This was a (rather scanty) free sample from Butiki with my recent order. I do appreciate free samples, esp. since they e-mailed me to offer me two of my choice right after I placed the order—at 10:15 on a Sunday night! Fabulous customer service. But this sample was barely enough for one cup. I’ve gotten a lot of tea samples and none were this small. It didn’t smell like anything in particular in the little ziploc bag, either.
This gyokuro makes up for my tiny sample by being really flavorful. It’s not as violently green as some gyokuro I had at a local teahouse; this is more of a sort of golden jade color. The smell in the cup is more spinach-y than the tea’s ultimate taste profile. The flavor is dry-ish (could be perceived as bitterness, but it fades so quickly that I don’t taste it as bitter), bright, and finishes with a wave of brothy/vegetal goodness typical of gyokuros. This “umami” flavor may be something you either like or hate, but I like it, and I was glad this sample had the typical flavors of this tea.
One issue I had with this tiny sample is that parts of it were crushed almost to powder (and I don’t believe it’s supposed to have extra powder in it, as some Japanese green teas do). This meant that using a regular mesh ball, I ended up with lots of dark green tea flecks in the bottom of the cup. With gyokuro’s strong flavors I would worry that this would influence the flavor even after I stop steeping and remove the ball, but I didn’t really notice that happening. Still I get the feeling that either the sample was taken from the bottom dregs of a larger container of tea, or the sample bag was crushed in shipping, breaking the tea quite a bit. Or maybe gyokuro is just very fragile, I don’t know. Whatever happened, I would think that Butiki would want to present this tea in its best light when sending it as a sample, but that’s not how it arrived.
I wouldn’t mind making gyokuro a permanent part of my tea cupboard, but I need to shop around a bit and decide what’s the best value/taste ratio. This one is $16.00/2 oz., which is not a deal-breaker but a tad expensive for my stash. I’ll continue my research to learn what is considered a good price for this type of tea. If you have a very very favorite gyokuro, feel free to communicate it to me!