Takada San Explains Gyokuro's History, Technique

My friend Takada san explains the history and technique of gyokuro:

The old-style gardens are shaded with only bamboo and rice straw. First, they put many bamboo poles in the garden in early spring. Then, depending on the weather, they start building bamboo shelves. On the shelves they place rice straw something like 10-15cm deep to keep it dark inside. They have several gardens, so 20-30 picking ladies start the first garden. It takes 3-4 days to pick, so another garden should be ready for picking by the time they finish.

Nowadays, farmers prefer a simpler method, using black netting.

We have a big problem finding enough ladies to pick the tea at the same time. We book them at the beginning of the year, before the season we give them a small gift, and at last, before the first picking day, we prepare some picking clothes for them. Anyway, the farmer takes very good care of his tea ladies. He will pay JPY7,000 for one day’s work, from 7:00-17:00. For the high-grade leaves it’s possible for one lady to pick 5 kg in a day, which dries to 1 kg. So 1 kg of gyokuro includes JPY7,000 just for the picking cost.

It is necessary to keep finished gyokuro for 4-5 months in a dark, cool place so it can “sleep.” This gives a milder, sweeter taste. We have a special ceremony in autumn, "Pot-Opening Ceremony," when we finally open the containers. October is the best season to enjoy the deep gyokuro taste.

For brewing gyokuro, specially high-grade, you must use 50-55C water. For 3 cups, use 8g of leaves, 100ml of water, and steep 2 minutes. Five or six drops of tea per cup is enough. For the second infusion, use 150ml of water and 60C water. Steep 2 minutes. For the third, 200ml of water at 70C for 2 minutes. For the fourth, 300ml at 80C for 1 minute. This is one way, but you can find your own way to enjoy gyokuro.

Uji is the oldest tea town in Japan. Our tea history was started 800 years ago by the monk who went abroad to China. He started the history, then the samurai continued it with their tea gambling (tea competition to get the correct answer). Later, during the Edo period, samurai cultivated their skill at the tea ceremony. At the same time, Shogun enjoyed gyokuro, which was reserved for their use: at the beginning of gyokuro history, nobody could drink this tea except the Shogun family. Therefore, our Uji tea gardens were protected as the Shogun garden for many years. About 250 years ago, one of the farmers who lived in my tea town invented another style of gyokuro, called sencha. It’s steamed and full of green color. So, for historical reasons, gyokuro means the king’s tea. Uji is the high grade of tea and Uji tea has 5-star taste. This is the history of gyokuro.

When the monk first brought tea to Kyoto from China, he planted the seeds in the valley to the north of the mountain in Kyoto. The valley is very narrow, so late sunrise and early sunset make the tea taste very rich. On the other hand, Uji has a wide river that provides rich soil, but the mountains aren’t as high. People realized they needed to shade the tea to make it make it taste like Kyoto tea. The shaded garden was a smart idea to grow rich tasting tea in Uji for the Shogun. We are very proud of this historical tradition.