What is Green Tea?
Green tea is one of the most ancient beverages in the world. Green tea, black tea, oolong, white and pu’er, all are cultivated from the same plant, called the Camellia Sinensis. The unique taste of each tea comes from the regions where they grow and the way they are processed. This highlights the nature of the land on which it grows and the craft that it takes to coax the best from each leaf.
Nowadays, green tea is loved all over the world because of its taste and amazing health benefits (which we will be covering as well). Drinking green tea has become a connection to the land where it is grown, parts of rituals and ceremonies, and an experience of a fine taste. This guide to green tea provides an overview of the history, the types of green tea, the health benefits and the most popular accessories used to brew this tea.
Origins & History
The history of green tea offers great insight into the history of China and the Japanese cultures. According to one popular legend, green tea was first discovered by the ancient Emperor Shen Nong of China in 2737 BC when its leaves were carried by the wind into his kettle of boiling water. After tasting the accidentally prepared brew, he celebrated tea as a tonic and recorded it in his encyclopedia of medicine.
As the legend grew, it traveled the world, conquering the teapots and kettles of virtually every person in the world.
Green tea has become one of the most popular beverages across the globe. And, with its countless health benefits, its popularity continues to grow.
Because of its popularity and soothing qualities, the monks and priests made it an integral part of their religious ceremonies and rituals. It was centuries later that green tea production rose and the common folks were able to enjoy drinking this much revered beverage. This led to the building of tea shops and planting more tea plants to meet the increasing demands of the people.
It was during the Tang Dynasty (7th Century – 10th Century) that green tea was brought to Japan by the priests. The Emperor of Japan loved green tea so much he started a trade with China to import tea seeds from China so they may be grown in Japan as well. People who drank green tea regularly in those days noted they not only felt better and more energetic than those who didn’t, they also lived longer and healthier lives.
What Separates Green Tea from Other Teas?
Apart from its unique green colored leaves and the color of the brew, green tea is one of the most un-oxidized products of the Camellia Sinensis plant. Most other teas are completely or mostly oxidized and are processed to give them their unique flavor. Green tea, however, is lightly processed and not oxidized, resulting in it having the most antioxidants of the entire tea family. It is healthier as it has less caffeine but a higher quantity of EGCG.
Because of the full leaves of green tea, the essential minerals remain. This ensures a superior and distinct ‘grassy’ flavor compared to others. The best way to compare the two types of teas in relation to flavor is to brew a few glasses of green tea and other teas. The aroma alone will help you distinguish the natural quality of the brewed beverages.
Where is Green Tea Grown?
Green tea is among the most famous type teas in the world. It comes from both China and Japan, with regions having their own varieties and their own unique tastes. For example, Matcha tea is the most popular green tea in Japan, while in China the most popular is the Dragonwell green tea. Green tea is mostly grown in the mountainous regions of China and Japan. They are handpicked and thinly spread under a shade and left to dry naturally by air. The drying time is short because the leaves, if left for long periods of time, will oxidize and the leaves will no longer be used to make green tea.
The leaves are then taken for the firing process, which dries the leaves and readies them for export. These leaves are processed over burning wood and coal but nowadays, due to the high demand and production, the process is carried out in large ovens and tumblers. Every region which produces green tea has a unique flavor of its own. The season and the soil of the land give the plants a taste of their own and it is because of this there are thousands of varieties of green tea in the world today.
China is the birthplace of tea and has the oldest tea traditions known to mankind. Green tea has been enjoyed as both a revitalizing and a healthy drink for more than 3,000 years. The regions of China most famous for growing green tea are the provinces of Zhejiang, Shandong, Shanxi, Fujian and Anhui. These regions have been producing green tea for generations and as a result have some of the best quality green teas in the world.
After tea leaves and their seeds were brought to Japan during the 8th century, the people of the region have been growing tea plants to this day. The most ancient region where the tea is grown in Japan is the Shizuoka district, the region which lies under the shadow of the Holy Mount Fuji. This is the area where almost half of Japan’s tea plants are grown. Other important regions are Kyoto’s district of Uji and the region of Kagoshima on the island of Kyushu.
Types of Green Tea
Green tea has the most varieties of all teas and it is said China alone has more than a thousand different versions of green tea. Each has its own unique taste and aroma so anyone who does not like a particular type of tea will have a lot more to choose from. China and Japan are the two biggest producers of green tea in the world. Let’s have a look at their most famous types of green teas.
Chinese Green Tea
Being the foremost producer and exporter of green tea, China is famous for giving the world the gift of this amazing beverage as it benefits the lives of millions. The most famous green teas of China are as follows:
Also known as Longjing tea, Dragonwell is a type of green tea that is produced by hand and is the most famous tea in China. It is the highest quality tea available coming from China and has earned the status of Gong Cha, or Imperial Tea during the Qing Dynasty. Like other Chinese green teas, it is roasted on pans and left for natural oxidation. They are unfermented and have the highest quantity of vitamin C, catechins and amino acids. There are six types of Longjing green teas namely: Xihu Longjing, Pre-Qingming Longjing, Shi Feng Longjing, Meijiawu Longjing, Bai Longjing and Qiantang Longjing.
Hailing from the province of Zhejiang, Gunpowder tea is one of the classic green teas of China. It takes its name from its petals being rolled into the shape of gun pellets, giving it a unique shape and look. Its brew is also smoky and smooth.
Gunpowder tea dates goes back as far as the 6th Century Tang Dynasty, where it was revered by the Emperor of the time. The leaves are steamed, withered, rolled and then dried. All the processes are done by hand to make it one of the highest quality green teas in the market. Even though most of the work is now done by machines, there are still parts of China where the work is done by hand. There are 3 famous varieties of Gunpowder tea, namely Pingshui Gunpowder, Formosa gunpowder and Ceylon gunpowder.
Kai Hua Long Ding
Kai Hua Long Ding is among the most famous green teas in China and is quickly gaining recognition in other parts of the world as well. In China, it is also known by the name Dragon Peak. It comes from the province of Zhejiang, the biggest producer of green tea in China. It has a sweet and flowery taste which gives its drinker a relaxing and soothing feeling, the best beverage to wash away the stress of a hard day’s work.
Hou Kui (Monkey Tea)
The Hou Kui, also known as the Monkey King and the Monkey Tea, is grown in the foothills of the Tai Ping county of China. This delightful green tea is handpicked in the mountains that are over 500m ground level. This tea has been cultivated since the 13th Century Ming Dynasty. Unlike other green teas, the leaves are pressed individually between two pieces of mesh, resulting in a tea that is floral, sweet and grassy.
Bi Luo Chun
Another one of the most famous teas in China, Bi Luo Chu tea originally comes from the Dongting mountain regions of the Jiangsu area. First brewed during the 16th Century Qing Dynasty period, the Emperor gave it the name of ‘Green Snail Spring’ due to its floral aroma, fruity taste and delicate appearance. There are seven grades of Biluochun tea, namely Supreme, Supreme I, Grade I, Grade II, Grade III, Chao Qing I, and Chao Qing II, in decreasing order.
Japanese Green Tea
Japan is the 2nd largest green tea producer and exporter in the world. The green tea coming from Japan is of the same high quality as that of China but is unique in its own flavor and aroma. The following green teas are Japan’s most famous products:
Sencha is one of the most famous and the best in quality green teas in Japan. They are harvested from the Shizuoka district in the early summer season. It has a clean, brothy texture with a refreshing green aroma which gives it a sweet and tender flavor. There are eight grades of Sencha coming from Japan. They are as follows:
- Shincha or Ichibancha. First-picked Sencha of the year
- Toku Jô Sencha. Extra superior Sencha
- Jô Sencha. Superior Sencha
- Kabuse Sencha or Kabusecha covered Sencha
- Asamushi lightly steamed Sencha
- Chumushi. Mildly steamed for 30-90 seconds
- Hachijuhachiya Sencha. Harvested after 88 days (respectively nights) after springs begin
- Fukamushi or fukamushicha. Deeply steamed Sencha for 1 to 2 minutes
Also known as the Imperial Tea, Gyokuro is a shaded green tea grown under the shade, away from the sun’s rays. It is among the most expensive of all green teas coming from Japan as it is made from the finest leaves. Because it is grown in the shade, Gyokuro teas have high levels of chlorophylls and amino acids. It has a rich, soft and smooth flavor, with little to no harsh flavor. The specialized varieties of Gyokuro are Asahi, Okumidori, Yamakai, and Saemidori.
Harvested from the same grade tree as the Sencha green tea, it is however harvested between the summer and autumn seasons as Sencha is harvested first during the start of summer. Bancha has 22 grades of teas, having their own unique aroma and taste. The highest quality Bancha has a strong smell and is readily available all over the world.
Matcha tea is gaining immense popularity due to its health benefits and amazing flavor. Even though tea is a word that brings to mind images of dried leaves brewing in hot water in a tea pan or a tea kettle, Matcha tea, on the other hand, is a green tea powder that, rather than brewing in hot water, is whisked, which creates an intense version of green tea. The gentle process used to prepare Matcha ensures more than 90% of the antioxidants remain intact, while the EGCG reaches super-charged levels due to the grinding process.
Matcha tea typically comes in three different grades:
• Thick or Ceremonial
• Ingredient or Culinary
(View our full Matcha Green Tea Guide)
Also known as the Brown rice tea because it is fused with roasted brown rice. Originally genmaicha was mostly drunk by the poor Japanese, but is now consumed by everyone, regardless of their stature. It has a mild flavor and the brew is light yellow. It is sometimes sold with Matcha as it adds to the flavor a stronger green brew.
Houjicha differs from other green teas in the way it is roasted. The leaves are kept in a pot and roasted over charcoal. Though most Japanese green teas are steamed, this tea is roasted over charcoal to give it a brown red color. This process started in Kyoto during the 1920s and has become popular among the populace. Houjicha has low amounts of caffeine because of this particular process. It has a mild flavor and is usually served during the evening or before bedtime because of its soothing and relaxing effects.
Also known as Bocha and the twig tea, it comprises of twigs, stems and stalks. These are parts of the tea plant which are discarded when making other types of teas. Therefore, Kukicha was born to utilize those discarded parts to make a brew which stands on its own as one of Japan’s favorite green teas. These leftovers are taken from the production of Matcha and Sencha. This combination of twigs, stems and stalks gives it a sweet nutty taste. It has naturally low caffeine content and does not require any industrial decaffeination.
Health Benefits of Green Tea
The health benefits of green tea have been known and valued in Japan and China since ancient times. With its delicate taste, flavorful aroma and numerous health benefits, green tea is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after teas in the world. Just like its sister teas, Black tea and White tea, green tea is processed from the same Camellia Sinensis plant. However, white tea is the least processed of all teas and therefore packs the most nutrients and minerals. Even though the health benefits of drinking green tea are numerous, here are five benefits which will make you want to drink it on a daily basis:
√ Better Heart Health
Preventing the hardening of the arteries and the thinning of the blood are two of the most important roles green tea plays to protect your heart. Researchers around the world have discovered people who drink at least three cups of green tea a day have a lower risk of heart related diseases than those who don’t.
√ Cancer Prevention
According to research, green tea is packed with high levels of antioxidants and has shown to be quite effective at fighting cancer. It lowers the growth of cells which may mutate and cause tumors and abnormal growth effectively. Green tea is the least processed of all teas, making it the tea with the highest concentration of nutrients and minerals.
√ Fights Free Radicals
Green tea comes with a whole army of protective agents that hunt free radicals down and neutralize them. Green tea has the highest concentration of antioxidants, the most essential and natural cancer fighter in the world. When you drink green tea, the antioxidants fight the free radicals in your body that can go around wreaking havoc to your organs and damaging your DNA.
√ Reduces Blood Pressure and Cholesterol
Blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a medical condition that doctors call the silent killer. Known as such because it has no warning signs and people don’t have the slightest idea or symptom they have it or not. The negative effects of this condition can be eased by drinking green tea. This will ensure your blood pressure does not jump up. Because green tea thins the blood, it makes it easier for the heart to pump the blood all over the body. This lowers the blood pressure, resulting in lower risk of a stroke.
As cholesterol is also essential for a healthy body, green tea only does its work on the bad cholesterol while increasing the good cholesterol. Another group of antioxidants green tea is rich in are called Catechins. These have been shown to reduce bad cholesterol. This helps in preventing the blockage of blood and hardening of the arteries in the heart.
√ Good for the Gums and the Skin
The free radicals (as mentioned before) are also responsible for stressing out and damaging the skin. The antioxidants in green tea also fight free radicals in the skin to prevent you from looking 40 when you should be looking 30. It protects the skin and helps reverse the damage to the skin.
√ Fights and Lowers Stress
Want to relieve stress? Brew a cup of warm green tea to alleviate your mood and relax. Green tea has levels of natural polyphenols which help improve the mental agility and focus of the person consuming it. This amino acid binds to the places that release the stress chemicals and in turn decreases the excretion of these stress causing chemicals.
Green tea has high concentrations of caffeine which improve one’s performance and mental alertness. If you want to stay alert during work or want to jumpstart your day, sipping a cup of green tea is the best way to keep your mind alert.
What to Consider When Buying Green Tea?
It is better not to buy open green tea from any local store. Chances are the quality of the green tea will not be as good as the supreme quality ones. When buying green tea, go for the purest and highest quality types of green tea. The pure ones will contain all the health benefits mentioned above, whereas buying highly processed green tea won’t be as beneficial as it loses its supreme level quality.
When buying green tea, the most important aspects to consider are:
• The location where the tea plants are grown and picked
• The elevation of the plants
• The picking and drying process
• The method of processing the green tea leaves
• The oxygen exposure time
The location where the tea plant is grown is essential to its quality. The upper part of the tea bush needs to be supple and soft to ensure fine texture with high quality. The green teas made from these leaves have the best flavor and are of the highest quality. Unlike other teas, pure supreme grade green tea leaves are left to dry in the sun. All efforts are made to ensure the leaves are not oxidized too much as that will decrease the levels of antioxidants. For this reason, the leaves are mostly dried naturally. This leaves the leaves in a fine green color.
If the tea leaves are not properly roasted, they will be of a poor quality as they will not brew the same quality tea. This is why green tea leaves are roasted at a slow pace to avoid overheating due to the high temperature of the pan or pots. Once the processes have been completed, the green tea leaves are immediately packed and shipped. This immediate packing reduces oxygen exposure time, ensuring supreme quality. When purchasing green tea, make sure the brand/company you are buying from follows the above-mentioned process. This ensures you are buying the highest quality green tea.
Popular Green Tea Accessories/Teaware
The Japanese and the Chinese have been enjoying green tea for both medicinal and spiritual reasons. The accessories and culinary used by the people back then are still being used as they have become a part of the tea drinking culture and the tradition of not only Japan and China, but also for people living in other parts of the world. However, there are some tea brewing culinary items which have been used since ancient times and have been passed down generation to generation to this day.
The name ‘Yixing’ comes from the region of Yixing in China where teapots were first made using the clay unique to that region. Historically, Yixing is famous for its clay teapots, and has been used to brew green tea since ancient times.
(View our comprehensive Yixing Teapot User Guide)
The word Kyusu simply means ‘teapot’ and it has been used since the first Japanese monks started brewing tea. Most commonly used in Japan, unlike other teapots, which have handles on their tops or backs, Kyusu teapot’s handle is at its side. The side handle is usually quite large to keep the person pouring tea from getting burnt when holding the teapot.
Avid tea brewers believe the best tea is made in Tetsubin teapots and because this teapot is made with natural iron, the water boiled in it gives off a unique taste, resulting in the tea brewed to taste better than when brewed in other teapots or kettles. These cast iron teapots allowed the people of the time to keep the water warm so they could pour the water over the loose tea leaves. This has led to the Tetsubin becoming a part of traditional Japanese Tea Ceremonies.
Traditional Matcha Green Tea Accessories
• Bamboo Scoop
• Whisk & Whisk Holder
• Hand Strainer
• Strainer Can
• Matcha Bowls
Apart from regular use, green tea has become a part of the culture of people all over the world. What started out in China and Japan is now a part of the global community, transcending all barriers and part of everyday lives across the globe. Drinking and enjoying green tea is a ritual which can performed throughout the day.
For a lot of people, the time they take out to brew tea is how they relax during and after their hectic/busy days. The preparation itself is just the first step in the natural wellness green tea offers. The best part comes after a nice brew: the joy of the perfect aroma and taste of your favorite green tea.
Regular consumption of green tea is one of the reasons the people of Japan and China live long and healthy lives. For thousands of years, green tea has been benefiting the people of Japan and China and its neighboring regions. Now that it is available all over the globe, it is time for you to start benefiting from the numerous benefits of drinking green tea.
What is your favorite green tea? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.