It’s time for ICE BREW Hon Gyokuro!!
- Holly Helt
Have you ever succumbed to the intoxicating aroma of coffee that lures you into a shop and makes you buy a bag of beans and maybe even some accouterments to help you make it?
That was me, during the hottest summer on record in Japan. I went to the mall to cool off and Starbucks was brewing!
OH! The beans, the aroma, it all lured me in like an addict. The ice brewing equipment caught my eye and I bought the lot, including a bag of “ice coffee” beans, desperate to cool off. I don’t think I have EVER bought a bag of coffee in my life…but there I was, desperate.
After just two days, I ditch the beans and returned to my precious leaves. Coffee gave me the jitters, headaches, and took away my passion for everything because I was so tired after drinking it. Green tea never made me feel like that, so I gave the beans to a friend and put the ice brewer on the top shelf.
That was 2015 but just this week, I got out that dusty glass jug with a wire holder for a coffee filter and put it to use. But not with coffee! NO WAY! I opened the very best gyokuro from Yame, called Hon Gyokuro.
Ice brew takes hours to make and it is soooo worth it! As the ice slowly melts, the leaves slowly release the nutrients, caffeine and taste into the liquor. The ice brew method is a favorite for folks who want less caffeine as less is delivered in this method.
But before I tell you two ICE BREW methods, let's take a closer look at GYOKURO and its premium variety, HON GYOKURO!!
The first thing to note is that there is regular gyokuro, and then there is HON gyokuro. The difference is in the way the leaves are shaded before harvest. Hon gyokuro involves the laborious task of hand-weaving straw mats which are then placed on a metal structure to cover the plants. It makes a straw hut that you can walk under to check on the leaves and monitor the speed of growth. In Japanese, hon means 'true', 'genuine' - but in this case you can think of it as meaning 'THE' gyokuro.
Only leaves shaded with straw is the real deal as far as "authentic" gyokuro goes. Don’t get me wrong, regular gyokuro is also amazing but it’s not considered “authentic” in the eyes of the Japanese tea industry. The special straw provides extra minerals that are carried into the soil by rain that filters through the mats, allowing the plants to drink up the extra minerals and deliver it to your cup via the leaves.
All other shading is done with a black netting either directly on top of and touching the plants, or draped over a tent-like structure on metal poles that you can walk under: the same structure for HON gyokuro, just without the straw.
The hand-woven straw mats are used in conjunction with the black netting in most cases, where the straw mats are on top of the tent, and the nets are underneath, so they can be rolled up to expose just the straw mats and allow a little sunlight to reach the leaves. Think of this black netting as sunscreen.
The straw mat method is now so rare in Japan that only a handful of farmers still make them because of the labor intensity, coupled with the fact that farmers are now reaching ages of 80 to 90 years of age, or more!!
If you have ever studied the cultivation of gyokuro, and compared it to sencha, you know that the big difference is this shading. But did you know that the farmers watch the leaves every day to check the speed of growth? They will manipulate this speed by uncovering and recovering the plants. This is why the black nets under the straw mats are so handy because they can easily roll up underneath the tent structure when the need dictates.
For this reason, you can’t say that gyokuro is shaded for exactly a month or that kabusecha is shaded for exactly two weeks. That is a goal post, a generalization. It all depends on how the plants are growing during the season…how much rain, clouds or if the sun is out to play.
Gyokuro is not meant to be served like a Big Gulp from Seven Eleven! Think small. You will want to honor this tea. Pour a fancy wine glass or a special teacup and enjoy! Because Gyokuro is a delicacy, you don't want to miss eating the leaves after brewing it. Just dress them with citrusy soy sauce (ponzu), yogurt, or your favorite salad dressing.
In a coffee filter, put 6g of your best tea (I suggest Chiki Tea’s Tengoku Hon Gyokuro)
Add 200g ice, or enough to completely fill the filter without falling out
Leave it to MELT at room temperature
Makes a small but exquisite cup
EAT the leaves!
In a jug or medium sized teapot, ADD 12-15g of your best gyokuro
FILL the jug with 400g of ice cubes
Leave it to MELT at room temperature
SWIRL the container to mix
STRAIN the entire brew into a tall glass or little by little into two wine glasses.
EAT the leaves!
About Holly Helt
Holly is American and grew up in Japan drinking Japanese tea from age-three. She has studied two methods of tea ceremony, Urasenke and the lesser-known Yabunouchi, which has a direct lineage to Sen-no Rikyu (known as the father of the tea ceremony) ; it's also the school of practice for samurai. In 2012 she founded Chiki Tea - an online retailer of Japanese green teas, all sourced directly from small farms in Japan. Splitting her time between Japan and her home in Texas, Holly strives to bring the best teas from Japan to as many people as she can find to share in her life's passion.