Written by Will

How does Gyokuro compare to six other teas?

Gyokuro is a tea that I always take some time to prepare and drink. There’s little bit of extra care needed to get the temperature of the water right and I like to fully engage in the tea’s deeply satisfying umami and lingering sweet flavour. In this piece, I’ll be comparing the taste of Gyokuro to five other teas to help you to understand which you’ll enjoy, and which you might want to experiment with.

Although it’s within the same tea type, Gyokuro is very different to almost all of the other green teas – and especially different from traditional styles of Chinese green teas like Dragon Well or Jade Sword. I go into detail on the making and origin in the deep dive, but in brief, the differences come from the shading of the tea bushes before the leaves are picked and then the quick steaming that happens after they’ve been picked. The shading, which is exclusive to Gyokuro and some Matcha tea, means that the leaves produce loads of glutamates – which contribute to the umami flavour. The steaming, which is common for all Japanese greens, means that the strongly green-vegetal, savoury flavours are locked into the leaf.

Tea leaves being slowly dried to lock in the high sweetness and deep umami.
Tea leaves being slowly dried to lock in the high sweetness and deep umami.
Fresh Gyokuro being taste tested for that all important umami richness.
Fresh Gyokuro being taste tested for that all important umami richness.

What are the essential taste and characteristics of Gyokuro?

The taste of Gyokuro is incredibly green – it’s refreshing, but with great umami depth that gives way to a mouth coating sweetness. The distinct “green” or vegetal aromas from the warm leaves remind me of freshly cut grass, and there is a savouriness that makes me think of a pleasant sea breeze. The flavours that hit you first from the infusion are the vegetal and grassy notes, like deep steamed spinach and buttery green beans. The texture is very smooth and viscous which accentuates the flavours as they transform, with a complex floral sweetness, balanced by a hint of pleasant bitterness and that all-important umami.

Mrs Miyazaki uses cooled water to prepare some fresh Gyokuro.
Mrs Miyazaki uses cooled water to prepare some fresh Gyokuro.

Gyokuro vs Sencha

Sencha is another steamed green tea from Japan so they are quite similar. Sencha is produced much more widely though, and it doesn’t get shaded, so it won't have quite the same refinement of flavour or depth of umami. I think of Sencha as slightly darker than Gyokuro. This is evident in the infusion colour, which doesn’t have the same cloudy white-ness to it. It shares the vegetal, buttery, crisp notes and you’ll find a satisfying rounded umami finish, but the refinement in the Gyokuro comes from the floral sweetness and it’s very soft, soup-like texture. If you are looking for a refreshing way into the Japanese green tea category, go for Sencha. However if you know you want more umami depth – something that feels very soft and thick – and you like the sound of the marine-like quality, try Gyokuro.

Gyokuro vs Sencha Reiwa

Sencha Reiwa is a great example of a very high quality Sencha. Like Gyokuro, it’s complex and refreshing with umami depth. It’s made by tea master Ishiyama, who is one of the few remaining members of the Japanese hand rolling association and his skill was recognised in 2019 when he was selected by the incoming emperor to make tea for him. This tea has a similar savoury taste and marine-like aroma to Gyokuro but it’s slightly darker; Gyokuro feels softer in the mouth whereas Sencha Reiwa is more sappy and quenching.If you want the best expression of umami and the softest, thick textured tea, go for Gyokuro. If you want a richer, more vegetal and marine experience but still with plenty of umami, Sencha Reiwa is the tea for you.

Tall Gyokuro tea plants under the shading canopy.
Tall Gyokuro tea plants under the shading canopy.

Gyokuro vs Jade Sword

This Chinese green tea is a great way to begin exploring the green tea category. The flavours are very different from Gyokuro which is mostly due to the processing. Chinese green teas are usually fried (sometimes called fired) rather than steamed, which means a tea like Jade Sword will have a slightly more rounded quality and a more immediate sweetness. Jade Sword has a bright, fresh aroma with a lighter, crisp taste and less focus on umami. Whereas Gyokuro has this floral meadow, sea breeze aroma and the taste is much deeper and more savoury. If you’re just getting into green tea and would prefer an easy-going taste with a bright fragrance and sweet grassiness then I would recommend Jade Sword. But if a richer, more engaging experience with plenty of savoury umami is what you’re looking for, then Gyokuro would be the tea for you.

Gyokuro vs Dragon Well Supreme

Dragon Well tea is famous for its distinct, pan-fried character of warm chestnuts and buttery green beans. I would say it’s almost the other end of the spectrum to the steamed vegetal flavour, high floral sweetness and focused umami of Gyokuro. However, both being the highest quality green teas mean they are equally smooth, complex and engaging. If you’re looking for a refreshing, bright and nutty green tea to invigorate a relaxed morning then go for Dragon Well. If you have a long afternoon to sit and explore a tea with complex sweet and savoury notes then go for Gyokuro.

Mr & Mrs Miyazaki's luscious green tea garden in Shizuoka, Japan.
Mr & Mrs Miyazaki's luscious green tea garden in Shizuoka, Japan.

Gyokuro vs Baojing Gold

Our first spring green tea of 2020, Baojing Gold is made using the youngest buds of the tea plant, which gives it plenty of bright freshness and grassy sweetness, but also a vegetal hint. It has some distinct umami in the finish which is relatively unusual for a fried Chinese green. Compared to Gyokuro, the crisp, vegetal flavour of Baojing Gold is lighter but pronounced and well balanced. Gyokuro is much richer and deeper with a more present umami sensation that you can really feel in the finish, balanced by a much higher floral fragrance. Both teas, however, showcase just how smooth and creamy thick green tea can be. Baojing Gold feels almost like velvet in the mouth and Gyokuro is thick and soup-like. If you enjoy a fresh tasting, light spring green tea and want some added umami depth then try Baojing Gold and if you want to experience a fully floral and umami infusion then go for Gyokuro.

Gyokuro vs Li Shan

Li Shan is a high mountain, high quality rolled oolong from Taiwan. It also has a very thick texture, it’s green-ish and has floral aromas – but it’s very different to Gyokuro. Li Shan is partially oxidised, which gives complexity and layering to the taste. There is no savoury or marine element, but instead it tastes creamy with lots of fruit and floral. Both teas are well matched in their complexity and refreshing nature. The lingering sweetness in the Gyokuro is lighter than the syrupy, fruity sweetness in Li Shan. So if you want something complex with fruity and indulgent flavours go for Li Shan, but if you want something also complex and refined, but that’s big on savoury umami and with a cooler, more green refreshment, go for Gyokuro.

Gyokuro in Context