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  • Writer's pictureNeldon Hamblin

Gyokuro Cha Musume: A Tea-riffic Green Tea from Nio Tea

Hi, friends! As many of you are aware, Nio Teas reached out to me and asked if I'd be willing to try a few of their teas in exchange for reviews, which I happily agreed to. They sent me their Gyokuro Cha Musume, their sencha Shizuoka Yamaga no Sato, and their Nadeshiko rose green tea, which I covered previously here.

Today's review is of Nio Teas' Gyokuro Cha Musume, an "Imperial Green Tea" from Shibushi, Kagoshima, Japan. Gyokuro is one of the highest grades of Japanese green tea, being known for having an intense umami-bite to it. To make gyokuro, the farmers shade the plants under large canopies for 3 weeks or more before the harvest, which concentrates the sweet and savory flavors. The leaves are then steamed, dried, and rolled into the tight needle-like shape for us to brew. Uniquely enough, gyokuro also has a higher caffeine content, at about 120-140mg of caffeine per cup, or more than a small cup of coffee! This makes it a great afternoon pick-me-up for that boost of energy without the crashing. This particular gyokuro is made from the Yabukita varietal and is JAS (Japanese Agricultural Society) certified organic. This means that the farmer who grows this gyokuro, Mr. Sakamoto, grows this tea without the use of chemicals or pesticides. According to Nio Teas, Mr. Sakamoto uses his own "organic fertilizer, using natural compounds like organic compost and sedimentary rock mulch."

Gyokuro is known for being an umami-rich tea; however, I've always been somewhat averse to using the term "umami" as I find it incredibly vague and difficult to nail down. Because of this, I wanted to give a quick descriptor here of what I think umami means. To me, umami is a savory, rich taste, and in Japanese green teas, it manifests itself as a sort of subtle, lingering sweetness with a nice, savory depth to it, like a rich, seaweed-y broth. Umami flavors include a sort of earthy undertone, a natural underlying sweetness behind the nutty, thick, meaty brothiness of the tea, and sometimes even a briny, ocean-like taste. These are all subjective, but to me, that is what umami means.

So, now that we've covered what gyokuro is, as well as umami, let's get into this review.

Brewing Parameters:

5g gyokuro leaf to 150ml kyusu

60°C/140°F filtered spring water

First Steep of Gyokuro
Pouring 1st Steep of Gyokuro

First Steep 2mins: Per their recommendations, I brewed this at 60°C for 2minutes in my 150ml kyusu, producing a concentrated, yet tasty brew of gyokuro. The color on this steep is gorgeous and very fresh, being a lovely greenish yellow. Flavor wise, this is an umami-bomb. I'm getting a nice, briny seaweedy, salty flavor on the initial sip, with a nice, thicker, almost broth-like texture. It has a lovely sweet aftertaste, tasting like sugarcane and stone fruits (sort of like a nectarine/peach pit). There's also a nice freshly cut grass flavor to complement this sweetness. There's no bitterness whatsoever, despite steeping this for 2minutes. Overall, it's a lovely savory tea with a heavy sweetness in the aftertaste.

1st steep of gyokuro in a clear glass
1st Steep

Second Steep 20s: For the second steep, I again followed their recommendations of 60°C for 20s. This was interesting; personally, I'm used to gongfu brewing, where the steep times gradually increase with each brew, yet in this case, we decrease the time for subsequent brews. It makes sense, though, as the short needles have quickly become fat, thick leaves after the first 2min steep, having fully opened at this stage. This shorter steep resulted in a slightly more vibrant cup of tea, being more yellow-tinged than green; the peach pit/nectarine stone-fruitiness is still prominently there, with a nice, almost sugarcane juice flavor in the throat. There is a pleasant floral note to it, as well, almost orchid-like, with a subtle briny flavor to it. It's grassier this steep, with that sweet and savory umami flavor being present, but toned down and more balanced now.

2nd steep of gyokuro in a clear glass
2nd Steep

Third Steep 20s: For the third steep, I did another 20s brew. This third steep is significantly lighter, being paler yellow, yet it is also much sweeter than the previous two. I'm noticing a slightly grassier taste and a decrease in depth of flavor (i.e. it not as complex in the tasting, being more one-noted here). There's a note of ripe tomatoes coming through with a green grass flavor, as well as that subtle sugarcane and nectarine flavor.

3rd steep of gyokuro in a clear glass to show color
3rd Steep

Fourth Steep 1min 90°C: I could tell the leaves still had a bit left to give, so I pushed it using the guidelines from a friend in Japan. He suggested to push the final brew up to 90°C and brew for 1 minute, so that's what I did.

Wow, I did not expect a 60°C cup of gyokuro to be good, but this was impressive. I had anticipated a stronger bitterness due to the higher temperature, but instead I was met with an intense fruitiness with a stronger savory note to it than the previous steeps. Imagine the sweetness and fruit flavors of the previous steep with the savory flavors of the first steep, and that's what this steep tasted like. It really is a nicely complex, brothy tea, yet it has an impressive sweetness in the aftertaste that really impresses me.

Gyokuro Salad:

Because I am a tea nerd and wanted to, I decided to eat the gyokuro leaves- they are organic, so there were no worries there about ingesting anything unhealthy. I dressed the leaves with a tiny bit of sesame oil, a splash of soy sauce, a tiny bit of flaky sea salt, and a dash of red pepper flakes. My goodness, was it a nice, tasty salad. I would definitely recommend this if you want to cut back on throwing your tea leaves away.

A quick salad made from gyokuro, sesame oil, soy sauce, and a bit of flaky salt
Gyokuro Salad with Salt, Soy Sauce, Sesame Oil, and Pepper Flakes

Final Thoughts:

This is quite the fascinating gyokuro- wonderfully brothy and sweet, I would definitely recommend it to anyone wanting to see why gyokuro is so famed and renowned. It has a complex savory flavor with a long-lasting sweetness in the aftertaste, something that really impressed me. I genuinely enjoyed this experience and it makes me want to try more gyokuro to see how each varietal and farmer does it differently.

At $37.00/100g, or $0.37 cents per gram, this tea is on the pricier end, but it definitely delivers. Factoring in the organic JAS certification, the price is well in-line with comparable teas and has a nice punchy flavor to it. However, as of today (4/9/2024), throughout the month of April, Nio Teas is having a "Spring Sale," where their selection of Japanese teas are up to 64% off, plus orders over $49 get free shipping, no code or anything necessary.

If you would like to try this, or any other tea from Nio Teas, I was given a special discount code to share with my followers: use the code "TEAWITHNELDON15" on any order for a discount. You can also use my affiliate link, here, to help support my blog with your order. My code does work in combination with their sales, so feel free to use that to score some deals on Japanese teas.

As a disclaimer, I was not paid for this review, though I may make a commission for any purchases made through the above affiliate link. The tea was tasted before becoming an affiliate, and as such, being an affiliate did NOT impact my final thoughts on this product, and all tasting notes and opinions are accurate and my own.

Cheers, friends, and happy steeping!

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