About Green Teas [+]
Green teas (lü cha) are well-known for their fresh grassy flavor and health benefits. In China, people drink green tea for its anti-inflammatory properties and consider it a tea that helps cool the body.
Farmers predominantly produce lü cha throughout China, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia during the spring growing season. That is March through May. Today, China is by far the leading country in this tea production, followed by Japan.
Tea artisans employ various methods of firing the freshly harvested leaves to prevent the naturally occurring oxidation process and preserve the leaf's fresh green qualities.
Green tea is the only unoxidized tea type compared to other tea types. We categorize green teas by the following firing methods and craftsmanship techniques: steamed, pan-fired, oven-baked, half-roasted, half-baked, hot-air roasted, and sun-dried.
History of Asian Tea — Lu Cha
Green tea is known to be the oldest tea type in existence. It is also by far the most popular tea type in both China and Japan. Roughly until the 17th century, most of the tea in China was green tea. As foreign trade expanded, Chinese farmers invented a new production process involving the oxidation of tea leaves. The result was the birth of black tea. It had a wonderfully sweet taste and aroma that lasted longer. It could also sustain the long months of traveling to Europe.
Now that teas can be quickly shipped and transported, people worldwide can enjoy the fresh taste of lü cha almost immediately after harvest.
Green tea originated very long ago, preceding Black, White, Oolong, and Pu-erh teas. Now, it is practically impossible to trace it back to its roots. However, there are various legends associated with this tea's inception. Some tell of a tea leaf falling into a cup of hot water. On the other hand, others speak of a man who ate a leaf and thought it would taste delicious if steeped in water.
No matter which legend is true, green tea was camellia sinensis leaves steeped or cooked in hot water thousands of years ago. At that time, people did not yet know how to process the leaves as they do today, and the leaves have not undergone oxidization. It was tea in its most natural form.
The first tangible notes on lü cha history date back to the Western Zhou dynasty (1046-771 BC). It states that the people of Ba kingdom (today's Northern Sichuan) cultivated tea trees in gardens. During the Tang dynasty, people discovered that steaming the tea leaves would preserve the aroma and taste of the tea. However, steaming the leaves doesn't let the tea aroma fully develop. Therefore, people invented a new method, using dry heat to bring out the scent of tea or frying the tea. Those processing techniques co-existed during Tang and Song dynasties, with steaming tea still prevailing. They introduced teas with a fresh, unoxidized taste similar to modern lü cha. With time, the popularity of this refreshing Asian tea rapidly increased. In turn, production methods and tea processing have also continuously evolved and improved.
Tea drinking became a well-established part of Chinese culture and society by the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). During the Tang Dynasty, a more pronounced tea culture began formalizing with tea ceremonies. Naturally, the steaming technique of the tea leaves gradually progressed, allowing for better-tasting, less bitter, green teas. People enjoyed tea in powder form during this time, making a frothy tea commonly mixed with spices. Much similar to present-day matcha.
Lu Yu and the Cha Jing
During the Tang Dynasty, around 600 AD, an essential tea book appeared in China — the Cha Jing by Lu Yu, otherwise known as the Tea Classic. To this day, this book is highly revered by tea enthusiasts worldwide. Furthermore, it remains an important historical document and an insight into the daily Chinese life of the time.
In the book, Lu Yu describes in great detail how exactly to make and serve a cup of green tea. He lists necessary tea utensils, health benefits, and spiritual observations. Today we know Lu Yu as the true founder of tea art. In the tea industry, he gets the name "tea saint" or "tea sage".
Green Tea Production Process
Green tea is the only unoxidized tea type among the six types of tea.
For its production, tea masters first subject the raw leaves to fixing (or Sha Qing, 杀青), where they expose the leaves to a high temperature for varying periods of time. This stage halts the oxidation processes and lets the leaf retain its inner content. Depending on the green tea variety, the fixing can be done by steaming, baking, or pan-frying. The Japanese green teas usually use steaming (with some exceptions, like Hojicha and Kamaricha), while most Chinese green teas are pan-fried. Then, the tea masters knead the leaves, giving them the specific shape for each green tea type. This stage also removes the excessive water and lets the aroma and taste take shape. Finally, they dry the leaves and pack them to finish the processing.
Japanese Green Tea
Green tea made its way to Japan during the Heian Period (800s). However, it wasn't until the Kamakura period (in the early 1200s) that people truly began mastering it. Soon, it turned into an art form and a massive part of Japanese culture.
Green tea was brought to Japan by Buddhist monks. When it made its way to Japan, it arrived in the same form it existed in China — in powdered tea form. Otherwise, we know it as matcha.
Until the 17th century, people began drinking loose-leaf green tea, sencha. Drinking sencha made tea available to a broader audience, as matcha was known only to the elite.
Japanese green teas differ quite a lot from Chinese ones. Japanese green teas are usually a dark green tea color, with smaller, more fragile tea leaves. The taste is very grassy, with hints of seaweed and well-noticeable umami. We love Japanese teas, like gyokuro green tea and matcha, as they are great for getting tea high or tea drunk. Furthermore, matcha is an excellent energizing tea that helps you focus.
Today there exist countless types of lu cha. Gunpowder, Bi Luo Chun, Dragon Well Tea, and Dragon Pearl Jasmine Tea are the most widespread Chinese green teas. While Sencha, Genmaicha, Hojicha, and Matcha are the most popular types of Japanese green tea.
Does Green Tea Have Caffeine?
All teas made of the Camellia Sinensis tea plant have caffeine. Many new tea drinkers are under the impression that green tea contains either very little caffeine or, on the contrary, much more caffeine than black tea. However, caffeine content has nothing to do with the tea type.
Those teas that are made from young tea leaves and buds have, indeed, higher caffeine content. Furthermore, shaded, nitrogen-fertilized green teas also have more caffeine. This is more common in certain Japanese teas.
Is Tea Acidic?
Many people who enjoy drinking tea ask about the pH of tea (acidity of tea). Each tea type has a different pH level. For example, the acidity level of lu cha ranges from 7-10, while black tea is around 5. In general, loose leaf tea leans towards the alkaline side and is not acidic.
Does Tea Go Bad?
How long does loose leaf tea last? Teas don't go bad. But, at some point, they may start losing taste. All teas go stale sooner or later. However, teas go stale at different rates. For example, pu-erh, especially raw pu-erh, is on one end of the scale — it can last a lifetime if properly stored and only gets better with age!
Green tea, however, is on the opposite side of the scale. We shouldn't store it for over one year. Furthermore, there are specific ways we can store this tea to prolong its life, like:
Refrigerate unopened tea packaged until ready to drink (up to 1 year);
Keep the tea leaves in an airtight tea container, away from light, heat, odors, and moisture;
Try to enjoy it within three months of opening.
How to Make Green Tea Taste Good
How to make green tea sweeter? If you wish to make a good cup of lü cha, paying attention to the water temperature and brewing time is crucial. This tea type requires a low temperature, so hot water and lengthy steeping times give us an overly bitter-tasting drink. The hot water will destroy the amino acids and cause a large amount of polyphenols - namely catechins - to ooze out in the brew. This will cause a bitter taste of the tea soup. Carefully follow the brewing time and water temperature, and you will surely have fresh, sweet-tasting green tea!
Most lü cha tastes best when brewed at low water temperatures around 175-185ºF (80-85ºC). However, many Japanese green teas, such as Gyokuro, should be brewed at a much lower temperature – 150ºF (65ºC).
Also, make sure not to overstep! If you are brewing in the good old Western-style manner, make sure to set the alarm on your phone for no more than 3 minutes. Once the alarm rings, separate the leaves from the brew. You should remove the leaves or decant the tea into an empty vessel.
Is it Better to Drink Green Tea Cold or Hot?
If you wish to drink Chinese tea hot, we suggest brewing it following the ways of gong fu cha: in small brewing vessels and in concentrated quantities. This way, if you have craft tea, you can get its best taste.
Another great way to enjoy tea is enjoying it cold. While iced tea is famous worldwide, we recommend making a cold brew with your top tea. Cold brewing tea slowly extracts all the subtle flavors of the tea leaves. Furthermore, you can be sure you will never end up with bitter green tea.
We wouldn't say that one or the other is better. More so, it will depend on the preference of the tea drinker. Is it a hot summer day? Surely some cold-brewed sencha would be refreshing! Did you purchase a freshly harvested batch of Lu Shan Cloud Tea? In that case, you might want to try it hot first by brewing it gong fu style!