With some success on our first try, my fiancée this afternoon attempted to speed the process of heating the charcoal on our ceramic tea stove. While much was learned, the resulting water was not as hot as we could have liked, and so we searched the tea cabinet for a tea that would fare well with less-than-boiling water.
The easiest choice was a well-sealed packet of single-estate organic Gyokuro from 2010 that I had somewhat forgotten about. You know the kind of tea, you were saving it for a special occasion, but eventually it was just too old to use, and so there it sat. Gyokuro, if you’ve never encountered it, is essentially the highest quality tea made in Japan, second only to Matcha in the respect afforded it. That said, all tea comes in many different grades, and nearly all tea produced in Japan is a blend.
Unlike China or India, where there is much land to be had, Japan is tiny and overpopulated to the point where growing a tea plantation is out of the question. Tea farms are generally small estates planted carefully wherever the conditions are right. Unfinished tea leaves are then brought to special tasting events where representatives from large tea companies will find a selection of small batches that they like and then finish them all together. This tea, however, is from a single garden in Japan, and it’s certified organic to boot. Also not an easy feat.
Gyokuro (meaning “Jade Dew”) is grown only from a specific selection of cultivars of the tea plant and is shaded for several weeks of its growing season just before harvest. This shade, traditionally with bamboo or more modern mesh, causes the plants to work that much harder at finding sunlight. The resulting richness of the leaf is well worth the effort. Of course, it is still a green tea, and the real magic of such things only lasts 6 months or so.
So clearly we were skeptical of this find, but that skillful Japanese packaging managed to keep the leaves in pretty good shape after three years. While definitely not the creamy rich and salty experience I would expect from a recent Gyokuro, this still had the characteristic mellow vegetal body coupled with a vibrant green broth.
Now the challenge will be to drink the rest of the packet. …Or it may just go back on the shelf.