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Recent Tasting Notes
Purchased as an organic replacement to Teavana’s gyokuro. Though it seems irredeemably mainstream to say anything nice about Teavana, their gyokuro has a full, bright, grassy flavor that is proving difficult to match.
I had high hopes for this tea based on the consistently high reviews that Hibiki-an teas receive. This, apparently is not one of their better offerings. The flavor, initially, is more subtle than that of Teavana’s gyokuro but it finishes with a robustly icky flavor reminiscent of a neglected flower vase. The bright grassiness is not there – at all. It’s been replaced with some green veggie you bought, oh, a while ago, on a health kick and avoided until it became a slimy, mushy thing that could be thrown away without remorse.
This is a fantastic and special tea. It is unlike any other sencha I have ever had. The flavors this tea are subtle but never weak. It is sweet, umami, vegetal, and only very slightly astringent. This tea has a very hydrating mouthfeel, almost like it coats your mouth every so slightly. Hibiki-an’s blended sencha also has a long finish. I could taste this tea long after I finished drinking it, and it was wonderful. The best word I can use to describe this tea is balanced, Hibiki-an’s Blended Sencha is the best and most balanced Japanese green tea I have ever tasted. I highly recommend this tea!
Hibiki-an Gyokuro Premium – 100g, $31
1.5 Tbl – 7.5 oz of filtered water at 140 degrees – 3 full flavored steeps
Dry leaf: Consistent medium to dark green colors and fairly consistant size and shape. Very low to no stem in the leafs. The smell is a dark almost grass/hay aroma.
Wet leaf: Leafs turn from the dark grass/hay to a lighter still grassy vegetal aroma. Think of fresh asparagus or spinach.
Liquor: A beautiful light greenish yellow. Not a lot of aroma from the liquor.
Taste: A wonderful balanced tasting tea. Light forward vegetal flavors of asparagus and steamed spinach with a hint of sweet fresh cut grass. It has a light sweetness to the flavor with a very hydrating mouthfeel. This tea also has a very, very long finish to it. As I write this I can still taste and feel the Gyokuro as if I just sipped some (it has been over an hour since I last tasted it)!
— Although this has been my first experience with Gyokuro, I am now hooked! I don’t know about other Gyokuros, there might be better ones out there but Hibiki-an has really created a fantastic Gyokuro! If you are looking to get into Gyokuro, this is a great place to start!
Since I became interested in Japanese green tea around 12 years ago, I have been searching for competition grade tea from Japan, but it has always been impossible to find here in the United States. I’ve seen competition grade tea from China, but never Japan. So when this became available a few weeks ago, I jumped at the opportunity.
Compared with other matcha, Hibiki-an’s Competition Grade Matcha Pinnacle is much brighter in color: pure green with no brown undertones. If the green color is somewhat brown, then it is lower grade and gets exponentially more so as one goes down the scale of quality. As you can imagine, this tea has no detectable brown tones. It is pure green, like a perfect pistachio. Matcha color directly correlates with flavor, and the flavor of this tea is perfect as well: fresh, smooth and creamy with no bitterness.
Before this tea, the best matcha I sampled was Hibiki-an’s Matcha Pinnacle. It is vastly superior to other matcha due to the ideal color, fresh and creamy flavor with no bitterness, and the fact that it dissolves so purely and evenly when whisked. Both the flavor and texture can be described as soft, smooth and creamy. I fortunately had the opportunity to sample Matcha Pinnacle and Competition Grade Matcha Pinnacle side-by-side. As I had hoped for, the Competition Grade matcha exceeded my expectations and again raised the bar. Both are excellent and amazing teas in a whole league of their own, but the Competition Grade does outshine the regular Matcha Pinnacle in terms of pure green color and smooth, creamy taste and texture.
This is not an everyday tea, but should be seen as a rare opportunity to try something usually only reserved for a select few within the Japanese tea industry. Thanks to Atsushi and Keiko at Hibiki-an for the opportunity to try this special tea. It is truly amazing and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Japanese tea.
I recommend a ratio of 2 to 1 when it comes to leaf and water. 4g leaf, 2 oz water.
It was pretty strong—not overwhelmingly so—but overall AWESOME!
I made sure everything was pre-warmed with very hot water, to control the temps and make sure the tea was actually warm when it was ready to drink! (The teapot had boiled water sitting in it up to the moment I was ready to add the leaf and the cooled water for the tea).
This is REALLY good.
It was the perfect amount of sweetness, smooth umami and marine notes, and ended with a very very slight vegetal/melon flavor that was perhaps (pleasingly) astringent. It was mellow and had an underlying, delicious grain flavor as well.
The best words I could use to describe this are mellow or refined. It tastes like a perfect gyokuro that is toned down and improved. I am surprised I like this so much more than their “pinnacle” version (this is machine cut, their pinnacle is hand picked!). Perhaps I used a better amount of leaf. Or maybe I am simply used to the Yabukita species of leaf…
Either way, I was very impressed by this. I can tell it has been aged (but has improved over time!), which I am surprised about.
That last note, that I described as vegetal/melon/almost astringent was hard for me to describe, but it was really delicious and rounded it off very nicely.
After these 2 steepings, I would say it’s definitely one I’d get again. My impression could change with time, but this is a fun and delicious variety of green worth trying.
I wonder if this went bad? There are hardly any flavors (especially sweetness, which I assumed gyokuros were known for) present…except a strange starchyness.
The first infusion was almost really good; it had hints of very refined sweetness (like I’ve tasted in the ice brewings), kind of like a shincha or something. I enjoyed the first infusion, at least the first few sips. I was excited because I thought perhaps I had figured out a better way to brew it (heaping tsp (2+g) 2 oz water, 2.5 mins)…. unfortunately not.
I want this tea to be good, but it simply didn’t meet my expectations, nor was it worth the cost. What a contrast to their Kuradashi Gyokuro Premium! (That’s their normal, aged gyokuro, which was very very good).
So far, I am not impressed. At least, for this to cost $1/gr, it is not worth it. The cheaper gyokuro (Premium) is worth it and tastes better. So far. I’m still hoping I can figure out if I’m using bad steeping parameters. I used 1.5 tsp for about 4oz water. The previous trials tasted weak, so I felt like I needed to up the amount of leaf.
The wet leaf gave off a really nice aroma of greens and a strong note of mashed potatoes. That may sound strange, but it really smelled delicious.
However, the actual tea wasn’t very sweet, didn’t have any marine, vegetal, or umami flavors present…. it actually didn’t have much flavor at all. Except one, that was…. starchy mashed potatoes.
Ok, as a smell, it was great, but as the main taste of the tea….not so good. :-(
If that had been a flavor that was present but gave way to the main tastes that are more typical of Japanese greens, that would have been fine.
I haven’t given up hope on this, as it really seems like it should be good; all the right elements are present (at least, according to Hibiki-an).
Yesterday I had this via the ice-brew method (shinobi cha… patient tea).
It was of course delicious; the only way you can go wrong with this method is if you use only a little ice and it ends up being too strong for you. And, of course, if you wanted something warm. Anyway, on to the tea itself…
Well, I can’t remember the exact unique flavor this had, but besides being very deliciously sweet, and (even) noticeably creamy, there was some other taste present I couldn’t figure out. But it was yummy, trust me.
However, the jury’s definitely still out whether this one is worth the price. Is it really THAT much better as to cost nearly twice as much as Den’s or Bird Pick’s Gyokuro?