We learnt in Tea 101 that all ‘true’ teas hail from the same plant species – Camellia Sinensis. The differentiating factor between tea styles comes from the processing methods followed to produce the tea, follow a different processing method and you end up with a different style of tea, not only a different tasting tea.
Green tea refers to tea that has undergone minimal oxidation.
How did Green Tea Originate?
One popular legend suggests that Shennong, Emperor of China and supposed inventor of Chinese medicine, discovered tea as a beverage around 2737 BC when fresh tea leaves from a nearby tree fell into his cup of boiled water…whether this is true or not Green tea is considered to have originated in China.
Some credit the Emperor of China and others credit various Buddhists in the 500s BC and subsequent centuries for the discovery of tea. Much like how Catholic priests in European monasteries grew grapes and produced wine, Buddhist monks in China grew, harvested and produced tea.
Buddhists would travel between India, China and Japan spreading their religion, culture and ritual of tea. Their habit of tea drinking for physical refreshment, to aid meditation and as a substitute for alcohol, developed into a spiritual and social practice that spread across China.
In 1190, a Zen priest visiting and studying in China’s great Buddhist monasteries and temples returned to Japan with tea plant seeds and bushes. Eisai, used his experience growing and drinking tea in China to popularize the way of tea as a meditation ritual within his own community, eventually spreading the custom of tea drinking throughout the rest of Japan. To this day, China and Japan are the top two green tea producing and exporting countries in the world.
Green Tea Flavors
No doubt you have notice that not all green teas taste or look the same, even though they all come from the same plant variety. Green tea can vary dramatically in flavor from grassy and sweet, floral and fresh, to nutty and roasted. Like fine wine, a green teas flavor depends on the plant varietal, season of harvest, soil, elevation, weather, cultivation, origin and processing. Each region having its own distinct flavor and aroma.
Terrioror environment that the tea is grown in plays a role in the in the final flavour of the tea. Is it cool and mountainous or hot and tropical? Do the plants live next to limestone and pine trees or sand and seaweed? Do the tea plants grow near other crops that can affect their flavour, like rose bushes, coffee plants or grape vines?
- Cultivation and the cultivation practices of the tea producer also play a role in the teas final flavour. What time of year is the tea plucked? How is the plant pruned? What parts of the plant are plucked? Are the plants treated with chemicals or are they organically grown?
- Processing is the final influencer on
the teas flavours. What kind of heat is applied to the tea leaves to stop oxidation? How are the tea leaves shaped, rolled and dried? Are the leaves left whole or cut in smaller pieces?
The most widely consumed and popular types of green teas hail from China and Japan, the places where green tea originated. Green teas from China and Japan have different flavor profiles, due to where and how they are grown but most distinctively because of how they are processed – Steamed in Japan and pan fired in China. Other countries producing green tea take their cues from either one of these countries.
Green Tea Processing
Today different types of green tea are produced and grown all over the world; China, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Hawaii and South Carolina.
Green tea is plucked withered and rolled. It is not oxidised because during the rolling process, oxidation is prevented by applying heat. The same process happens in a piece of fruit.
Left to sit an apple will slowly turn brown. Cut or bruise the apple and it will brown faster. However if you bake the apple, it will not brown. The apple slices inside a pie will look just as fresh as when you first put them in the oven. This is the same process that is followed when applying heat while rolling the tea leaves to prevent oxidation.
Chinese Green Teas
The Chinese style of green tea is characterized by pan firing, where the tea leaves are heated in a basket, pan or mechanized rotating drum to halt the oxidation process.
Chinese green teas may be fired more than once during the processing, depending on the style of tea being produced. These firings may take place in wicker baskets, steel wok-like pans, metal drums or other containers over charcoal, gas flame, electric heat or hot air, depending on the final flavour outcome desired.
The flavor can be altered greatly depending on the number and types of firings, but generally a pan fired Chinese green tea takes on a yellowish-green or dark green color to impart a grassy, earthy, roasted flavour.
Some popular pan fired Chinese green teas include:
- Dragonwell: A smooth, flat, sword shaped appearance and pan-fired toasty taste give this tea its characteristic look and flavor no other green tea-producing region has been able to duplicate. It is considered a classic pan-fired Chinese green tea
- Gunpowder: Fired in perforated metal tumbler that tosses the leaves around in a figure eight pattern. Gunpowder tea takes its name from the pellet-like shape of the finished leaf.
Japanese Green Teas
The Japanese style of green tea is characterised by steaming, where tea leaves are treated briefly with steam heat within a few hours of plucking to both halt the oxidation process and bring out the rich green color of both the tea leaves and the final brewed tea.
The steaming process creates a unique flavor profile that can be described as a sweet, vegetal or seaweed-like. Some Japanese green tea may also be shade grown during cultivation or roasted during processing, both create additional flavor characteristics
Some popular Japanese teas include:
- Sencha (infused tea): Sencha makes up more than 80% of the tea produced in Japan and is the most popular tea drunk in households and restaurants throughout the country. It is made from tea leaves that are steamed then typically rolled into long skinny strands
- Hojicha (Roasted Tea): Sencha is roasted over high heat to produce Hojicha, a tea with a roasted nutty flavor. The application of high heat also helps reduce the teas caffeine content
- Genmai cha (popped rice tea): A blend of Sencha and roasted popped rice, Genmaicha is a toasty tasting treat that is a popular tea to serve with food as it prepares the palate.
- Gyokoro (Jade Dew): The tea leaves are shaded during the last few weeks before plucking to intensify the color and flavor of the tea that will become Gyokoro. During processing, it is rolled into its characteristic thin needle like shape. Gyokoro is considered to be Japan’s most treasured tea.
- Matcha (Powdered Tea): Shade grown like Gyokoro, the tea leaves that make Matcha are ground into a powder instead of shaped and rolled. Matcha is key to Japanese tea ceremonies and has become a very popular ingredient for cooking
Green tea is generally known to have a lower caffeine content per cup than black tea and a much lower content than coffee. Like all drinks cultivated from caffeinated plants, however, a specific level of caffeine per cup of green tea is hard to define as it will depend on the type of green tea as well as how it was processed and prepared.
Search results reveal that the tested levels of caffeine across green treas vary with ranges going from 15 – 75mg; which averages less than a 330ml cola type soft drink and is significantly less than coffee which averages around 105 mg per 250 ml cup
Brewing / Preparing green tea
Depending on the variety and type of green tea you’re planning to brew, each type may have different brewing temperature and steeping time instructions. Ask your tea vendor for brewing tips if the tea package does not have specific instructions.
Here are a few general tea brewing tips to keep in mind:
- Use fresh, pure, cold filtered water. Spring water is the best.
- Typically, green teas are brewed in short infusions at around 80 to 90 degrees centigrade. 70C water could also be used.
- Don’t scorch your tea! If the water is too hot, especially for green tea, your tea will release more bitterness and astringency more quickly.
- If you don’t have an electric kettle with temperature control, simply allow your boiling water to rest before pouring it over your green tea leaves. See the Perfect brewing section to learn about how you can do this
- Depending on the tea, use about 2 grams of loose leaf tea per 230ml cup of water as a safe bet. If your tea package has specific recommendations for steeping, use those.
- Cover your steeping tea to keep all the heat in the steeping vessel.
- Green tea should steep from 30 to 60 seconds for early harvest, delicate teas and 2 to 3 minutes for regular harvest, more robust teas.
- Most high-quality loose leaf teas can be steeped multiple times.
- Adding milk (and even sugar) to your green tea is okay if you like to season your cuppa. Keep in mind that the flavor of green tea is generally quite light and you may cover it up with the addition of milk and/or sugar.
Chinese Green Teas
- Contains Bioactive Compounds that improve health
- Compounds in green tea can improve brain function and make you smarter
- Green tea increases fat burning and improves physical performance
- Antioxidants in green tea may lower your risk of various types of cancer
- Green tea may protect your brain in old age, lowering your risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
- Green tea can kill bacteria, which improves dental health and lowers your risk of infection
- Green tea may lower your risk of type II diabetes
- Green tea may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease
- Green tea can help you lose weight and lower your risk of becoming obese
- Green tea may decrease your risk of dying and help you live longer