Green Tea 101: Beginner’s Guide
Green tea and black tea are very popular, yet we don’t even know the world of tea much. Tea is deep and great quality tea is sincerely refined and tasteful. Let’s dig into the world of tea – green tea 101.
Table of Contents
Definitions of “True Teas”
Not all the tea we know is true tea. Let’s clarify the difference between true teas and herbal teas.
“True teas” are made using leaves from the tea plant known as Camellia sinensis. Teas made from any other plants are not technically true teas.
5 types of true teas
In fact, herbal teas aren’t actually real teas. Instead, herbal teas are infusions. They are made either from steeping spices, herbs, and roots in hot water. These ingredients can also be combined with true teas at which point they’re known as flavored teas.
What makes it green tea?
Green tea is the oldest type of tea. Green tea and black tea originate from the same exact plant species – Camellia sinensis. What sets the processing of green tea apart from the rest is that it doesn’t involve oxidation (though it’s technically slightly oxidated).
Green tea origins
Green tea is considered to have originated in China. China’s Yunnan province is considered to be the original home of the Camellia sinensis plant species. In fact, 260 of the world’s 380+ varieties of tea can be found in Yunnan.
There are many stories about the origin of green tea:
- Buddhists in the 500s BC and subsequent centuries for the discovery of tea. Buddhists traveled between India and China spreading their religion, culture, and ritual of tea. Buddhist monks grew, harvested, and produced tea. The monks’ 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.
- Shennong, China’s emperor and inventor of Chinese medicine, discovered tea as a beverage around 2737 BC when fresh tea leaves from a nearby tea tree fell into his cup of boiled water.
- Green tea has been popularized in Japan around 1190, when a Zen priest visiting and studying in China’s great Buddhist monasteries and temples returned to Japan with tea plant seeds and bushes. Eisai, the young priest, used his experience growing and drinking tea in China to popularize the way of tea as a meditation ritual within his own community of Buddhist monks, eventually spreading the custom of tea drinking throughout Japan.
Where to produce
While all green tea originates from the same plant species, there are different types of green tea grown and produced all over the world today. Green tea is primarily produced in China and Japan.
- Sri Lanka
- New Zealand
- South Carolina
Green tea processing
Green tea varieties
Technically any type of tea (white, green, yellow, oolong, black or pu-erh) originates from the same exact plant – Camellia sinensis. It’s the variety of tea plant and how the plant’s leaves are processed that define if a tea becomes black or green.
Hundreds of cultivars and hybrid plants have evolved from these Camellia sinensis plant varieties over time. They contain about half as much caffeine as black tea (about a quarter that of a cup of coffee.)
Camellia sinensis sinensis is a smaller-leafed variety native to China that is typically used to make green and white teas. It evolved as a shrub growing in sunny regions with drier, cooler climates. It thrives in mountainous regions because it has a high tolerance for cold.
How green tea is made
All tea starts out green. The green tea process is defined by preventing oxidation, just like white tea. Stopping oxidation soon after harvest is what gives green tea leaves their bright green color and their light, vegetal taste.
However, they do undergo a multi-step production process. Green tea leaves are harvested and then withered to reduce moisture content. The leaves are then pan-fired (more common for Chinese tea. The taste can be more vegetal) or steamed (more common for Japanese. More grassy taste.) at high temperatures to stop the oxidation process.
During the drying process, tea masters roll the leaves into pearls or long twigs depending on the green tea varietal.
Flavors & Colors
Brewing tastes will depend on many factors:
- Where it was grown
- How it was processed
- How it was brewed
- Green teas tend to have a lighter body and milder taste, though flavors can range from nutty to fruity to seaweed.
- As a rule of thumb, Chinese green teas are pan-fired to produce roasted, nutty flavors while Japanese green teas are steamed to preserve vegetal and herbaceous flavors.
- Chinese teas tend to be milder than Japanese green teas.
- Matcha green tea offers a vegetal flavor, grassy with a sweet after taste.
- Sencha tea has a fruity, fuller, and riper taste than Chinese green tea.
- Genmaicha green tea offers a roasted flavor.
Common traits for green tea flavor:
vegetal, grassy, earthy, sweet, buttery, nutty, toasty, seaweed-like, lush, green and herbaceous.
- Most green teas are light green or slightly yellow in color.
- Japanese tea brews up a light emerald green. Japanese teas are sometimes also shaded for several weeks prior to harvest, which increases their levels of chlorophyll, caffeine, and l-theanine.
- Chinese teas brew up a soft golden color, with a light body and a mellow flavor.
- Matcha tea features a more vibrant, lime green hue.
- Sencha tea is light green in color.
Buying and storing green tea
Buy tea from a reputable company that can tell you when and how the tea was processed and packaged. And ask your tea purveyor for directions on how to brew the particular tea variety.
While tea won’t ever really go bad, it can get stale. Since green tea is less oxidized than its black tea cousin, it is technically fresher and more delicate. So it should be consumed more quickly for maximum flavor – best consumed within 6 months to a year of purchase.
You should also store your green tea in a cool, dark place, away from light, oxygen, moisture, and fragrant pantry companions like coffee or spices.
Preparing green tea
Depending on the variety and type of green tea, each type may have different brewing temperature and steeping time instructions. Ask your tea vendor for brewing tips if the tea package doesn’t have specific instructions.
General tea brewing tips
- Use fresh, pure, cold filtered water. Springwater is the best.
- Green teas are typically brewed in short infusions at around 160 to 180 degrees which will produce a lighter cup with less caffeine.
- 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.
- It depends on the tea, but using about 2 g of loose leaf tea per 8 oz. cup of water is 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, more delicate teas to 2 to 3 minutes for regular harvest, more robust teas.
- Most high-quality loose leaf teas can be steeped multiple times.
- Adding milk and sugar to green tea is ok. Remember that the flavor of green tea is generally quite light and you’ll also add calories.
The common types of green tea
- Biluochun: a strong aroma and vegetal, sometimes fruity taste.
- Chun Mee: tea with leaves rolled into an eyebrow shape (“Precious Eyebrow”), dusty coloring, vegetal notes, and fruity plum-like tartness.
- Gunpowder: Bold, slightly smokey tea made up of tightly rolled pellet-like leaves that look like grains of gunpowder.
- Laoshan: a creamy, smooth with a sweet-and-buttery flavor.
- Longjing or Dragon Well: Pan-roasted tea from China’s Zhejiang Province praised for its high quality and slightly sweet, nutty rounded flavor.
- Genmaicha: Unique blend that combines green tea leaves with puffed rice or sorghum to achieve a “toasty” flavor. It’s often considered a lower grade of Sencha.
- Gyokuro: considered to be Japan’s most treasured tea – strong, savory, seawood flavor. The tea leaves are shaded during the last few weeks before plucking to intensify the color and flavor. During processing, it is rolled into its characteristic thin needlelike shape.
- Hojicha: 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 tea’s caffeine content.
- Matcha: one of the most popular green teas that boasts a creamy, savory, and almost bittersweet flavor. Often highly caffeinated tea leaves ground into a fine powder to dissolve in liquid rather than steep.
- Sencha: the most popular tea in Japan and typically consumed in loose leaf varieties – bright green whole-leaf Japanese tea with many different subvarieties based on season harvested, growing method, and brewing style. Sencha usually has savory, grassy, and slightly bitter flavors and may carry a scent of melon or pine.
Caffeine content in green tea
Green tea is generally known to have lower caffeine content per cup than black tea (half as much) and much lower caffeine content than coffee (about a quarter that of a cup of 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.
Benefits of green tea
Green tea is the most heavily studied type of “true” tea, and research is overwhelmingly positive.
- support brain health
Not only can green tea improve brain function in the short term, it may also protect your brain as you age. They may reduce the risk of dementia, a common neurodegenerative disorder in older adults.
- support mental alertness and acuity
It doesn’t contain as much as coffee, but enough to produce a response without causing the jittery effects associated with taking in too much caffeine.
- support heart health
Green tea provides lots of polyphenol antioxidants like catechin (EGCG) that can reduce the formation of free radicals in the body, protecting cells and molecules from damage. These free radicals play a role in aging and many types of diseases including cancer, diabetes.
- helps weight loss
Green tea can boost fat burning and metabolic rate.
Conclusion: There are so many varieties and quality you haven't tried. In Japan, we don't put sugar nor milk in green tea - except for matcha. Try more teas and expand the horizon of the amazing tea world!
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