Second in a series on the teas of Japan.
Pearl Dew, as the name is translated, is Japan’s best and one of the world’s costliest teas. Gyokuro’s pale-looking, greenish-gold liquor gives no hint of its intensity of aroma and taste or its complex and mouth-filling flavor. Developed and first sold in Japan in 1835 by the Yamamoto tea dynasty, this rare tea is produced by shading the bushes for the first three weeks of May while the year’s first flush develops. In old times bamboo screens were erected over the garden but today’s rounded rows of plants are simply jacketed with canvas-like covers. The sun-deprived leaf that grows under these covers develops additional chlorophyll, which makes it darker than normal, but lower polyphenol content, giving it a sweeter and milder taste. After plucking, this leaf is rapidly steamed and then specially processed into flat pointed needles of darkest green.
Much shade-grown leaf of the Uji region is processed somewhat differently because it is destined to be chopped fine and stored as tencha, the precuror of the tea ceremony tea matcha. Matcha, which is fine-ground powder, keeps for a month in winter and less in summertime. Tencha is the form in which it is stored, therefore, until needed as matcha. Gyokuro and tencha are made only once a year, not only because they require spring flush but also because shading drains the bushes of energy and it takes time for them to recover.