We have all seen it, some of us have drunk it, but what is it? There are rumours it can help with everything from weight loss to cancer and heart attacks. The cosmetics industry even put it in everything from cleansers and moisturisers to shampoo. But what is it and why does it taste so different to black tea?
What plant does green tea come from?
Green tea is made from the leaves of the Camilla Sinensis plant. In fact, all true tea comes from the same plant! This is an unassuming-looking evergreen bush that has its origins in China (Sinensis means from China). Much like fine wines, there are many factors that can affect the taste and quality of the tea. The weather, soil, altitude, shade and human elements like pandemics and worker shortages can all have an impact. This is why tea connoisseurs will seek out tea from their favourite tea gardens each season.
Specific tea gardens will also work to bring out certain flavours, by enhancing the shade or planting on particular hillsides and specific altitudes. There is a lot of science behind tea harvests! White, yellow, green, oolong, pu-erh and black tea are all harvested from the same plant. So if it all comes from basically the same plant, why does it look, smell and taste so different?
What is the difference between green and black tea?
All tea starts with freshly plucked green leaves, it is the processing that follows that defines the taste and look of the drink. It's all down to oxidation (sometimes called fermentation). Tea leaves contain enzymes that interact with oxygen. When a leaf is broken, crushed or rolled there will be oxidation. This process darkens the leaf and affects the flavour. The process stops once the leaf is heated and dried. So green teas are only lightly oxidised or fermented before being heated and dried. This leaves them a lovely green colour and a significantly different flavour to black tea.
How are green teas processed?
After harvest green teas must not be allowed to oxidise so are quickly processed. They are usually either steamed or pan-fried to stop the fermentation. Steaming is more prevalent in Japan and results in a bright green leaf and fresh vegetal aroma. Before steaming begins, the leaves are sorted and cleaned. The steaming time determines the type of tea that is produced. Sencha tea is normally steamed for 30-90 seconds. Steaming takes place in a bamboo tray over water or in more modern factories by a belt-conveyor type machine. After steaming, the leaves go into a cooling process that removes any excess water from the leaves. See Sencha or Kukicha for great examples.
Pan-frying is more common in China. After fermenting they use large woks over a flame or an electric wok. This leads to a nutty, slightly smokey flavour and a more grey leaf see Chun Mee for a great example.
Withering is also used, which spreads the tea leaves on racks of bamboo or woven straw to dry in the sun or using warm air. The leaves must be moved around to ensure uniform drying.
The leaves then go through several drying, rolling and shaping processes. It is important that the moisture content of the tea is less than 5%. The shape of the tea leaf also affects the flavour and storage of the tea. The leaves are sorted and graded before being packaged and sent to tea merchants (like us) so each tea merchant gets the grade and type of tea they require for their blends.
How do I brew green tea?
Making a cup of green tea is a little different to making black tea or coffee but it is simple to get all the health benefits from the brew. Hopefully, your tea packet has a basic guide as green teas do differ. All of our packaging has a guide on the side, consider this a starting point but feel free to experiment with time and temperature until you find your perfect brew. As a general rule, YOU MUST NOT USE BOILING WATER, this will make green tea bitter! If you like a less astringent brew, nice and smooth try a sencha at 70 degrees for 2 min. If you like something more robust and nutty try a Chun Mee at 80 degrees for 3 min. For more advice on how to make a better brew read our 5 step guide here.
Green tea is usually not served with sugar and never with milk. It may be decorated or flavoured with the addition of other plants like fruits, herbs or flowers. We offer several naturally flavoured green tea blends. These can be very helpful if you enjoy the health benefits of green tea but are still not sure about the taste. With many green teas, it is expected that you will re-steep the same leaves. With most green teas you can expect to get 3 or 4 cups of tea as a minimum.
We hope that has answered your green tea questions but if you still have a thirst for tea knowledge you can sign up to our mailing list here or follow one of our social media channels from here. Thank you so much for reading and if you enjoyed it, why not share it with a friend.