Learn all about green tea.
Originally discovered and harvested in China, green tea has spread to many cultures across southeast Asia and the western world.
The term “tea” is traditionally used only for the camellia sinensis species, of which green tea is one of the primary varieties produced.
Green tea is characterized by minimal oxidation during the processing, which often gives it a subtle and mild flavor.
However, as the plant has spread across Asia and the west, different geographies, climates, and cultivation practices have created a wide range of green tea flavors and processing methods.
This makes it virtually impossible to completely categorize any tea, and so most of what we cover are best-practices and what's "typical" of green—and other—tea.
Green Tea History and Culture
When someone extols the virtues of green tea, they are echoing sentiment that has been passed down for thousands of years.
As early as 600 AD, Chinese writers described green tea and its benefits in a book called “Tea Classic.”
The culture of tea became ingrained in the growing religions of the time, such as Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, which gave the drink extra significance compared to any other beverage consumed during the time.
The special place that tea reserved in Chinese culture led to enhanced farming methods, cultivation, and processes that created various varieties that we still enjoy today.
Some examples include yellow tea and white tea variations, which are subtle harvest-timing and processing methods that control the final flavor of the tea leaves.
The importance of tea in Chinese culture was undoubtedly responsible for its spread through the rest of the world.
As green tea spread to other countries, methods of growing, harvesting and production were created, each leading to new tea discoveries.
For example, in Japan, green teas are often steamed instead of pan-fired, which gives them a unique “leafy” flavor different than the Chinese versions.
In fact, the Japanese method of producing tea has become unique to their culture, geography, and history, and many regions of Japan are heavily influenced by tea production to this day.
A short bullet train ride from Tokyo, in the town of Shizuoka, farmers are producing tea the same way they were in the 1600s. As soon as you step of the train, you'll smell the freshly roasting tea leaves.
Spread among the karaoke clubs, residential buildings, and commercial property, the tea factories, tea shops, and warehouses are all prominent staples in the real estate of the town.
Venture a bit more into the Japanese countryside and you'll discover rows of tea bushes lining roads.
Farmers, many old and seasoned tea veterans, use modest barns as their factories from which they produce some of the highest quality teas in the world.
It's not just China and Japan that produces great tea, although they are the most well-known.
In recent time, the camellia sinensis plant has made it to Europe and other far-flung regions of the world.
On the Portuguese Azores islands, for example, tea was introduced as recently as 1874 by experts in southeast Asia.
The Azores remain one of the few places in Europe that can grow high quality tea because the island has high altitude terrain, mineral-rich soil, and is hundreds of miles from industrial pollution.
Tea in the Azores has become so popular that Chinese companies are buying the tea for sale at home!
Growing Green Tea
Depending on who you talk to, you'll end up with conflicting opninos on the "correct" way of cultivating, processing, and brewing green tea.
Nearly all methods have their supporters, but in general there are the traditionalists who like to stick to the old ways of doing things and there are the modernists that like to try to find the newer, better ways.
In general, green tea grows best at higher altitudes.
Regions above 6,900 feet (2,100 meters) are chosen in Sri Lanka for tea cultivation. In China, the country has such a history with tea, there are different plantations across the country giving plenty of regional flavor, so it's hard to say "higher is better than lower," although many tea connoisseurs might disagree on that distinction.
In the Fujian province, the high altitude mountains are known for growing organic green tea as well as other variations, such as white tea and oolong tea. Because Fujian is near the coast and has a high altitude, it provides an ideal environment for growing tea and produces some exceptional teas.
While the Chinese categorize their green tea by regions, which often come with connotations of flavor and quality, the Japanese categorize strictly by quality. Additionally, Japanese green tea is usually steamed, which offers a completely different flavor than the Chinese pan-fired or oven-roasted variations.
Some people like the “earthy” taste of Chinese green tea versus the “leafy” counterparts in Japan.
Either way, there are other elements of the growing and processing methods of Chinese and Japanese tea that prove instrumental in determining the final quality and flavor.
White tea is a variation of green tea, which is often made from the flower buds and young leaves without any fermentation or further processing.
Harvested mostly from the famous coastal Fujian province of China, white tea is a rare and delicate tea.
To produce a high-quality white tea, cultivation is done without any panning, rolling, or shaking. Furthermore, only the finest young leaves harvested to produce white tea.
Another rare and expensive form of tea cultivation produces yellow tea, which has an additional step of preparation compared to green tea.
After the oxidation process, a damp cloth is placed over the tea as it is steamed. Not only does this impart a yellow color (hence the name), but it also provides a mellow and less grassy flavor than green tea.
Yellow tea was often served to members of the Chinese Imperial court. To this day, it rarely leaves China. If you ever try some, let us know how it tastes!
Other forms of green tea
Within the category of green tea, there are further subcateogires of green tea based on processing methods.
In Japan, the most common tea is “sencha,” which is green tea made with direct sun exposure and is usually lightly steamed.
The more expensive “gyokuro” is grown in the shade, which increases certain chemical contents such as amino acids and l-theanine. The gyokuro is usually grown with 90% shading for 2 weeks (similar to matcha) leading up to harvest while “kabusecha” is only shaded 40 - 50% for 1 - 2 weeks.
These subtle differences in growing and processing create vast flavor differences.
Brewing Green Tea
Even though there are dozens of different styles of green tea cultivation and preparation, there are only a few brewing methods that most use and recommend.
Most cultures use a steeping method, which utilizes hot water to extract the flavor and chemical compounds of the green tea. While some high quality teas require brewing variations—such as steeping multiple times or short durations—in general, brewing green tea is pretty straightforward.
Use 2 grams (~1 teaspoon) for every 6-8 ounces of water. Larger tea sizes might need to be measured in tablespoons. A scale is always best for getting the precise ratio, which increases the chances of producing a delicious cup of tea.
Aim for water between 160° - 175° degrees and infusing for 2 - 3 minutes. Using this method, infuse 2-5 times and enjoy the subtle flavor differences with each subsequent infusion.
It will vary based on the green tea you use, but these are general guidelines to start with.
Health Benefits of Green Tea
The benefits of green tea have long been documented by Chinese and Japanese scholars. Since then, modern health research has tested green tea against the rigors of scientific analysis and found many positive findings.
Green tea is full of enzymes, polyphenols, flavanols, and amino acids that improve health.
One popular amino acid called theanine is a compound known to reduce anxiety and mental stress. Theanine is often used as a supplement to promote concentration and focus while reducing anxiety and nervousness, two byproducts of caffeine.
Theanine improves alpha brain waves in the brain, which are associated with the highest form of cognitive performance capable in human beings.
Besides theanine, which varies depending on the processing of green tea, there are phytochemicals such quercetin and EGCG, which have high antioxidant contents.
All green tea includes these antioxidants, but white tea has the most.
There is some evidence to suggest that green tea can help tackle larger problems, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, but more evidence is required on all accounts.
A recent analysis was completed in 2015, which showed “promising” results in animals.
Antioxidants are helpful in reducing cancer, but that does not make them 100% correlated with cancer prevention, especially in western society where the human body is treated poorly though poor nutrition and exercise habits.
A 2013 American Society for Nutrition article showed 1 cup of green tea per day helped reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 28% and up to 38% decreased risk with 2 cups per day. The study concluded that “...evidence appears to be stronger for green tea than for black tea, which differ greatly…” (1)
Green tea research suggests tea as a potent preventative medicine for a large variety of cancers.
One 2014 lung cancer study concluded “...both green tea and black tea were significantly associated with reduced lung cancer risk…” (2)
Another study suggests green tea reduces oral cancer risk by 21% (3) while a 2011 study noted “Both men and women showed the preventative effects of tea intake on the development of primary liver cancer…” (4)
While the scientific research is encouraging, there are always biases and confounding variables in research that makes for "best guesses" rather than hard truths.
It is important to use tea as part of your cancer prevention plan rather than a cure-all.
Which Green Tea is Best?
A common question we get is what's the best green tea?
Of course, this is impossible to answer since each person is going to have their own preference for flavor.
The earthy flavor of Chinese teas appeals to many, while in Japan the most widely consumed green tea is Sencha, a steamed leaf tea that is milder than Chinese green teas.
Figuring out the best green tea for you is an enjoyable—and healthy—endeavor!
The Wild Green Tea options in our Wild Shop is a great place to start!