We continue our journey through the great families of teas trying to locate the best green tea. We advance you already from this second sentence that there is no single answer.
Green tea is one of the main beverages in Japan, where it was introduced by Buddhist monks after their pilgrimages to China hundreds of years ago. These two countries, together with Korea, are the classic producers of this tea.
Together, they make dozens of varieties that delight tea lovers with totally unique flavours. Join us to discover the geography of green tea cultivation and this wealth of flavours.
5 points to know green tea
- The green tea category makes up a large group of teas with a rich spectrum of flavors. We can consider the herbaceous, fruity and vegetable flavors as the most typical, but its variety reaches floral, toasted or earthy tastes.
- Green tea is known for its potential health benefits. These include potential effects for weight control and the treatment of cardiovascular disease and cancer. To date, the scientific community has not reached a consensus and the issue is still being studied.
- If the first thing that comes to mind when you think of green tea is its bitter taste, friend , you are probably doing it wrong. Green tea is a delicate tea; if you go too far with the temperature of the water or with the infusion time, you spoil them.
- China produces about 80% of the green tea consumed in the world, but it is also grown in Japan, Korea and other countries, most of them in Asia. The climatology and the composition of the soil from which it originates leave their mark on the character of the tea.
- Oxidation, or the lack of it in the case of green tea, is a differentiating point compared to other varieties of tea. In fact, it is so important that we will dedicate the next section to it.
Don’t rust! How green tea is made
The fundamental factor that differentiates green tea from other varieties is oxidation. During this, the chlorophyll of the leaves of the Camelia Sinensis (yes, the tea plant), is enzymatically decomposed and its tannins are transformed.
Green tea does not go through an oxidation process (although it occurs minimally). In other teas such as black or red, it is actively promoted.
A greater or lesser oxidation will influence the formation of compounds that define the aroma and flavor of the tea.
The process of making green tea begins, of course, with the collection of the leaves. Typically young shoots and leaves for good quality teas.
Young tea leaves are usually harvested three times a year, between April and September. The harvest time influences the characteristics of the tea, the first, spring, being the most appreciated.
The leaves then go through various methods to stop their oxidation process. It is at this time that the most important differences between Chinese and Japanese production methods are perceived.
The Chinese have a specific word for stopping the oxidation of tea leaves. They call it “killing the green.” They usually do this by moderately roasting the tea leaves over large woks, directly over open fires.
Japanese tea artisans prefer to use steam. They place the tea leaves on large bamboo trays over boiling water. At the end, carefully dry the leaves with air currents to remove moisture.
These two different methods leave their mark on the tea. Differentiating a Chinese green tea from a Japanese one is easy, in most cases, for someone with minimal knowledge.
To finish, the tea goes through a rolling process. This causes part of the sap and the essential oils that remain inside the leaf to come out and reinforce the flavor of the tea. Green tea can be rolled and dried multiple times to achieve different flavors.
Choosing the best green tea
What a difference when you go from bags to “real” tea. The bags are usually made from the worst quality tea and we are not talking about varieties. Broken leaves, dust and waste from the tea making process are often used to fill tea bags, of course also green tea bags.
Yes, they are comfortable. Yes, they are the ones you find in the supermarket.
However, if you want to experience the authentic flavors of a tea as delicate as green, decide to escape from the bags. Brewing tea with loose leaves will give you much more complex and sophisticated flavor profiles.
A common classification in the tea industry, in fact, is to categorize the quality of the leaves based on their proximity to the bud and their state of preservation. The highest grade of quality is made up of the barely opened, hand-picked central buds from the tea plants. Can you guess which is the worst quality gradation? Indeed, the dust and fragments of broken leaves that are usually used for bags.
The best varieties of green tea
There are many varieties of green tea. Factors such as location, weather, cultivation methods, production process and harvest time are combined in all possible ways to obtain very different teas.
A common classification of green teas is to divide them by their place of production.
Chinese green tea
China produces about two tons of green tea annually. Green tea has been the most popular variety of tea in China for hundreds of years.
Originally, Chinese green tea was steamed to stop the leaves from oxidizing, as is done today in Japan, but during the Ming dynasty the current way of roasting in a wok became popular. This gives Chinese green teas a roasted, earthy flavor that is distinct from Japanese green teas.
Biluochun tea is grown in Dongting Mountain, Fujian Province and gets its name from the appearance of its leaf, which is curled like a snail shell.
Noted for its floral fragrance and smooth, fruity flavor, this tea is highly regarded by Chinese tea experts.
Dragon Well Tea, also known as Longjing is one of the most reputable Chinese green teas both inside and outside of China.
Longjing has a vegetable flavor with hints of cashew and toasted rice, low astringency and a smooth finish.
There are different qualities, the superior ones with prohibitive prices. Legend has it that, on one of his journeys, the Emperor was offered a cup of Longjing. He was so impressed that he declared the tea bushes that had produced it imperial. These plants are still alive and the tea they produce fetches prices above gold at annual auctions.
This tea is grown in Huangshan, the Yellow Mountain, where many famous varieties of green tea come from.
You may have noticed that the Chinese often use poetic names to name their teas. In this case, the translation of the name would be close to Pelo de Pico de la Montaña Amarilla, they say, due to the shape of the hairs of the shoots that are used in its production.
Its infusion is golden, fragrant and delicately sweet, with a long and persistent finish in the mouth.
Lu’an Gua Pian (Melon Seed)
Melon seed green tea was a tea used as an imperial tribute during the Qing dynasty. Its name refers to the shape of its leaves after being infused.
It has a fresh aroma that evokes aromatic herbs. Its infusion is yellowish green, clear and transparent. Its flavor is floral, with a generous body and that lasts in the mouth.
This tea has traditionally been considered a great source of nutrients. During the Ming dynasty (~1368) it was used to prevent sunstroke and heat stroke.
Japanese green tea
Virtually the entire tea crop in Japan is used for making green tea. Japanese green teas are characterized by their needle-shaped leaves and a particularly intense green colour.
Unlike Chinese teas, Japanese green teas are produced using steam rather than roasting.
Tea production in Japan is limited and is mainly used to make teas for the most select market.
One of the teas most closely related to Japanese culture and traditions, matcha tea is used in tea ceremonies.
Matcha tea is made by grinding the leaves of the Tencha variety of green tea into a fine, bright green powder.
In its infusion, the whole leaf is consumed, which is related to its properties. In recent years, it has become popular in the West for its health benefits.
Sencha is the most commonly consumed Japanese green tea. It is served in cafes and restaurants hot in the winter months and cool in the summer months.
During its preparation, it is steamed for a few moments, which preserves its vegetable and herbaceous flavor to the maximum and gives it a dark green color.
A curious and tasty combination of green tea and roasted rice grains. Its infusion is brownish in color and has a toasted flavor thanks to the rice.
It has a reputation for promoting digestion, so it is common to take it after a large meal.
The Japanese often make their own genmaicha by home-mixing toasted brown rice and mixing it with sencha tea.
Since the blend has less tea, Genmaicha is a low-caffeinated tea, which makes it especially suitable for children.
It is said that the aroma of gyokuro tea is reminiscent of the well-known nori seaweed (indeed, the one used to make sushi).
This is due to a particular tea harvesting process, in which the bushes are covered to limit the amount of light reaching the buds. With this, the generation of catechins is suppressed, which produces a tea with less astringency and the peculiar aroma.
Korean green tea
The cultivation of tea in Korea dates from the fourth century, although it went through difficult times throughout its history.
Korean green tea brewing combines steaming and roasting the tea to stop its oxidation process. This achieves tastes and aromas that oscillate between those usual in Chinese and Japanese green teas.
This tea is harvested just before the monsoons arrive, its name means “before the rain”.
Its production method is peculiar, since it combines some traditional Chinese and Japanese techniques. The bushes are covered to minimize light reception by the leaves before harvest, then the leaves are steamed and roasted.
Ujeon is an aromatic and smooth tea that tastes fresh and fruity and surprises with an intense umami taste.
Korean jeoncha tea is similar to Japanese sencha, in fact, its preparation method is practically the same.
Its infusion provides a light green liqueur, with a smooth texture and the usual vegetal notes of green teas.
Sejak is a traditional Korean green tea made exclusively from the first tender bud and the second barely opened bud of the tea plant. It is grown on the volcanic island of Jeju, where the sea breeze gives it a particular character.
The method of making this green tea uses a very unusual practice, which is to submerge the tea leaves for a few seconds in boiling water and then toast them in a hot wok .
With this tea, a medium-bodied infusion is achieved, with a flavor tending to sweet, aromas of nuts and often a particular reminiscence of menthol.
How to prepare a good green tea
Preparing green tea well is not complicated, but it is important to be meticulous.
Using water that is too hot or letting the infusion sit too long will generate bitter flavors and astringent textures due to the proliferation of tannins.
Factor 1: amount of tea
Suggested amounts are between 2 and 4 grams of tea per cup, but we suggest you look for specific information on the preparation of the variety of green tea that you are going to prepare. If you are one of those who enjoy the most intense flavors, increase the amount of tea instead of the rest time.
Factor 2: water temperature
The temperature of the water can ruin (or make unforgettable) your tea. The components that give flavor and aroma to tea dissolve at different temperatures.
Catechins, for example, generate astringency, and dissolve above 80 degrees Celsius.
As a general rule for green teas, we recommend that you do not use boiling water. In this case, again the conditions of your tea variety apply, but generally the ideal temperature will range between 60ºC and 90ºC.
Factor 3: container temperature
A good piece of advice that is often given is to preheat your kettle before steeping the tea. With this you get the temperature of the water to stay at what you had planned.
To do this, flush your kettle with hot water and then discard it.
Factor 4: infusion time
Never be tempted to pass up green tea. Too much steeping time can ruin even great quality tea.
Let your infusion sit for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, no more, to make sure it doesn’t develop bitter flavors.
Experiment and feel free to adapt the method to your tastes and the types of teas you consume. Close your eyes and take your time to enjoy a good green tea and appreciate all the richness of its nuances.