Next to black tea, green tea is a more recognizable tea in Western society. A lot of this derives from the health benefits that are touted of green teas. In fact, most scientific studies into the health benefits of tea utilize green tea as the focus. As a result, green tea drinking in the Western world has really been on the rise in recent years.
Of course, green tea is one of the most commonly consumed teas in China and Japan. From my own observations in China, nearly everyone walking around town would be touting a bottle of some sort filled with green tea (with the leaves visible in the bottle, no less). And if I went to a restaurant or cafe and requested tea, it would almost exclusively be green tea unless I requested something else in particular.
I’m not going to lie, I haven’t been much of a fan of green tea over the years. I always had a hard time getting past the distinctive grassy, oceany, vegetal flavor that is so common in green teas. Recently, I’ve come to appreciate this kind of flavor more, but I’m still in the beginning stages of coming to terms with it, if you will. It’s the other flavor profiles found in various green teas that have begun to hook me – an occasional nuttiness, bright crispness, and fresh sweet flavors.
Green teas themselves are nearly the least processed tea of all (second only to white teas). As you may remember with black teas, they will be rolled (to break the cell membranes) and left to sit and oxidize before they are fired/heated to stop the oxidation process and dry the leaves. With green tea, we don’t want the leaves to oxidize (thus maintaining the green color of the leaves and producing a yellowish-green tea).
The leaves will be plucked and withered (sometimes withering will be skipped), but they will quickly be heated gently to halt the enzymes that would otherwise oxidize the leaf. This isn’t to say that no oxidation has occurred, just that it is being halted as soon as possible (or as soon as the tea maker sees fit). Sometimes this will be done in the form of steaming the leaves, other times by lightly firing the leaves. It is only after the oxidation has been prevented that the leaves will be rolled, pressed, and fully dried into the form you see them in your home.
One thing I find especially interesting about green tea is the many different shapes the leaves can end up in – you will find anything from a ball/pellet (dragon pearls or gunpowder) to thin, needle-like spears (sencha) to a flattened, narrow leaf (dragonwell). Another form it can be found in is as a powder (matcha). The powdered matcha is used in Japanese tea ceremonies and seems to be most commonly found in Japan at this time. However, there was a time in Chinese history when powdered tea was the primary form that tea was consumed.
I think one reason I never enjoyed green teas until recently is that I was not preparing them correctly. Since the green teas are a more delicate tea (in a manner of speaking), they must be prepared with cooler water than heartier teas, such as black and pu-erh teas. It wasn’t until I started preparing my green tea properly that I found any green teas to my taste.
Yet now, after some effort and really just trying some finer teas for the sake of trying them, I’ve found that if you just put the right amount of thought into your preparation (as it turns out, it’s still not a whole lot), you can produce a delicious brew that surprises your senses!
And now, for one final note… a word from Kermit the Frog on being green!
1 The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook: A Guide to Enjoying the World’s Best Teas by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J Heiss.
2 The New Tea Companion by Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson
3 The Ancient Art of Tea: Wisdom From the Old Chinese Tea Masters by Warren Peltier
All photos by Briana Morrison