Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Gyokuro: How Does It Make You Feel?

This morning I am drinking gyokuro, or to be more specific, Organic Gyokuro from Upton Tea, which is incidentally made in China. This tea is interesting for me on several levels. For one, it's a Japanese style of tea, made in China. I'm certainly no gyokuro expert, and I can't really testify to its authenticity or being true to the style, but I will say that I think this is a pretty good tea. But in this post, I don't want to focus on the way this tea tastes, or the question of whether China can produce high-quality gyokuro, but rather, the way this style of tea makes me feel.

How does it make you feel?

I actually love questions like "How does it make you feel?", and I have an amusing story about it. When I was at Oberlin college, I had a math professor, Robert Young, who taught Linear Algebra (a subject I initially found both hard and boring) and he somehow made it seem poetic and dramatic. It got better when I took Advanced Calculus from the same professor. He would write a theorem on the board, and then stop and ask, in a very loud voice: "So, how does this make you feel?" On some level, it was hilarious...some people approach mathematics as a dry subject, logical, precise, emotionless. But to many mathematicians, it is not like this...it is more like art, poetry, or music...full of passion and emotion. Some theorems seem strange, often utterly ridiculous. Others seem really cool or exciting. Often, the exciting ones are ones that outline deep or useful connections between seemingly disparate branches of math or mathematical structures, so in a sense, our emotions can guide us towards deeper discoveries and understanding.

In mathematics, I found that asking the question: "How does this make me feel?" allowed me to tap into this hidden mental ability of intuition that I had...allowing me to guide my logic. I started seeing the logic as superfluous, the icing on the cake, or perhaps just a path through a jungle of symbols and equations, whereas underlying everything was a core idea, a sort of spiritual truth or destination, and it was emotion and intuition that allowed me to distill the essence of the truth, and find that path through the jungle.

Back to tea:

So, in short, I find that asking how something makes me feel is often a path to insight or truth. Why is this important with tea? Tea is something that we drink, it's a mixture of chemicals that we put in our body, and it affects our mind and body both through its chemistry and through the mental processes set in motion by our experience of drinking it. And it's important for us to reflect on how tea makes us feel because it may make us feel better, and it may make us feel worse. This feeling may depend on what tea we are drinking, and what state our bodies and minds are in to begin with.

It is important to ask this question because asking it allows us to take care of our bodies by giving our bodies what they need and avoiding things that may be harmful or stressful.

On Gyokuro:

Gyokuro is an interesting style of tea because it is one that I did not particularly like at first. I initially found it to be too vegetal for my tastes. But I paid attention to the way I felt after drinking it and I realized that I enjoy the way it makes me feel. It just seems to make me feel good, in a sort of centering way, a little bit like meditation does. I think this slowly started making me like it a bit more. I think I now like it at least as much as other styles of green tea, if not slightly more. I think this process of tasting and sampling, followed by reflection on how we feel is actually part of the process of forming acquired tastes.

What affects how gyokuro makes one feel? I have read in numerous sources that gyokuro is high in caffeine among teas, although I have not found a single source I truly trust on this matter, so as far as I'm concerned, this observation is still speculative. I have seen reliable sources, however, which say that gyokuro has about twice as much L-theanine as typical for tea. Theanine is not well understood, but it is known to interact with caffeine as well as to play some role in promoting relaxation. Does this explain gyokuro's positive, centering effects? Possibly. But it's hard to say for sure. All I can say with certainty is that I can try individual teas and find which ones I enjoy more...both in terms of their flavor and their effect on my mind and body.

How about you?

Do you gain insight into your life by asking yourself how various things make you feel, physically, or emotionally? Do you like gyokuro...the way it tastes, or the way it makes you feel? What teas make you feel the best?


  1. Feel free to disbelieve me, but this morning, prior to reading this provocative post, I was happily drinking a pretty good Japanese gyokuro, enjoying its umami, and wondering why so many people worry about variations in caffeine among teas but nobody ― I thought ― ever talks about theanine!

  2. Wow...is there some sort of cosmic significance here?

    I have actually been reading and thinking about theanine more lately...I think people are starting to think about it and talk about it a little bit more. Right now I have a single page on theanine on RateTea.net, but I also mention it on several other articles, including the pages on gyokuro and Anji bai cha, as well as the page on tea and sleep. I'm hoping to research it a bit more in the future...I have an article on tea and mood in the works, and am starting to think about an article about tea and relaxation.