2018 marks the 6th year that we have offered Gyokuro green tea from Mr. Saito, and it sells out every year. This production of hand-picked, organically-grown Gyokuro leaf is some of the most premium tea available in all of Japan and we here at Tea Trekker are deeply honored that Mr Saito allows us to offer it to our customers.
Saito’s tea gardens are in Honyama, which many believe to be the area that historically has produced the finest tea in Shizuoka Prefecture. Saito’s tea fields are located in the mountains near the Warashina River. The environment of these tea fields is pristine and filled with natural beauty, healthy plants, birds, insects and all the good components of a thriving tea garden.
It is, in fact, the only organic Gyokuro leaf grown in Shizuoka Prefecture. Again this year we selected his top top top grade of hand-picked Gyokuro, a true rarity, of which he has been very proud for the last few years and most excited to offer us again this year. While it is more expensive than his ‘traditional,’ sheared Gyokuro that we initially stocked when we first met him, we believe that his hand-picked Gyokuro is a wonderful opportunity for our customers to try a very special tea that is limited in production and that usually sells out in a few days in the Japanese tea market.
Gyokuro is a shade-grown tea. Saito covers his tea bushes for 30-35 days, which is about 1.5 weeks longer than most shade-grown tea growers keep their tea covered. Shading the tea bushes from the sun alters the normal chemistry of the leaf that is being produced by increasing the chlorophyll content. Saito also shades his bushes more darkly than other shaded-tea bush growers. This is particularly difficult to do with organically-grown bushes, as it stresses the plants; so they must be incredibly healthy before, during and after this portion of the spring growing season. The bushes must be coming out of their dormant period following the previous year’s harvest with a sturdy and healthy resting period under their belt, and then experience an early spring that encourages quick and thorough, healthy growth. Then, following the harvest they must be pruned and tended carefully to prepare them for the rejuvenation period that will ensure that the tea bushes revive and are ready for the next season’s growth the following spring. It is quite difficult to grow super healthy tea bushes completely under organic principles, especially year after year, and to nurture bushes that become seasoned and mature, like a good friend.
As a result of this longer and carefully-monitored shading, Gyokuro Saito Hand-Picked is rich with both chlorophyll and abundant amino acids. The leaf is darker in color than most other green tea, and the tea liquor, though light in color, has a high degree of umami – the quality of taste in some foodstuffs that is expressed by a slightly ‘chewy’, rich and buttery mouth-feel. The flavor is lightly vegetal, direct, ultra-smooth and full, and delicately sweet. There is absolutely no astringency or grassy bitterness in this tea.
Gyokuro Saito Hand-Picked green tea is deep forest green in color, and is comprised of super long, needle-like leaves. The aroma of the dried tea is fresh and woodsy, and abundantly sweet.
This leaf, due to its having been hand-picked at a longer length and in part because of the unique firing that Saito gives it, will be shelf-stable much longer than most Gyokuro teas. One should expect 3 or 4 careful steepings from this leaf.
Saito has worked for more than 20 years to obtain this level of quality in his Gyokuro tea. His tea is comprised of an abundance of long, thin needle-shaped leaves and a small percentage of broken pieces. The beautiful appearance of this Gyokuro reflects the care and craftsmanship given to both the fresh leaf and to the leaf as it is processed by Saito during the leaf manufacture.
Fans of Mr. Saito may recall that he suffered the loss of most of his tea in the spring of 2015 when he had a fire in his warehouse. We received a small first order that year and then nothing else until the following year (last year). We are pleased to report that his garden has suffered no serious permanent damage from the warehouse and living quarters fire of two years ago, and he is back to full production. Saito’s tea gardens are thriving, and his tea is as tasty as, or even better than when Mary Lou first met him in the autumn of 2012.
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