Since I started my blog and found over the years that my passion for tea lies mostly with Japanese tea, I’ve thrown myself into learning as much as I possibly can to make sure I’m getting the most out of the teas I’m drinking and preparing them at their best. It was a trial and error process, but over time I managed to find out what works best for me and my taste. So I thought why not share what I’ve learned and start a new series here on the blog centered around the best ways to prepare Japanese teas, starting with the teas I get asked the most about… Gyokuro.
Before I get into this post I just want to make sure that in mention these are only suggestions, this is the way I have learned to prepare Gyokuro and the way in which I enjoy drinking it the most. But tea is incredibly personal and while I would recommend trying out my suggested steeping parameters at least once, you should definitely continue to experiment over time and find the way of steeping Gyokuro that is best suited to you.
In my opinion, in order to experience the best of what Gyokuro holds, you have to make sure that it is steeped at lower temperatures and also that it is steeped using freshly filtered water. Doing both of these things will ensure you are starting off on the right foot and will stop you from ruining the Gyokuro you have no doubt spent a good chunk of money on.
When it comes to water temperatures and getting them just right, I highly recommend using a temperature variable kettle. I use one from Weekett that I can control from my phone that I can not recommend highly enough. But if you don’t have one, you need not worry because you still have options. Set aside a cooling vessel known in Japan as a Yuzamashi that you can put your freshly steeped water in while you wait for it to cool.
Should you want to cool the water down faster, pouring it too and from another cooling vessel will cool it by around 10C each time it is transferred. For your first steep the water should be between 50-60C. You’ll want to use around 6g of tea and 60ml of water for the ideal results, but you’ll need to adjust those parameters depending on how much water the Kyusu you are using can hold.
When it comes to vessels, my personal choice is a Houhin, but you can also use a Shiboridashi or Kyusu, all three are the best choices when it comes to Gyokuro. If you are using a Kyusu I recommend using a relatively flat one that doesn’t hold too much water.
Take your Gyokuro leaves and spread them evenly across the bottom of your chosen vessel. Once you’ve done that, pour over your water which by this point should be cool enough or should have finished steeping to temperature. For your first steep, you’ll want to steep for 60-90 seconds. When steeping is finished,npour it little by little into the cups going back and forth to assure that all cups are even in flavour.
Because Gyokuro is very thick and rich in umami, it is best served in smaller quantities from very small cups. Be sure to make sure you get all the water out from your first steeps down to the very last drops to ensure that your second steep is not ruined. For the second and all following steeps, slowly raise the water temperature each time. Steep two should be short at around 10-15 seconds at most and then steep three should be around 40 seconds.
Most Gyokuro can withstand more than three steeps but that is what I usually have as my baseline amount for sessions with Gyokuro from steep three onwards you can increase the time slowly.
When it comes to the first steeps, umami is what it is all about. However in the following steeps it weakens and a sweet aftertaste is given space to emerge. Don’t forget that your pour time and also the time it takes your teapot to pour should also be factored into your steep times, because any time your tea is in contact with your water its steeping.
Should you be looking for a way to enjoy your Gyokuro during the summer try out the Kōridashi method, which is a slow, mindful way of preparing this tea that results in the most refreshing cup. Firstly make ice cubes (you’ll want to make sure you use filtered water to do this). Once they are ready, gently place them in your chosen vessel.
To start your session, take approximately 4-6g of leaves (depending on how strong you want it to be) and place them on top of the ice cubes. It’s important that you place them on top as putting them underneath the ice cubes will compress the leaves and not allow them a chance to breathe, which could result in an uneven distribution of flavour. Simply wait for the ice cubes to melt and enjoy the most refreshing cup of Gyokuro you will ever drink.
This is one of my favourite ways to drink Gyokuro during summer as it allows me to practise patience and take a quiet peaceful break throughout those hot days.
I really hope these steeping guidelines answer any questions you might have about preparing Gyokuro. As I said earlier in this post these are just my suggested guidelines and the way I personally prefer to prepare my Gyokuro. While I recommend you give them a try at least once so you have a reference to start from, be sure to experiment with different kinds of Gyokuro and steeping times / methods. Doing that will ensure that you find what works best for you and your taste.
After getting to this point in the post, should you still have any questions about Gyokuro or any other Japanese tea, either leave them in the comments or send them to me on Instagram or Tik tok (@kimberleyskyusu). Should you want to try the Gyokuro featured in this post for yourself, you can find it on the Yunomi website. Remember to use the code START20 to get 20% off your order.
Until next time. Happy Steeping – Kimberley