Green Tea 101
I will always remember those misty Shanghai mornings as a young girl, when I entered our little kitchen after getting out of bed, and seeing my father make his ritual cup of Long Jing Dragon Well Green Tea. He carefully dropped a large pinch of thick emerald green tea leaves into the belly of his Gaiwan (traditional Chinese teacup), before meditatively pouring steaming hot water over them. The leaves would slowly swirl in the steaming vessel, releasing a translucent cloud of dancing antioxidants; barely visible to the naked eye…a few minutes later the liquor would change its color to a light yellowish-green. He would stare silently through the brew at the engorged tealeaves for a minute or two, as if mesmerized and in complete harmony with the moment. He then placed the lid over the cup to hold the tealeaves back. Bringing the porcelain to his mouth, he took one sip through the crease made between the lid and the edge of the cup…slowly…a tender swallow and a reflective savor…and then another…slowly…
Green tea is indeed special and is meant to be enjoyed slowly, as its many nuances take time to recognize, behold, and enjoy. Made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, Green Tea is one of the many varietals of tea that have undergone minimal oxidation during processing. There are many kinds of processing that take place in the making of Green Tea, though fermentation is not one of them. Some Green Teas, like the illustrious Dragon Well noted above, is pan-fired after it is plucked, which brings out many subtle notes from the tealeaves that are both sweet and savory. Another popular Green Tea, such as the Japanese Sencha, is steamed, which preserves the rich green color and chlorophyll, while yielding a more grassy and sweetly astringent taste. Then there are other Green Teas that are roasted, such as Bancha Hojicha.
It is no wonder most of the imperial prized teas were green teas throughout Chinese history. From China, to Europe, then to America, Green Tea has certainly entered the mainstream, but is likely misunderstood and misrepresented as its story (and much of its quality) has become camouflaged and compromised amidst the noise of mass production and commercialism. There have been many studies done on green tea’s myriad health benefits, which have brought countless lips to teacups worldwide; many have been known to “down” the tea quickly because of its purported bitter and unpleasant taste, but do so “because of the antioxidants”. However, while many people have been focusing on it’s medicinal quality, many have (perhaps innocently) neglected to properly brew this fine elixir, and have not been made aware of the variations in season, harvest, and artisan production that can produce a Green Tea that is ultimately a spectacular moment of union with one of Nature’s finest gifts to the human palate. Unfortunately, many are not aware that much of the Green Tea on the market now is from past seasons, and already passed its peak in taste, flavor, and character. The key to delicious-tasting tea is freshness and access to quality. We are fortunate at Arogya, in that we carry only the top of the crop rather than the bottom of the barrel, sourcing our teas from purveyors and farmers with whom we know and can trust.
There are a few misunderstandings that permeate the tea realm. The Camellia Sinensis plant not only produces Green Tea, but is the same plant that is behind every other type of “tea” people hear about. Various factors such as the age of the leaf when it is plucked, how it is processed or oxidized, and where or when it is grown determine whether a tea will be packaged as a green, black, oolong, puerh, red, or white tea.
Another myth is the caffeine level in tea, and the idea that black tea always has more caffeine than green tea. Despite popular beliefs, one should not view caffeine levels by the color of the tea. Many factors determine the caffeine content in the tea leaf, such as the “terroir” of the environment in which it is grown, the altitude, the size of the leaf, and various cultivation practices. Often the younger buds and the first Spring-harvested leaves have slightly higher caffeine levels compared to the leaves that are larger, picked later in the season, and taken from the lower parts of the tea bush. Each tea is unique in and of itself; for example, the revered tender young leaves of the Japanese green tea, Gyokuro, has more caffeine than other types of green tea, and even more than many black teas.
In the tea realm, the market is dictated by supply and demand, just like any other industry or commodity. Because of this, there is great variability in how “prestigious” a tea is, when one looks into various preferences for what makes a great tea. Expensive teas may be the result of a limited harvest due to poor weather conditions, but it may not be the most antioxidant-rich or best-tasting tea out there. In fact, some of the more “common” green teas (when they are picked and cultivated with care and skill), can yield some of the “better” tasting teas. It may be argued that one must know what to look for in a fine tea, yet when one has stumbled upon such a leaf, the intuitive recognition is instant and transfixing. A great tea will be rich and alive in color, looking as though it’s yearning to be brewed as its enticing aroma captivates and beckons the beholder. The tea should be loose and full of texture, possibly donning an abundance of silvery hairs or visible creases in the dried and twisted leaves. It goes without saying that the “cheapest” ones will likely be older, dustier, more flat and “tired-looking”, and may even have noticeable pesticide residues that will compromise the taste and quality of the beverage. However, if and when there is recognition for great craftsmanship in the art of creating a master tea leaf, the price will invariably rise. Some of the most expensive teas do come from areas that are renowned for their legendary tea farms that have been in cultivation for countless generations, while other high-priced leaves may come from remote areas that are hard to access, but yield a special flavor that is unique. Still other prestigious leaves may come from large and ancient tea-trees that are slow growing, and thus yield a limited quantity each year.
Regarding its signature color, there certainly is variability and a range within the “greenness” spectrum of green teas. Japanese Green Teas, especially the Gyokuru and various types of Sencha, do indeed impart a powerfully bright and beautiful jade green color, indicative of the freshness of the leaf carrying a substantial amount of chlorophyll. The fact that these teas are steamed in the processing also imbues a rich green color. Many of the Chinese Green Teas on the other hand, range in color from straw-yellow to light green, but are also extremely fresh, prestigious, and of the highest quality, containing an abundance of nutrients and antioxidants. So the color of the brew should not dictate the quality or the choice of tea, as there are many hues to behold and savor in the realm of tea-enjoyment.
When brewing Green Tea, most of the caffeine in green tea is released quickly when exposed to hot water. Some people like to “rinse” the leaves and discard the first brew after a minute or so. While this technique will likely take away much of the caffeine, it can also take away many of the nutrient-rich antioxidants and the best taste. So while green tea can be re-brewed a second time, the freshest-tasting, and most abundant health properties are found within the first brew. However, it should be noted that the caffeine is the first to leave, after which it takes a couple minutes for the antioxidants to loosen themselves from the leaves and visibly swirl about.
The best way to assure you are getting a quality green tea is to visit a teahouse where the tea can be visibly inspected, held, and smelled for its freshness. At Arogya, we offer over a dozen different kinds of Green Teas. Some are mixed with flowers like Chrysanthemum for its added medicinal properties, while others are entwined with Jasmine blossoms for a sultry sweet taste. We have one that is roasted with brown rice to impart a special warmth and digestive-enhancing quality while another is blended with dried Pomegranate for a candy-like flavor and extra nutrients.
The way to make the perfect cup of Green Tea is an art that can be practiced again and again, but it should be known that each tea has its own way it brews best, inasmuch as each person might like to brew each tea according to his or her own preference in strength and flavor. Hence, we give general and specific instructions for each tea that we sell at Arogya, since the steeping time and temperature vary with each varietal. The hottest steeping temperatures are 81 to 87 °C (178 to 189 °F) water and the longest steeping times two to three minutes. The coolest brewing temperatures are 61 to 69 °C (142 to 156 °F) and the shortest times about 30 seconds. The most important rules of thumb are: less temperature, less time, less tea…meaning the tea should not be too hot, it should not brew for too long, and one should not use too many tealeaves. In the art of tea, “less is more”.
As the weather begins to turn warmer, many like to enjoy a refreshing cool iced green tea, which can be the perfect compliment to a sunny late afternoon day. Making a healthy and delicious homemade pot of gourmet iced green tea is easy, but requires some waiting time as we recommend “cold-brewing” the tea.
1. Pour a handful of green tealeaves into a gallon-sized pitcher
2. Fill the pitcher with filtered room-temperature water
3. Place the pitcher in the refrigerator over night
4. In the morning, strain the tealeaves, and serve over ice…garnish with sweetener, lemon, mint, or orange
However, if you’re in a pinch and want immediate iced green tea, follow these steps:
1. Make a pot of freshly brewed green tea, using extra tealeaves (1 tablespoon of tea per cup of water)
2. Let steep for about 8-10 minutes
3. Immediately pour over plenty of ice in a pitcher…this will help to cool down, dilute, and balance out the strong taste of the tea
4. Add a dollop of honey, and dress with a slice of lemon or mint if you’d like