end of this post to see how the yuzamashi and the houhin are used.

The main point when brewing gyokuro is that the temperature must be lower than other green teas, and the brewing time is longer. The ideal temperature is 50°C ~ 60°C (122°F  ~ 140°F) and the brewing time is 2 ~ 3 minutes. If you use a higher temperature the gyokuro will get bitter, and if don’t brew it long enough you will not enjoy its sweetness.

First boil water in a tea kettle ( 100°C, 212°F) and then pour it into the houhin. This will lower the temperature of the water, to about 90ºC (194°F). Next, pour the water from the houhin to the tea cups (about 20 ml per cup, that’s why you should use small cups for gyokuro) and discard any remaining water. This way you’ve lowered the water temperature by another 10 degrees celcius, measured the right amount of water and warmed the cups.

Now its time to lower the temperature again. Pour the water from the cups into the yuzamashi to lower another 10°C and then add a teaspoon (4 gr) of gyokuro per cup into your houhin, and pour the water from the yuzamashi into the houhin.

The number of times that the water was poured was 4, which brings the temperature to 60°C (100°C-40°C) or lower. You don’t need an exact temperature, just something close.

Let brew for 3 minutes, and then serve into each cup little by little so as to have a uniform mix in each cup. It takes up some time but tasting the unique flavor of gyokuro is worth it.

I embedded a video (in Japanese, sorry!) so you can visually follow the process.

You may also find that some people pour hot water into the yuzamashi first instead of the houhin, etc. There is more than one way to do it but the results are the same.

32 Comments

  1. Guy Ransom
    January 20, 2015

    Have been told this tea helps reduce some brain tumours, any advise please? Wife has grade 3 astrocytoma.

    Reply
    1. Ricardo Caicedo
      January 20, 2015

      Hi Guy

      Sorry for you wife’s sickness. I hope that her health improves.

      EGCG, a catechin in green tea, has been shown to help in preventing cancer. I’m not sure it will reduce the tumor, to be honest with you. Prevention is much different from curing.

      Gyokuro is high in L-theanine, not EGCG. I recommend matcha for maximum amount of antioxidants per cup.

      Reply
  2. Jasper
    April 9, 2015

    Hi, is there any reason that it is better to hear the water to 90 and let it cool rather than heating it directly to 50-60? Thanks

    Reply
    1. Ricardo Caicedo
      April 9, 2015

      Hi Jasper

      Thank you for your question.

      I updated the post, since nowadays I always start with boiling water because it evaporates the chlorine in tap water.

      Yes, you could just heat it to 50-60 and it would work as well. However, you would need to measure the temperature somehow. In the case of boiling it first, you’re using a rule of thumb so no need to measure temperature directly.

      Unless you want to be very exact, there’s no need to measure temperature with a thermometer, it’s very hard to tell the difference in taste if it’s off by a few degrees.

      Reply
  3. Cathleen
    May 9, 2015

    Hello:
    Thank you for publishing this web page/site. I have been trying different types of green teas, thinking I understood how to prepare them. I really did not understand or know until I found your site and videos. All is explained simply and clearly. I try to follow your instructions and have started to truly appreciate and enjoy drinking green teas. Thank you again. Cathleen

    Reply
    1. Ricardo Caicedo
      May 9, 2015

      Thank you Cathleen

      If you ever have any related question feel free to email me.
      Enjoy your green tea!

      Reply
  4. Mia
    July 9, 2015

    I have been just boiling water and letting the tea brew for 2-3 minutes. By not letting the water cool am I losing any health benefits of the tea?
    Thank you

    Reply
    1. Ricardo Caicedo
      July 9, 2015

      Hi Mia

      You won’t lose the health benefits, because the healthy compounds will be extracted anyway. But flavorwise, it’s not a good idea to drink it like that.
      If you want the full health benefits, try matcha. Since it’s a powdered tea you’ll be getting all the nutrients in your cup.

      Reply
  5. Nikola
    September 1, 2015

    Hey Ricardo,

    If I was to give you 2 packs of tea (loose leaf) could you tell me which one is gyokuro and which one is sencha?
    I bought both of those from aiya and can’t really tell the difference.
    I brew the gyokura at lower temperature but they seem identical.

    Best

    nikola

    Reply
    1. Ricardo Caicedo
      September 1, 2015

      Hi Nikola

      If the sencha is high grade, it becomes harder to tell. With lower grades of sencha it’s easier because the leaves aren’t as tightly rolled, they are lighter in color and don’t have as much luster.

      Sometimes a tea labeled as sencha is blended with kabusecha or it consists entirely of it, another shaded tea like gyokuro. In that case even the taste can be similar.

      If you have the practice, you may tell by the smell of the leaves.

      Anyway, if the sencha looks like a gyokuro, it’s a good thing.

      Reply
  6. Hanna Wood
    October 19, 2016

    I enjoyed reading this article. Very informative yet easily understandable.Thank you for sharing this valuable information.

    Reply
  7. Althea
    February 19, 2017

    Hi, i undergo thyroidectomy and now i’m hypothyroidism and have maintanance of eltroxine 100mcg and vit d3 2000iu, is it ok to take any type of green tea with my condition?

    Reply
    1. Ricardo Caicedo
      February 20, 2017

      Dear Althea

      I think it’s best if you ask your doctor, because I’m not a medical practicioner.

      Reply
  8. Vincent
    April 22, 2017

    Hello,
    If I reduce my gyokuro leaves in powder, would it be proper matcha ?
    Thanks
    Vincent

    Reply
    1. Ricardo Caicedo
      April 22, 2017

      Hi Vincent

      It wouldn’t be exactly matcha but it would be close. Tencha isn’t rolled like gyokuro, and the rolling process alters the aroma and flavor of a tea.

      Reply
  9. María Cárdenas
    July 6, 2017

    Hello,
    I just purchased Gyokuro Matcha instant will it help with weight loss. This stuff is expensive.
    María

    Reply
    1. Ricardo Caicedo
      July 6, 2017

      Hello Maria

      Please refer to this article:
      https://www.myjapanesegreentea.com/green-tea-weight-loss

      Reply
  10. YD
    August 7, 2018

    Hi
    I have been drinking Gyokuro tea now for over 12 years and can confirm many health benefits.
    Firstly, I always suffered from hayfever and dust allergies and constantly had to have tissues with me.
    After around 6 months I noticed that I was no longer reaching for a tissue and have not suffered since. The gyokuro was the only new thing in my life so although not mentioned anywhere as a benefit for sinus issues, I’m living proof it cured me.
    I also want to say that apart from keeping excellent health, I actually look 15 or more years younger than I should.
    I now live in Asia where there are many flue’s bacterias and things floating around and I have not had one single sick day in the 6 years I’ve been here which is quite remarkable.
    I’ve put my friends on to drinking gyokuro tea, they give up after a few weeks and then wonder why they are looking so much older than I, their bodies are slowing down, thickening around the waist and shoulders, skin sagging and they cannot keep up with my energy levels. And they are getting age related illnesses like cancers and diabetes.
    I do moderate regular exercise, nothing major just a lot of walking and dancing and eat a kiwifruit every morning and night. I’m not a fitness health junky at all and I drink, go out late and eat what I like including chocolate !

    So, Gyokuro ?

    BEST INVESTMENT EVER !!!

    Hope this helps anyone considering Gyokuros value.

    Reply
    1. Ricardo Caicedo
      August 8, 2018

      Thank you for your comment.

      You got a lot of value out of gyokuro!

      Reply
  11. Areek
    July 25, 2019

    I drank Gyokuro from exactly same set in Shizuoka park tea garden 🙂

    Reply
    1. Ricardo Caicedo
      July 26, 2019

      Very nice!

      Reply
  12. Nebojsa
    July 28, 2019

    Hello,

    I actually found evidence that Gyokuro is not at all low at EGCG. It is actually very high in Polyphenols.
    Teavana Gyokuro has found to be tea with largest EGCG content (200mg+ per cup)

    Much higher than any tea bag green teas.

    Also, if you drinking tea for health benefits, brewing tea in boiling water significantly increase EGCG content of the tea (up to 60%).
    Just a point.

    Can You tell me if the Gyokuro leaves are supposte to be small. When I make my tea i got a lot of “tea dust” in my cup, becasue the leaves are too small and lot of tea material got in my cup.

    Is that normal for Gyokuro? I like my tea to be like green water, with no tea dust inside 🙂
    I think I am going to get back to Sencha tea.

    Thanks

    Reply
    1. Areek
      July 28, 2019

      “Also, if you drinking tea for health benefits, brewing tea in boiling water significantly increase EGCG content of the tea (up to 60%).
      Just a point.”

      I am afraid that if you drink tea “just” for health benefits Gyokuro would not be reasonable choice 🙂

      May be really good kukicha will do the same for quarter the price. Of course organic would be only choice then…

      Reply
    2. Ricardo Caicedo
      July 28, 2019

      Hi Nebojsa

      EGCG in commercial tea bags is close to zero, because they don’t contain fresh green tea and thus the catechins have oxidized already.

      I didn’t write that gyokuro was low in EGCG, just that it’s highest in amino acids. But a good sencha will likely have the same or probably more EGCG than a gyokuro, I found that in a chart in the Nihoncha No Subete Ga Wakaru Hon, page 24.

      To get the most antioxidants, the best would be matcha or a green tea powder. Because it would be like eating the leaves whole.

      Gyokuro leaves are thin and small. There shouldn’t be too much tea dust, but if you don’t drink the dust in your cup, again, you’re losing EGCG and other nutrients.

      How whole and how beautiful the tea leaves are is a matter of quality. But fukamushi sencha has a lot of tea dust on purpose, it’s not a sign of lower quality in that case.

      As a tea lover, I drink tea mainly for taste and aroma. That is, for pleasure. Health benefits are just a bonus, like for example a wine lover doesn’t care much if a specific wine is healthier than another.

      Reply
  13. RHP
    February 28, 2020

    Great site. Small point (and maybe a typo) ‘the basidiomycete’ isn’t a mushroom just a fundamental biological category. Found Boletus badius as the actual fungal source for L-teanine generally quoted in the literature

    Reply
    1. Ricardo Caicedo
      March 1, 2020

      Thank you very much! I have corrected the error.

      Reply
  14. Sharlene
    May 8, 2020

    Thank you so much for sharing your expertise. I’m new to the world of and health benefits of green tea and am excited about what I’m learning from your site. Its obvious to me that you are very well educated on the subject and I have a strong sense that I can trust what I’m reading here. As I continue to learn about this wonderous drink, could you recommend what you believe to be an ideal routine of green tea drinking in order to achieve all health benefits available from green tea? For instance, I particularly like gyrokuro but perhaps I should be incorporating matcha?

    Reply
    1. Ricardo Caicedo
      May 8, 2020

      Hi Sharlene

      The healthy dose of catechins in green tea is either one matcha, or three infusions of a green tea such as sencha or gyokuro.

      Note that I recommend drinking tea for the pleasure of it, health benefits is not the main focus here.

      Reply
      1. Naomi
        April 9, 2022

        Once you have made perhaps five or six cups, you can also eat the gyokuro leaves, like spinach!
        With a little ponzu sauce I find it to be quite delicious!

        If you are looking for the extra health benefits, this will help as you get to consume everything, like with matcha.

        The experience and flavour, though, is where it’s at.

        Reply
        1. Ricardo Caicedo
          April 9, 2022

          Hi Naomi

          I haven’t tried them with ponzu sauce, only soy sauce. I’ll try that next time.

          Reply
  15. Brad
    June 16, 2022

    Thanks for the informative post. I have also seen people do a “pre-brew” of roughly 7 minutes with room temperature water, just enough to cover the leaves. The result is a lovely tablespoon full of tea with a distinct umami flavour. After that, you brew as you suggested. What’s your opinion on that method? I personally treasure that tablespoon, as it is so unique in flavour. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Ricardo Caicedo
      June 17, 2022

      Hi Brad.

      Yes, feel free to prepare however works best for you.

      I thinks that´s almost like ice brewing or cold brewing, it’s a longer brewing time because the temperature is low.
      https://www.myjapanesegreentea.com/ice-brewing-gyokuro

      Reply

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