One of the most popular teas in the world by far, green tea has a number of reputed health giving properties as well. Read on to find out more about how it is prepared and where it originated.
Green tea is made only with the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, and it undergoes very little oxidation during processing. While green tea can trace its roots to China, it has since become a part of many Asian cultures in countries such as Japan and the Middle East. It has recently become quite popular as well in the West, where the traditional tea consumed has always been of the black variety. There are many varieties of loose green tea to be found in different countries nowadays due to variable growing conditions, processing methods and harvesting periods that give rise to slight differences in color, taste and texture.
Several scientific and medical studies have been conducted on the reputed health giving benefits of green tea over the last few decades, and results have shown that regular green tea drinkers may actually experience lower risks of contracting heart disease as well as certain types of cancer.
Green tea is quite commonplace in Japan, so much so that it is often referred to simply as "tea" or as "Japanese tea", this despite the fact that it was actually first used during the Song Dynasty in China, and subsequently introduced to Japan by Myōan Eisai, a Japanese Buddhist priest who was also responsible for the introduction of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism. Different types of tea are commonly graded in Japan based on their quality, the parts of the plant that are used, and the processing that they undergo. This results in wide variations in price and quality, and there are even many specialty green teas that can be found outside of these main categories. According to most tea connoisseurs, the best green teas in Japan are the ones that come from Yame in Fukuoka Prefecture and Uji in Kyoto. Shizuoka Prefecture is responsible for up to 40% of all the raw tea leaf grown in the country.
Green tea is generally prepared at a combination of 2.25 grams of tea to 6 ounces of water, or about one teaspoon of tea for every cup. High quality teas such as gyokuro, require slightly larger amounts, with the leaf being steeped several times for shorter periods.
The brewing time as well as the temperature varies with different teas, with the hottest temperatures commonly used ranging from 180°F to 190°F (82°C to 88°C) water and it is then steeped for 2 to 3 minutes. On the other end of the scale, the coolest brewing temperatures commonly used range from 140°F to 150°F (60°C to 66°C), with a steeping time of about 30 seconds. Generally speaking, green tea of lower quality are subjected to longer and hotter steeping, while teas of a higher quality are steeped shorter and at a cooler temperature.
Many of the Chinese Tea Masters insist that boiling water must be used at all times–even with green teas–since leaves of a higher quality can better stand up to higher temperatures. It is well known that steeping green tea at too hot a temperature or for too long will result in a bitter, almost astringent taste for tea leaves of a lower quality. High quality green teas are usually steeped several times, with 2 or 3 steepings being the most common. Brewing technique also plays a particularly important role, since it can help avoid an overcooked taste in the tea. A good way to find out if the tea is of a high quality is by looking at the instructions on the box. Even if the tea is reportedly of high grade, if the labeling says that boiling water must not be used, the tea is probably not as high grade as you have been led to believe.
Most green teas typically have only a third of the caffeine content of coffee. This caffeine is provided by two caffeine metabolites called theophylline–which is actually stronger than “true” caffeine–and theobromine, which is noticeably weaker than caffeine.
Tea in its various forms has actually been used in China for almost 5,000 years, where it has served as traditional medicine. It was also used for this purpose in Japan, India and Thailand, as a means to control bleeding, to help heal wounds, to regulate body temperature and blood sugar levels, and to improve digestion.
In the Kissa Yojoki or Book of Tea, written in 1191 by the Zen priest Eisai, it was described that green tea has many positive effect on the five vital organs of the body, most especially the heart. The book also discusses green tea's various medicinal properties, among them easing the effects of alcohol indulgence, its function as a stimulant, as a cure for blotchiness of the skin, as a thirst quencher, to counteract indigestion, as a cure for beriberi, as an aid against fatigue, and as an enhancer for urinary system and brain function.