As explained in our Tea Primer and our post on Black tea, green tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant, just like other types of tea. It looks and tastes very different, though. In this post, we will learn why and how to find a green tea that you love.
Most of the processing steps for green tea are similar to those for other teas. That includes:
- Plucking/picking the tea leaves
- Withering/dehydrating the tea leaves
- Rolling/shaping the tea leaves
- Final drying of the tea leaves
One step that is missing from this list is Oxidation. This is the hallmark characteristic of black teas and is what makes those teas dark in color, aroma and flavor. Green tea, on the other hand, does not undergo any oxidation. These teas are, therefore, considered Unoxidized.
As the enzymes that are responsible for oxidation are present in all tea leaves, the makers of green tea must do something to inactivate these enzymes and thereby prevent oxidation. The way this is done is by the application of heat. There are two basic methods to achieve this.
- This method involves the application of dry heat to the leaves, often called pan-firing.
- In contrast, this method relies upon steam heat to inactivate the enzymes.
- Steam heat also makes other changes that result in tea that is greener in color and flavor.
- This is one reason why Japanese green teas are often felt to taste more like spinach or seaweed than Chinese green teas.
Japanese green tea differentiates itself in another way. Their teas are either grown in open fields with full sunlight or they undergo a period where the tea bushes are shaded from the bright sun.
Full sun - This is the majority of Japanese green teas and includes Sencha, Bancha and Hojicha.
Shade-grown teas include Matcha and Gyokuro.
- Being exposed to less sunlight causes some chemical changes. It reduces the rate of photosynthesis and forces the plants to produce a higher concentration of chlorophyll. This results in decreased levels of compounds called polyphenols and increased levels of caffeine. At the same time, there is an increased amount of theanine produced. This is an amino acid that promotes a sense of calm and mitigates the stimulating effect of caffeine.
- The lower polyphenols mean less astringency but the increased caffeine can cause bitterness.
- All of this means that the flavor profiles of shade-grown teas are unique and different from those grown in the sun. They are considered more full-bodied with an umami-rich flavor.
Although the main two growing regions for green tea are China and Japan, other countries also produce green tea. At English Tealeaves, we offer green tea from India as well as China and Japan. I will highlight just a few.
China – the names of Chinese green teas might be related to the growing region, the shape of the tea leaf or even a Chinese legend.
- This is one of our most popular Chinese green teas and is often #1 on the list of China’s most famous teas. It is said to be the most frequently copied tea. Therefore, much of the Dragonwell on the market may not originate from the traditional place of origin.
- Other names include Lung Ching, Longjing, Long Jing Shi Feng and Dragon’s Well.
- One of the most popular explanations of the name is that during a severe drought around 250 AD, a Taoist priest told desperate farmers they could end it by praying to the dragon who lived in a nearby well. When the rains came, the well became famous. The Dragonwell monastery still stands next to the well. Visitors are shown that swirling their hands in the pool of water creates a dragon-like appearance that then disappears. This is thought to be because the underground well water is denser than the top rainwater. Stirring the waters creates an unusual twisting effect that looks like a dragon as the denser water sinks again.
- It has a sweet and slightly flowery flavor.
- This name comes from the tea’s appearance in that the leaves have been rolled to look like gunpowder pellets.
- It is sometimes called Green Pearl tea, again due to its shape.
- It has a somewhat smoky flavor as compared to other green teas.
- This tea is named for the village where it is grown. It is located in the Northern Fujian province where it is hilly and mountainous. It is one of the top tea-growing provinces in China and is also known as Huang Tian.
- According to the story, many years ago the village and people of Huang Tian were relocated from their original location because a hydro-electric dam was being constructed. This resulted in the flooding of the old village. The villagers decided to grow tea in their new mountainous location. They grow and maintain the tea bushes in a very natural manner without fertilizers or pesticides. Part of the proceeds from the sale of their tea goes back to the village to support them in various ways.
- There is only one tea supplier outside of China that is privileged to carry this tea and we, fortunately, can obtain it from this company. According to them, as a result of their natural farming practices, a special kind of mushroom now known as the “tea tree mushroom” began to grow. The villagers can make additional revenue through the sales of this mushroom.
- This means “infused tea” and is 80% of Japan’s production.
- We carry two varieties – our regular sencha and a sencha shinryoku (fresh green.)
- Shinryoku is our premium sencha from the first harvest of the season. It is grown at a high elevation in the prestigious tea region of Honyama, Shizuoka. It is a tea that is well balanced between flavor and body with a natural sweetness.
- An interesting tea that is a blend of Bancha with roasted brown rice.
- Bancha is similar to sencha but a much lower grade of tea that is made either from stiff leaves of old growth harvested during the 2nd and 3rd crops in summer and autumn or from coarser leaves separated out as a byproduct of the sencha tea production.
- It is said to have been developed during WWII as tea supplies dwindled and housewives looked for ways to stretch their remaining tea. Brown rice was roasted and added to the green tea leaves.
Gyokuro - also known as Precious Dew or Jade Dew
- Soon after the first new shoots appear on the tea bushes in early April, the entire crop of Gyokuro is covered with canopies and surrounded by curtains to obstruct about 90% of the sunlight.
- It is harvested only once a year in early spring.
- It is considered to be the highest grade of Japanese tea.
- The flavor profile is a naturally sweet umami taste with little bitterness. However, this can vary between very sweet or bitter depending on how you brew it.
- Good quality Gyokuro will have a taste and aroma of seaweed.
Darjeeling tea is a tea that is grown in the Darjeeling region of India. Although we typically associate the name Darjeeling with black tea, it does not have to be. As explained in our Tea Primer, the leaves from the Camellia Sinensis plant can be made into any type of tea depending on the processing method.
- A very nice tea harvested in the late summer or autumn.
- The producer describes it as “a full-bodied but mellow cup with a flowery bouquet and undertones of malt to end the year with lingering notes of caramel and chocolate.”
- This is a unique green tea from the Darjeeling region of India that began as a mistake. According to the producer, a new cabinet dryer caused the mistake. The tea maker was going to throw it out but decided to taste it and ended up loving it.
- It has a very complex taste of roasted nut with floral notes.
If you have ever wanted to start to drink green tea, we have 11 varieties from which to choose. There is something for every palate. Stop in and we will help you find the one you love.