Gyokuro vs Kabusecha vs Sencha – What are the differences?
What is Gyokuro?
Gyokuro translates as jewel/jade dew and is named due to the yellowish-green color it shows when brewed. In 1835, Tea merchant Kahei Yamamoto VI was staying with a family who used to cover their tea plants to avoid frosting of leaves. He took those leaves and brewed tea. He discovered this new type of tea accidentally because he actually liked the result of brewed tea. He then started selling this kind of tea under the name of Bead of Dew and later it was called Gyokuro.
What is Kabusecha?
Kabusencha refers to the high-quality teas that are shaded. This name is a combination of two Japanese terms – Kabuse and sencha. Kabuse is from the Japanese verb “kabusu,” which means “to cover.” Sencha literally means tea leaves that are steeped in hot water. These tea plants are covered for 2-25 days with penetrable material while young leaves grow. It is usually processed in green tea after picking but can also be used for producing oolong and black tea. Kabusencha is shaded for a shorter time compared to Gyokuro leaves and is also sometimes known as shade-grown Sencha.
What is Sencha?
Sencha means roasting/simmering tea, and it was named after the processing method used by Baisao, who used to sell tea around Kyoto in the 18th century. Many tea sellers pan-fried their tea, but Baisao used to place the whole tea in boiling water and let it simmer. Sencha leaves are used as whole loose leaves for tea.
Sencha is the overall category name for steamed processed tea, and therefore, Kabusecha and Gyokuro are also called Sencha as they are steam-processed. While Gyokuro is technically a kabusecha, but a little more expensive type of tea due to the longer period of time to cover it.
Growing of teas to produce a perfect one would depend on the farmers’ delicacy in the right timing to cover, the materials used in covering, and other factors such as the weather, soil, wind, and sunlight exposure provided for tea growth.
Gyokuro tea plants are kept in the shade for at least three weeks or more before harvesting. After shading, the plants are steamed first, then they are covered for 20 days with straw mats or crinkled versions of the original leaves, which only allow a few sun rays to pass. It increases nutrient levels and color. Leaves become a dark almost mossy green and rich in taste and flavor. This is because a higher content of chlorophyll is retained in the leaves due to a longer period of cover. Gyokuro is usually picked up between the months of May and June.
Kabusecha almost has the same process but for a shorter time, between 7 to 14 days, and different material shade compared to the Gyokuro plant. The tea leaves are covered with porous material before picking for over two weeks.
Both Gyokuro and Kabusecha tea leaves would have a darker shade of green color compared to tea leaves that are uncovered.
Sencha is grown in full sunlight, which reduces the green color pigment in the leaves and makes the leaves a dark greenish color.
All green tea varieties go through almost the same processing style. Right after picking, the tea leaves are steamed in hot water, reducing the oxidation level and rolling. It is later dried and kneaded into small pieces. The final product you see is the loose leaves, which are wholly used when brewing tea. Some manufacturers use other slightly different techniques to preserve the maximum nutrient even later when packaging.
Taste and color
Covering the tea leaves results in a high level of L-Theanine production, which changes into catechins if exposed to the sun. It is the main ingredient that gives the tea its umami flavor. Covered tea has a rich umami flavor and after-taste bitterness. When brewed, it has a pale yellow color and rich texture. That is why high-end sushi restaurants would serve this expensive kind of tea due to an attractive emerald hue and an umami flavor with sweet overtones upon brewing.
Because of the covering method for sunrays, both kabusecha and gyokuro leave a mildly sweet aroma for their leaves. With the sun rays being blocked, amino acids in the leaves are preserved, thereby leaving the leaves with such a sweet taste.
Kabusecha tea has a mild, refreshing and more umami taste compared to Sencha. It looks greenish-yellow liquid when brewed and has visual consistency.
In the final brewed tea, Secha has a light yellowish color, grassy aroma, and a strong taste, which leaves a pungent after-taste. It is refreshing and beneficial to health, just like the above types of tea. In general, Japanese restaurants would use the widely popular sencha as their service tea for their diners, since this is good for digestion, with the quality depending on the Japanese restaurant. This could also be served in Japanese restaurants that cater to group diners since the caffeine in sencha is high in content, making the gatherings livelier, especially during dinner time. Sencha could also be a good choice for cafes that are open until late at night or those that are open 24/7 since this would help those drinkers to stay awake as an alternative for coffee.
If the Japanese restaurant is a sushi restaurant, the best Japanese tea that should be served to the dining guests would be konacha or what is known as “agari”, which is made from smaller fragments of sencha leaves and actually inexpensive but serves as a palate cleanser between courses because of its bitter taste. When restaurants serve fatty and heavy dishes for midnight dining, these could offer sencha since this is good for digestion and high in caffeine content.
For Japanese restaurants that serve umami-rich food, such as oyster, tuna, shiitake mushrooms, and seaweed, as well as in dessert shops, it is recommended to serve gyokuro and high-grade sencha, because they are naturally sweet with a beautiful aroma and a mild taste.
Gyokuro tea is enriched with powerful antioxidants that boost your immune system. Lots of people add this tea to their daily diet because it improves their energy level and has many health benefits. This tea is best for fighting radicals and lessens the chance of cancer. Moreover, it has all the nutrients that help combat many health-related issues.
Kabusecha, due to being grown in the shade for a long time, has a high amount of L-theanine and amino acids, which helps in mental focus and other health issues.
Sencha is beneficial because of the high number of antioxidants in its leaves. Leaves are not kept under the shade and are exposed to direct sunlight, which increases the production of antioxidants. These antioxidants are crucial and beneficial to your health.
Overall, these tea types have catechins that are a type of antioxidant, the most famous one being EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate). Gyokuro is one to have the highest amounts of EGCG of all green teas. ECGG helps to fight free radicals that usually produce toxins for the body and develop skin problems and even cancer. The same ECGG could provide neuroprotection, cholesterol
and blood pressure control and antioxidant benefits, providing a better quality of sleep and protection from hypertension.
As mentioned also earlier, both sencha and Gyokuro have high-level content of caffeine, which also boosts energy. However, considering the slow consumption of teas, usually, in several sips, the caffeine content in these leaves is not quickly absorbed by the body.
Brewing green tea is like a ritual, and you have to follow it if you want to get the best taste and aroma. For brewing gyokuro tea, you have to buy a particular kind of teaware which consists of Hohin, Yuzamashi, and Gyokuro teacups. These are designed just for brewing gyokuro tea. For brewing, you take a small number of tea leaves and 40 degrees water. Then let it steep for 2 minutes max. Pour into small cups and enjoy taking small sips and savoring each sip. Gyokuro tea is all about enjoying the taste and aroma.
In the case of Sencha, you have to get them specially made tea set, which keeps the water at a set temperature when brewing the tea. When brewing Sencha, you have to keep the water at 70 degrees and let the tea leaves steep for a few minutes, and then pour it into tiny cups.
Kabusecha has almost the same method of brewing tea as the Sencha. You take three grams of kabusecha and pour 70 degrees of water into the pot. Let it sit and steep for 1-2 minutes. Then pour into small cups. You will notice the color which is more potent than sencha and has a less bitter taste.
Here are examples of tea we carried mentioned in this blog post:
- ShizoukaTea – Premium Gyokuro Okabe Single Estate Origin
- KagoshimaTea – Organic Gyoluro Premium – Single Estate Kagoshima
- ShizoukaTea – Kabusecha – Shade Grown Green Tea Leaves
- KagoshimaTea – Kabusecha
This post was first published in 2020 and updated in 2022.
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