Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What is Green Tea?

Chinese Huangshan Maofeng tea
Photo taking during the
Asia Tea Tour

Green tea is diverse!  From sweet to tart, mellow to brisk, nutty to roasty, grassy to vegetal, twisted to flat to rolled to hand tied, I believe there is a green tea for everyone.  Truly, there is an entire world of green tea for you to try!  The fun comes in finding the ones you love.

The two basic categories of green tea are Chinese and Japanese, though you'll find most tea-producing countries making green teas.  In fact, it's green tea that most of the world knows, loves and drinks.

Chinese Green Tea
China has been producing green teas for over 5,000 years!  Chinese greens are a good place to start if you're just venturing into the world of green tea.  They're milder, sweeter and less likely to make you pucker on first sip. 

Chinese green teas are picked and then heated to stop the oxidation and preserve the chlorophyll.  (This process is called "fixing"  the tea.)  There are myriad of ways to fix the tea, but common techniques include heating in a wok, in bamboo baskets over charcoal, or in heated ovens.  The amount of variation within Chinese green tea is staggering - taste, appearance, aroma.  There are thousands of small batch tea makers, each with his or her own technique.  

Famous Chinese green teas include:  Dragonwell, Gunpowder, Bi Lou Chun, and Huangshan Maofeng (shown above).

Chinese Beauty Rings
An example of beautiful hand shaping

Japanese Green Tea
Japanese green teas are well known for the bright jade liquor produced in the cup, with a bit of sediment at the bottom.  This sediment is intentional, nothing is wasted.  The particulate is added back into the leaf to give it a brothy essence.

Japanese greens are steamed to fix the leaves and then shaped (this can have several cycles) and finished in a hot oven.  Most of the picking and processing of teas in Japan is mechanized.  Don't let that turn you off; it's just how it's done in Japan. 

Famous Japanese green teas include:  Sencha, Bancha, Gyokuro and Matcha.  (We'll look at matcha separately.)
Japanese Sencha

Japanese Bancha

Many Chinese and Japanese greens never make it to our shores.  They are swooped up by local consumption, and increasingly, in-country connoisseurs.  But don't despair - there are many, many available to us and if you tried to taste them all, you would find a major undertaking! 

Buy green teas in small quantities and drink them up quickly.  They don't keep as long as oolong and black teas will, due to a higher moisture content.  I prefer to drink mine within 3 months ideally, 6 on the outside.

I tend to brew my green teas - both Chinese and Japanese - in a gaiwan, but you can also use a teapot.  Use water between 160 and 180 degrees, and start tasting quickly.  I find the window for most greens to be between 1 and 3 minutes.

What are your tips for greens?  Or your favorite green teas?


Angela McRae said...

My favorite green tea is Matsuda's Sencha from Harney. I never thought I liked green teas until I purposed to try every tea in that Harney book a few years ago, and now they are some of my favorite teas! I think you just have to be open to trying something new -- and now I'll try anything once!

Teafan said...

You've definitely shown a diverse range in your photos. I love how that first photo has the tea standing upright in the glass. Do people drink it in a glass like that?

Marilyn said...

I have not explored green teas much. The top picture is amazing the way it stands in the glass. I have never seen that, nor have I seen the rings in the second picture. Thanks for all you share.

Steph said...

Teafan - Yes, we saw this steeping and serving style very often in the Anhui region in China. It may be elsewhere, too, but that is where we focused on green teas. The trick is to use your teeth like a strainer. ;-)

Colleen said...

Steph- such a nice, succinct discussion about green teas! You make them sound very enticing. The long straight leaves standing up in the glass does bring back memories of tea tasting in Anhui! One of my favorite green teas is Cloud and Mists, LuShan tea- it has a light, almost buttery sweet flavor.

amherstrose said...

I am still entranced by the "Dancing Leaves" of the Huangshan Maofeng Tea we shared on our journey and it is still my favorite. It is entertainment in a tea glass and never fails to delight me when I brew it.

Lovely and enlightening discussion on Green Teas, Steph, and thank you for sharing.


Mary Jane