Green tea, also known as unoxidized tea, is made solely from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant. The leaves are plucked, slightly withered, then immediately cooked to preserve the green quality and prevent oxidization. As a result of these methods, green teas have a much higher concentration of chlorophyll, polyphenols, and antioxidants than other tea types. The growing conditions for green tea can be broken down between two different types: sun-grown and shade-grown. The leaves are generally harvested three times a year with the first flush producing the highest quality leaves. The heating process differs greatly depending on the region and the tea maker’s techniques.
Some of the mainstream methods of manufacturing green tea include:
Pan Firing - Chinese green teas are often pan or wok roasted to neutralize the natural enzymes then dried, which generally results in a pale green color such as our Dragonwell. Steaming – In general, most Japanese green teas are quickly deep steamed resulting in a bright green infusion.
HISTORY OF GREEN TEA
Although written records trace the cultivation of green tea as far back as the Han Dynasty (206-220), when its primary use was medicinal, it wasn’t until China’s early Tang Dynasty (600-900) that we hear of green tea being consumed for pleasure. During this time, green tea was only distributed in compressed cakes for easy transport.
During the Tang Dynasty, there was a groundbreaking book written about the art of green tea drinking called the “The Classic of Tea” or “Cha Jing” by Lu Yu. It is considered one of the most important books of its time because it was one of the first all-inclusive explorations of green tea culture as a whole. It was also during this time that the formal tea ceremony came into being; a ritual, in part due to the tools necessary for preparation, accessible only to the wealthy elite. Because of this, green tea consumption became a symbol of status in society.
GREEN TEA TODAY
While green tea has been consumed longer than any other variant of the camellia sinensis plant, the ways in which it is processed haven’t really changed. In many tea producing countries, green teas are still hand-harvested and hand-shaped, and in some cases with the help of very simple age-old machinery that has been passed down from generation to generation. The ways in which it is consumed, however, have changed drastically.
It wasn’t until the late 19th century that green tea made its way into European and more western cultures. Until the invention of the clipper ship, western cultures were only familiar with black teas, which were the result of freshly harvested green teas that were usually transported via camelback for months at a time by traveling merchants.
These merchants would set up camp night after night, exposing the tea to their nearby campfires, therefore permeating the leaves and giving them a more charred appearance and taste. With the invention of the clipper ships, teas could be transported in less than half the time, allowing them to arrive in a more preserved and unprocessed state. This new method of transport revolutionized the way tea, and green tea, in particular, were perceived and experienced forever.
Today, green tea can be found everywhere in the mainstream marketplace in forms from loose leaf to powdered (known as matcha), and in other consumables, such as baked goods and breath fresheners.
GREEN TEA TYPES & VARIANTS
Because green tea is grown and harvested in many different regions of China and Japan, it would easily fill up a book trying to explain each type and variant. Listed below are some of the more popular variants of green tea.
CHINESES GREEN TEAS
Longjing or Dragonwell is pan-fried and has flat sword-shaped leaves. It has a vibrant jade green hue and a fresh, clean and mellow flavor and aroma.
Gunpowder gets its distinctive name because of the process in which it is made. The leaves are hand-shaped into small spheres that resemble gunpowder and with its slightly brisk and smoky flavor, it really is quite a fitting name. As the primary ingredient in Moroccan Mint tea, gunpowder helps to round out the flavor by balancing out the sharpness of the mint. Yun Wu or Cloud & Mist is harvested at a much higher altitude, smothered in clouds. The resulting cup has a light and slightly sweet taste.
JAPANESE GREEN TEAS
Gyokuro, or Jade Dew tea, is the most precious and highly sought after green tea. Select Tencha leaves are shade-grown for up to 20 days then harvested and promptly steamed to maintain elevated levels of chlorophyll. The resulting cup steeps a bright green color with a sweet, grassy finish.
Sencha is the most common green tea from Japan and is also the base for many of our green tea fusions. Unlike Gyokuro, Sencha leaves are directly exposed to sunlight. Sencha gets its name from the decoction method in which it is processed and delivers a slightly astringent, vegetal cup with bright grassy after notes.
Kukicha, or twig tea, is comprised of twigs, stems, and stalks. Usually, this tea consists of the remnants of the gyokuro and sencha harvest. This tea is slightly roasted and is a bit more oxidized than most green teas, giving the tea a nutty taste with a round, thick flavor.
Matcha is a finely ground tea powder made from Tencha leaves. It is prepared by whisking the tea powder with hot water in a ceramic bowl. Matcha is the primary form of tea used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. The sweet flavor of matcha is due to the number of amino acids present in the tea and the higher the quality, the sweeter and deeper the flavor is.
Tencha is a shade cultivated tea and is harvested primarily for matcha production. The leaves are laid flat to dry instead of rolled like most other tea leaves and are dried completely away from sunlight or indoors. This helps to preserve its darker green color which aids in the production of amino acids.
Genmaicha, popularly known as “popcorn tea” is made with green tea and roasted brown rice. Sometimes referred to as the “people’s tea,” Japanese lore tells of farmers adding rice to stretch out precious tea supplies in order to keep the price down. There are also tales of genmaicha being born out of WWII tea rationing. This tea has a slightly golden hue and has a crisp yet roasted finish.
Hojicha is unique in that it is not steamed like most Japanese teas but is actually roasted over charcoal. This process gives the leaves a brownish appearance, resembling a black tea. This tea steeps a reddish-brown liquor with hints of caramel and a slightly toasted finish.
GREEN TEA TIPS & PREPARATION
Green tea is best prepared at a mild water temperature of 180°-185° F, with a steep time of about 3 minutes. Water that is too hot may result in the release of tannins from the leaves, causing the tea to become astringent. Higher quality green teas can be re-steeped 2-3 times before the flavor begins to degrade. It is suggested that you use about 1 tsp per 8oz cup for optimum results.
Generally, an 8oz cup of green tea yields about 15-48mg of caffeine per serving. This measurement varies depending on how long the tea is steeped. The longer the steep time, the higher the caffeine content will be. The caffeine content will lessen each time tea is re-steeped.