Tasting a $60 Cup of Green Tea

Have you ever had a cup of $60 Japanese green tea?

I have, and it tasted super fresh.

Man in black turtleneck, many long-stemmed champagne glasses, and a pretty pink floral arrangement behind him.

Tea master serving a special gyokuro during our tea tasting.

My friend Ramit Sethi and I attended an exclusive green tea tasting in Manhattan’s East Village on Thursday night, 7 March 2019.

Here are some of my notes and photos from the Yame Gyokuro event at 29B Tea House.

Venue: 29B Teahouse

The event was hosted at “an innovative, modern teahouse” near East 3rd St and Avenue B in the East Village of Manhattan.

I had never been here before. I was very impressed with the space! It is large (much larger than Té Company in my neighborhood), with seats for over 30 people.

Inside of 29B tea house, showing counters and bar chairs

Stock photo from their website, but it looked almost exactly like this. Just darker, because it was at night.

Yame Gyokuro: About the Tea

This informational paper was given to us. It describes the special type and origin of tea that we would be tasting.

Sitting down to read this, I began to get excited. I was being reminded of my last trip to Tokyo, where I overdosed on green tea during a self-guided tour in Shibuya.

Brochure which has a picture of green tea and lots of words including - Region of Production: Fukuoaka Prefecture.

Information about the Traditional Authentic YAME GYOKURO, in English

“Gyokuro is one of the highest grades of tea available in Japan. Its name, translated as Jade Dew, refers to the characteristic pale green hue of its infusion. Gyokuro differs from other Japanese green teas in that the tea plants are cultivated in the shade before harvest, resulting in a full-bodied tea that is highly valued in Japan for its mellow and rich flavor…”

Same brochure as above, but all in Japanese text

Information about the Traditional Authentic YAME GYOKURO, in Japanese

Table Setting

The sold-out event was designed in a theater-type seating arrangement so that everyone could face forward. Ramit and I showed up right at 7:00 PM, which was later than most. We got seats towards the back corner. I wish we could have sat at the bar to be closer to the tea masters.

Here’s what we saw at our plates when we sat down:

Picture looking down at our plate

Clockwise, from top left: Ponzu, salt, water holder, tea holder, chopsticks to eat the tea with, and specialty chocolate square.

The night started with speeches from each of the three main tea masters who spoke Japanese and were then translated into English. This picture, taken during the introductory speeches, shows more table settings. The translator is pictured on the right.

Table settings like in a restaurant. Three people standing in the back

Tea masters are speaking, and showing table seating options on left at 29B Teahouse

Here’s me sitting down later in the night when this setting was removed for our last course. I’m embarrassed to say that I wore my casual uniform of sweatpants and a sweatshirt:

Man wearing a green sweater (me) sitting in front of tea and glasses with tea in them

Photo by Ramit. Wardrobe by me. We’ll talk more about my lack of style some other day. I LOST TRACK OF TIME AND FORGOT TO DRESS FANCY, I’M SORRY.

Tea Tasting: Finest Japanese Gyokuro

In our cups was the Yame Dento Hon Gyokuro Superlative green tea. The retail price of this tea is $120 per 10 grams. That’s the most expensive tea I have ever had in my life!

Red poster with the word YAME on it, plus some Japanese underneath and their logo.

Yame, the brand of specialty tea we were drinking. It is the highest quality.

We were first instructed to pour a little bit of water and let the cold water absorb. Then we tasted only a few drops of the tea.

What did it taste like? It was an extremely delicious, earthy umami flavor. Sort of like perfectly fresh grass clippings with umami-steak overtones. I enjoyed every drop of it. Like a fine wine, you can taste different elements and complexities of a fine tea.

Next they served us some hot water, which we did a traditional brewing. Then we drank it from the gaiwan (tea container) directly again.

I was sad that we only had two small steepings of this very expensive tea. But, due to time constraints, we had to move on to the next course. I would have liked some more hot water to brew another batch or two. I am not too proud to have secretly scooped out the slightly-used tea into a Ziplock back that I always carry in my Minaal backpack. In hindsight, I should have gone around to the other tables, pretending to be the wait staff, and scooping their slightly-steeped leaves into my Ziplock bag. I am sure that the Japanese tea masters would have respected me for appreciating their product at a very deep level. This is the American way of saying, “I value your product.”

Eating The Gyokuro Tea Leaves

Our table had two small square saucers. We could dip the tea leaves into pink salt or a yellow-ish vinegar sauce (possibly ponzu?).

Each of these added a great flavor to the tea. My friend Ramit really enjoyed eating it. But I was careful not to each too much of the tea. It was around 8pm now, and I am very sensitive to caffeine. I had one or two bites of the tea and was happy with the fruity, fresh taste.

Two weeks ago, I ate green tea leaves – and maybe overdosed – during my whirlwind Tokyo weekend.

Man at a counter, and people sitting around the counter, indoors at a tea house 29B teahouse in Manhattan NYC

Tea master explaining about gyokuro and the process for our tea ceremony and cultivation.

Next, we tasted the chocolate which was specially crafted for our experience tonight. I liked the chocolate. Who doesn’t like chocolate!

Hojicha

After drinking this very earthy gyokuro green tea, we were ready for something different.

Hojicha is a roasted brown tea with tints of green. It was served cold and in a wine glass. It sort of looked like whiskey.

Table with two glasses: water cup on left, and wine glass with hojicha tea on right

Cold hojicha tea, on the right, served in a wine glass. This was delicious. Photo by Ramit Sethi.

This was one of Ramit’s favorites! I loved it, too. A nice, cool, refreshing drink.

Ramit Sethi smelling a bowl of green roasted tea

My buddy Ramit loves hojicha. It has a nice toasted aroma.

There was residual sweetness because the leaves were kept slightly on the green side. There are varying level of roastedness, and thus fruitiness, to hojicha.

By this point in the tasting, I was starting to feel a little caffeine buzz. And I was certainly feeling a lot smarter about tea. I love going to these tastings to learn from tea masters and improve my palate. Just as some people like a fine wine and can speak about and appreciate different levels of wine, I am hoping to develop that with my tea hobby.

Carbonated Green Teas

The third serving was a specialized version of carbonated green tea. This is very rare and a unique thing.

We had a Yabukita, which we were told “is like the Pinot noir of green tea.”

Woman pouring into small glasses and man on right (Stefen Ramirez) explains at 29B Teahouse in New York

The assistant from Japan is pouring our special carbonated green tea, while Stefen Ramirez (right) explains how he made this.

The tea was carbonated and cold. To me, it was SHOCKING. I have never had fizzy tea before. And boy, do I love seltzer water. So to combine two of my favorite things – seltzer water, plus green tea – was a special experience.

I remember telling my friend Ramit multiple times while drinking it: “This is so strange!” I was smiling when I said it, but it was just such a fresh experience to have cold sparkling green tea.

Fun fact: The sparkling sencha is a signature drink from 29B Tea House. Order it if you go!

Green Tea Steeped in Sake

For our last drink, we were privileged to taste a special collaboration. It was gyokuro tea steeped in Japanese sake. I can’t comment much on this as I’m not drinking alcohol right now. But I had a small taste and it tasted smooth.

Man wearing a black jacket, pouring green liquid into about seven glasses all lined up

Stefen Ramirez, founder of Tea Dealers and 29B Teahouse, pouring the sake into glasses.

This gyokuro sake was paired with two different types of cheeses.

Black plate with two slices of cheese, and a gyokuro sake cup in top right

Two cheeses, and the gyokuro-steeped sake (glass in top right). Photo by Ramit Sethi.

Tea Drinking Advice

Pro tip: Smell the cup or the glass after you finish drinking it. It will tell you about the tea. Look for sweetness.

More Photos

Picture of Takao Shiimado wearing all black and holding his business card. Ramit Sethi is standing to his right.

Left: Gyokuro tea master Takao Shiimado, holding his business card, with Ramit Sethi (right)

White man (me) wearing green sweatshirt, blue sweatpants, surrounded by lots of Japanese staff all wearing black.

Behind the scenes: Me taking pictures for this post. Photo by my friend Ramit.

Inside 29B Teahouse, and people wearing all black standing in the lobby of the shop

Backstage with the staff, many who are specially visiting from Japan for this event.

Conclusion

This was an excellent opportunity to learn more about my favorite type of fancy Japanese green tea, gyokuro. I had the opportunity to taste the most expensive tea that I’ve ever had in my life. And it was all just a 20-minute walk from my apartment in Manhattan. I am thankful for the staff at Tea Dealers, 29B Teahouse, and Yame Teas for making this experience open to the public.

More Information

Event Invitation from 29B and Tea Dealers

This was the copy for the event invitation:

Please join us for a very special night where we welcome three tea masters from Yame, Japan and their prize winning teas. This is a unique occasion to taste a very limited production tea prepared by the producers themselves. Even in Japan, very few have had the pleasure of experiencing such a traditionally grown and hand made tea . These teas are usually reserved for honorary gifts and special occasions. It will be an immersion of the senses into the amazing teas of the Fukuoka prefecture led by some of its masters.

Main event: One of the most heralded green teas of Japan; Dentou Hon Gyokuro served by master producer. Followed by two teas presented by their respective masters. Ending with an exclusive 29B Yame Dentou Hon Gyokuro Cocktail.

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2019-03-08T14:57:58+00:00 March 8th, 2019|General|