Green tea has been cultivated and consumed in Asian countries, especially China and Japan, for centuries. In recent years it has enjoyed increased popularity here in the United States, both as a drink at specialty coffee shops and as an at-home beverage. Antioxidant properties and a light, refreshing taste, make green tea the perfect brew for a mid-morning or late-afternoon pick-me-up!
Green Tea Origins
There are four main types of tea: black, oolong, green, and white, all of which originate from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. Specific processing techniques are responsible for the differences in flavor between these four varieties. Tea is usually picked by hand twice a year, once in the early spring and once in summer. Immediately after it is picked, oxidation begins to occur (oxidation is the process that takes place when oxygen molecules come in contact with any type of substance). It is this oxidation process that leads to the different types of tea.
Black tea is the most processed of the four types. Picked tea leaves are immediately transferred to a factory where they are withered to reduce moisture. Next, the leaves are rolled to release the rest of their moisture. After this, the leaves are spread out in a cool, dark place to allow the oxidation process to work its magic. The leaves begin this stage green, but as oxidation takes place they turn a copper brown color. Finally, the leaves are dried with hot air, and their color changes from copper to the more recognizable black.
Oolong tea undergoes the same process as black tea, however it is only partially oxidized, and never reaches the same stage as black tea. Green tea is withered, rolled and dried, but the oxidation process is removed. The exclusion of this step is what preserves the tea’s color, and gives the tea its signature light, somewhat grassy, flavor.
Types of Green Tea
The two most common types of green tea are Chinese green tea and Japanese green tea. Both of these counties are famous for their green teas, however, each uses a different method to prevent oxidation. These different practices result in notable differences in the color and flavor of the finished teas. Although other countries produce green tea, they have adopted one of these two processing methods.
Chinese Green Tea
In the Chinese method, the tea leaves are first withered for a short time. Then they immediately undergo pan firing, either manually or mechanically, to halt the oxidation process. Chinese teas are then shaped either by hand or machine (sometimes this step is combined with pan firing). In the tea world, Chinese teas are celebrated for their flavor and color, but also for the beautiful shapes created by the tea maker.
We carry a variety of Chinese teas here at HPSC. Our most popular is our Ginger Orange Peach (Organic), which has a delightful peach and citrus flavor, combined with the zest of ginger. Our traditional green tea is a Chinese Chun Mei variety. Chun Mei means “precious eyebrows” and refers to the shape of the tea leaves. Additionally, we carry a Gunpowder Green Tea, a Chinese green tea where the leaves are rolled to resemble gunpowder pellets.
Japanese Green Tea
Green tea is almost the only tea grown in Japan. As a result, the Japanese take great care in its cultivation and processing. Prior to harvesting, many of the Japanese tea varieties are shaded for several weeks, a technique that changes the flavor of the tea.
Japanese teas are neither withered or pan fired to stop oxidation. Instead, the leaves are steamed to soften them. The steaming process also halts oxidation and begins to the develops the teas’ flavor. Due to this steaming, Japanese teas are a bright evergreen color, much brighter than most Chinese teas.
There are many varieties of Japanese green tea, however, here at HPSC we carry Sencha tea exclusively. Sencha green tea bright, deep green needle-shaped tea with a sweet, slighty grassy umani profile. Our Sencha green teas include: Pomegranate Green Tea, Pineapple Papaya Green Tea and Citrus Green Tea. All of these teas have a bright, refreshing profile that makes them delicious brewed hot or over ice!
Steeping Green Tea
For a long time I did not enjoy green teas. They always had a grassy, undesirable flavor. Turns out, I was over-steeping them! Chinese green teas need to be steeped in water that is 170-180 degrees for only 3-3/12 minutes. Japanese teas are even more delicate. They need to be steeped for only 1 1/2 minutes in 160-170 degree water. Steeping these teas for a longer period of time, or in excessively hot water will result in those grassy, undesirable flavors.
Green Tea and Caffeine
Because they are made from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, which naturally contains caffeine, green teas also contain a certain amount of this stimulant. Many factors can affect caffeine content in tea, such as the soil type in which the tea plant is grown, fertilizers used during cultivation, time of year the tea was picked, and processing practices, just to name a few.
A common myth is that green tea contains less caffeine that black tea, because it does not undergo the oxidation process. There have been many studies conducted that conclude that this may not necessarily be true. White tea does not undergo oxidation, however because it is produced from new, young tea leaves that have higher concentrations of caffeine (the higher up on the stem a leaf is, the higher the caffeine content).
Typically, the hotter the water and the longer the steep time, the more caffeine in your cup. As black teas are usually steeped for longer periods of time at higher temperatures, they are usually assumed to contain more caffeine than green teas. Bottom line, all teas made with leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant contain caffeine. If you are looking for a caffeine-free beverage, we recommend consuming herbal teas or tisanes.
Health Benefits of Green Tea
Green tea has long been revered for its health benefits, most specifically its antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are molecules that can help slow down, prevent, and fight off free radicals (all those bad things going on in your body you may have acquired through genetics, pollution, or bad habits.). Camellia sinensis is loaded with a specific type of antioxidants known as polyphenols. In addition, tea leaves contain proteins, fluoride, and vitamins A, B, C, D, and E. So not only is green tea delicious, it’s healthy for you too!