Have you ever had a cup of $60 Japanese green tea?
I have, and it tasted super fresh.
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.
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.
“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…”
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:
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.
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:
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!
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.
Next, we tasted the chocolate which was specially crafted for our experience tonight. I liked the chocolate. Who doesn’t like chocolate!
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.
This was one of Ramit’s favorites! I loved it, too. A nice, cool, refreshing drink.
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.”
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.
This gyokuro sake was paired with two different types of cheeses.
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.
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.
- 29B Tea House is located at 29 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009
- 29B Tea House Home Page
- Tea Dealers Home Page
- My friend Ramit Sethi: follow him on Twitter, or on Instagram
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.