What is Green Tea? A Comprehensive Tea Profile
Green tea has been cultivated for centuries in a number of different countries. But even with a history that spans thousands of years, the question still looms, what is Green tea? In order to answer this, we trace back the early beginnings of tea. Whilst covering the history, we specifically focus on the Chinese origins with a brief mention of Japanese green tea production.
Following on from here, we explore the varieties of the camellia sinensis plant and how the tea leaves are eventually harvested for processing. Due to the popularity of both teas, we provide a comprehensive profile of both Chinese and Japanese oxidation methods and the subsequent categories of teas that are produced.
In doing this, we mention some of the most popular Chinese and Japanese teas available on the market today. We finish this article with a detailed guide on how to brew and store green tea.
History of Green Tea
The beginning of the history of green tea can be traced back to China. Tea was discovered in Chin, situated in the mountains of Sichuan and Yunnan. Yunnan Province is recognized as "the birthplace of tea…the first area where humans figured out that eating tea leaves or brewing a cup could be pleasant." According to ancient legend, the discovery of tea occurred in China in the year 2737 B.C.
The Emporer at the time, Shen Nung, was relaxing under the shade of a camellia tree when a leaf fell into his cup of hot water. The subsequent concoction gave a delicate color and aroma. The Emperor tried the tea and found it to be delicious. However, it wasn’t until the 14th century that green tea became popular in China.
It was during the Tang Dynasty that tea drinking became ingrained in Chinese culture. A further reference to this can be traced back to Lu Yu who produced a book known as “The Classics of Tea” which has been considered to be one of the most important documents in the history of green tea. In particular, Lu Yu described how to properly brew a cup of green tea, how it is to be served, the correct cultivation methods and the subsequent medicinal properties that can be extracted from a cup of tea.
Furthermore, the Tang Dynasty witnessed the beginning of tea ceremonies and it was during this era that the steaming of tea leaves began in China. Steaming the tea leaves halts the oxidation process which can help the young tea leaves stay green and stops them turning dark.
This process resulted in better quality, more refined tea. Originally, tea would have been made with dry leaves and then pressed into a cake after production to help transport the tea without it being damaged. However, you can still purchase teas in a similar form, most notably pu-erh.
It was until the 18th century that Japanese tea producers introduced similar steaming production processes to “fix the green” and halt the oxidation process. At this point, however, the Chinese began to roast and bake tea leaves to fix the green.
In contemporary times, the most common ways to produce green tea still involves either steaming or pan firing the camellia sinensis tea leaves. Each process produces a unique, delicious taste.
You can read more about the history of tea and the role it played in the British Empire.
Just like all true tea, such as Black, White and Oolong tea, Green tea comes from the Camellia Sinensis plant leaves. The camellia sinesis primarily grows in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Ultimately, there are two types of the camellia sinensis plant: (1) camellia sinensis var. sinensis native to China but also found in Japan; and (2) camellia sinensis var. assamica native to India.
Both camellia plants differ in terms of aroma, taste and colour. In relation to this, sinensis sinesis has smaller leaves, grows in cooler climates and is typically used for white or green tea; whereas assamica has larger leaves, grows in warmer climates and is typically used for Black tea. If that’s not enough, Chinese Green teas are reported to originate from hundreds of sub-variations of the camellia sinensis var. sinensis plant.
Green Tea Harvesting
Green tea leaves are harvested three to four times per year in cycles known as flushes (growing seasons). Every flush is determined by its location, climate and region of where the camellia sinensis plant is grown. There is the first flush (Shincha, “new tea”) which provides a light, clear and floral tea (March to April), second flush which is dark, strong and fruity (May to June) and third flush which has a dark coppery texture and provides a light flavour (September to November). The first flush is deemed the most desirable as it’s leaves are young and of a higher taste and flavour. Aside from this, in some tropical areas the leaves can be plucked all year round.
Generally, it is the tip (bud) and upper (younger) leaves which are harvested for processing. When it comes to processing, the difference between green and traditional tea lies in the withering and oxidation process used to produce each tea. When the tea leaves destined for green tea are picked, they aren’t left for long to wither and are steamed or pan fired quickly to stop them turning black (oxidize).
This process results in Green tea being one of the least oxidized teas available. From here, the tea is either pressed flat, rolled or twisted into various shapes before being dried and packaged for distribution. However, it is important to note that methods used to oxidise green tea are typically either Chinese or Japanese; with other tea producing countries replicating either of these processes.
Japanese Green Tea
Japanese Green Tea is typically steamed. In particular, Sencha is a popular style of Green tea with 80% of the green tea produced in Japan being made into Sencha. Sencha tea is grown in direct sunlight; whereas other Japenese tea, such as Matcha and Gyokuru is cultivated in the shade. Sencha is characterized by first or second flush, ungrounded tea leaves which are steamed within hours of being plucked.
By steaming the leaves quickly, it provides a rich green like colour. It has been suggested that the steaming method lasts less than a minute and ensures a sweet, vegetal, grassy taste with a colour which can differ from a pale, delicate green to a bright green yellow. Japanese Tea can be steamed at 3 levels: (1) Asamushi – light steamed; (2) Chumushi – mid steamed; and (3) Fukamushi – deep steamed, two to three times.
After the steaming process, tea leaves are dried, rolled and shaped to extract vital juices which aid in heightening the taste and flavour of Japanese Green Tea.
Some Types of Japanese Green Tea Explained:
Gyokuru: This tea is made from the first flush (i.e. Shincha) of tea leaves which have been shaded in the final month before plucking to ensure a sweet and delicious taste. The leaf is rolled into a needle-like shape and is known to be the highest quality tea available. It has an intense green colour and comes with a sweet flavour.
Matcha: This tea consists of finely grounded green tea powder and is used with tencha (i.e., shaded like Gyokuru) tea leaves. Matcha has a rich, vegetal flavour and has been used for Japanese tea ceremonies. Subsequently, you can buy Matcha with a ceremonial grade, much like our true organic Matcha green tea.
Bancha: This tea is made from the later flush of tea leaves at the end of summer and beginning of autumn. This tea contains more stems and firm, larger leaves which tend to have been discarded from Sencha production. It is known as less astringent and more aromatic than Sencha. Nevertheless, Bancha is appreciated in Japan for its robust flavour.
Geinmaicha: The popcorn of the loose leaf tea world. A blended tea made from second flush Bancha tea leaves and roasted brown rice (genmai). This tea has a nutty taste with a toasted, sweet flavour. Once known as poor people’s tea in Japan, this is now enjoyed by all of society.
Kukicha: This is known as twig or stalk tea. The stems, stalks and twigs come mainly from Sencha or Matcha production. Kukicha is also known as Bōcha. This tea contains nearly no caffeine and provides a light yellow, golden cup with a nutty taste.
Hojicha: This Japanese Green Tea has been pan fired instead of steamed and gives a toasty flavour and aroma. It is usually created from roasting Bancha; but can also be made using Kukicha or Sencha. Even though it’s a Green tea, it provides a reddish-brown coloured cup due it being roasted at high temperatures. The roasted flavour this provides depends on the level the tea has been roasted.
The process of steaming Japanese Green tea leaves
Chinese Green Tea
Chinese Green Tea is pan-fired which is where the tea leaves can be placed into a basket and heated at a high temperature. Instruments used to pan fire Chinese green tea can vary, but most notably used is a large wok-like instrument. Ultimately, this pan firing method is used to halt the oxidation process.
Interestingly, tea leaves can be pan fired more than once during the oxidation process, but this is entirely dependent on the type of tea being produced. For instance, pan-fired green tea, such as China Dragonwell, can be heated a high temperature of 180 degrees for 3-4 minutes. In terms of taste, Chinese green teas are known to be less vegetative and house a nutty, roasted flavour with a dark green colour.
Some Types of Chinese Green Tea Explained:
Chun Mee: This classic organic China Green tea, grown in South Eastern China by the Yangtze river is hand rolled to create its “precious eyebrows” shape which it is famous for. The leaves are twisted and pan fired; leaving it to produce a clean and bright yellow cup with an after taste of sweet plums. If the tea is too strong, you can empty out the first brew and enjoy the second, milder cup afterwards.
Gunpowder: The name Gunpowder comes from the story of a young English clerk who believed the tiny round balls looked like pellets of gunpowder. Gunpowder tea is fired in metal tumblers and rollers which results in the tea becoming tightly rolled into small pellets.
The pellets were originally rolled by hand to preserve quality and keep the freshness and flavour. retained. When softened with water, the gunpowder pellets will unravel and provide a light grassy infusion with a robust harshness. Soften leaves by rinsing with hot water first and re-infuse several times.
Pan frying technique for Chinese Green tea
Green Tea Caffeine Content
Green tea has around 35 – 50mg of caffeine content per 200ml cup. But this is entirely dependent on the type of green tea, length of brewing time and the processing methods used for the green tea itself.
It has been suggested that the amino acid L-thenanine is responsible for the notion that green tea contains more caffeine than coffee, due to the capacity of L-thenanine to increase alertness and focus. Green tea is still relatively low in caffeine content to its counterparts.
Types of Green Tea
Some of our green tea flavours include:
1. Mint & Green Tea Gunpowder
A refreshing combination of high grade gunpowder and mint. This beverage can also be enjoyed as an iced tea on hot, sunny days.
2. Mighty Mango Sencha Green Tea
This teas sencha basis is surrounded by bright sunflower blossoms which relax in harmony with a fruity mango flavor.
3. Tropical Sundance China Green Tea
An exotic sencha green tea which provides a rich tropical experience. Expect: pineapple pieces, coconut pieces and sunflowers.
4. Ramblin’ Rose Sencha Green Tea
This sencha green tea is smothered in rose buds and captures the limelight with its golden-green cup and soothingly soft light flavor.
How to Brew Green Tea
All of our loose-leaf tea comes with brewing instructions; but nevertheless, there is a general consensus on how to brew Green tea.
First of all, scoop one tablespoon of loose Green tea and place it into an infuser or empty tea bag. Make sure that you boil the kettle to reach a temperature of 80°C. But this temperature can differ between certain green teas.
All of the Green tea we supply contains information and brewing instructions. If uncertain about the temperature, remove the kettle before it reaches the boil.
Pour the water into your tea cup first, this will avoid scoldering the tea leaves. Place the infuser inside the tea cup and let it steep for from 20-30 seconds to 3-5 minutes. It is important to note that high quality green tea can typically be infused more than once.
When your Green tea has finished steeping, enjoy it on its own or add lemon, although this will take the natural flavour away. Some of our green tea range also includes added flavors, such as: Chocolate, Roses or Cherries.
In a nut shell:
1) Scoop one tablespoon of Green tea
2) Boil the kettle to 80°C
3) Pour the water into a cup
4) Place the infuser inside from 2-30 secs to 3-5 minutes
5) Remove the infuser and add flavouring if desired
Interestingly, tea and coffee establishments also offer green tea in alternative forms, such as green tea lattes, espressos and cappuccinos. If you would like more information on tea brewing methods, you can read our article on the introduction to loose leaf tea.
How to Store Green Tea
It is important to make sure Green tea stays as fresh as possible. This can be achieved by using an airtight storage container which would also block out light, such as a tea caddy. For instance, the tea in our subscription boxes comes in air sealed brown bags which prevent air from escaping and the tea being subject to any light.
If you receive tea in clear sealed bags, make sure they are stored away from light in a storage cupboard. Other negative factors to bear in mind is condensation, humidity and cold temperatures.
It is generally advised not to keep your tea more than 6 months, primarily so you can enjoy the optimum freshness. But tea can be consumed 2 years after purchase.
If you're interested in discovering more green tea, then you can receive a selection of four various green teas to your door every month through our tea subscription service.
We have a huge selection of loose tea available. With new and exciting teas and infusions for all tea lovers.
We also have Black, White teas, Oolong, Rooibos selections, fruit Infusions and specialist teas. Whether it be delicate and aromatic, rich and fruity, or light and refreshing, there’s something for everyone.
Visit our Monthly Tea Subscription page to find out more.