Kirari Crystal Gyokuro 2023
The Sakamoto family are gyokuro artists. The family has been in the tea business for almost 100 years. Their organic garden is located in Kagoshima, in the south of Japan, where the focus mainly on gyokuro. To that end, the Sakamoto family concentrate on the first harvest (Ichibancha) which is when tea quality is at its highest in Japan. After the first harvest, the plants are left in peace with nature until they’re trimmed at the end of summer to keep them in shape, and then in the cold season to prepare them for the next harvest. The family has a soil-up approach, making their own fertilisers to optimise the soil nutrition, and even manufacturing their own design of frames to shade the tea plants.
Gyokuro is the pinnacle of Japanese tea craft; a drink which sits alongside the most well-crafted whiskies and grower champagnes. As a brief comparison; ‘sencha’ is regular Japanese green tea, ‘kabusecha’ is a premium grade (1-2 week shaded), and ‘gyokuro’ is the very highest grade (3 week shaded).
The source of gyokuro’s flavour is the specific and unique treatment of the tea plants. The perfect section of the garden must be chosen, with the right terroir and varietals. The plants are covered by frames, shading them from the sun for three weeks. This long shading time reduces the tannins in the leaves and increses the amino acids, giving gyokuro its famous smooth, umami flavour profile.
This is easily my favourite gyokuro in the collection to date. Made from the relatively new Kirari varietal, the leaves are an impressive glossy, dark, forest green; picked after 22 days of shading and steamed for just 30s.
This is a top-tier gyokuro. The liquid infusion is a misty crystal-green. It almost looks like solid glass when it’s infusing. The palate is liquid umami and complex: There are sweet vegetals, mirin, natto, and lots of Japanese seaweed like hijiki and nori. The finish is long and umami, lasting for minutes. I can highly recommend this tea to anyone who appreciates exceptional Japanese flavour and craft.
To bring out the fullness of the umami, infuse this tea the authentic Japanese way at 40˚C. This is easy to do. 40˚C is just above body temperature. As a tip, a fine gyokuro will have a creamy-green, opaque appearance in the glass so look out for this when you pour. The leaves will infuse three times. Infusions 2 and 3 need just 10s to 20s.
We suggest: 6g (1 tbsp) per 150ml at 40˚C for 3 mins