Green tea is made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis that have undergone minimal oxidation during processing. Green tea originates in China, but it has become associated with many cultures throughout Asia. Green tea has recently become more widespread in the West, where black tea has been the traditionally consumed tea. Green tea has become the raw material for extracts which are used in various beverages, health foods, dietary supplements, and cosmetic items. Many varieties of green tea have been created in the countries where it is grown. These varieties can differ substantially due to variable growing conditions, horticulture, production processing, and harvesting time.
Over the last few decades green tea has been subjected to many scientific and medical studies to determine the extent of its long-purported health benefits, with some evidence suggesting that regular green tea drinkers may have a lower risk of developing heart disease and certain types of cancer. Although green tea does not raise the metabolic rate enough to produce immediate weight loss, a green tea extract containing polyphenols and caffeine has been shown to induce thermogenesis and stimulate fat oxidation, boosting the metabolic rate 4% without increasing the heart rate.
According to a survey released by the United States Department of Agriculture in 2007, the mean content of flavonoids in a cup of green tea is higher than that in the same volume of other food and drink items that are traditionally considered of health contributing nature, including fresh fruits, vegetable juices or wine. Flavonoids are a group of phytochemicals present in most plant products that are responsible for health effects such as anti-oxidative and anticarcinogenic functions. However, based on the same USDA survey, the content of flavonoids may vary dramatically amongst different tea products.
Tea consumption has its legendary origins in China of more than 4,000 years ago. Green tea has been used as both a beverage and a medicine in most of Asia, including China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam, to help everything from controlling bleeding and helping heal wounds to regulating body temperature, blood sugar and promoting digestion. A book written in the Tang Dynasty of China is considered one of the most important in the history of green tea. The book was written by Lu Yu and is called the “Tea Classic” or “Cha Jing”. It was written between 600 and 900 AD and spoke about exactly how and where one could enjoy a fine cup of green tea. The Kissa Yojoki (Book of Tea), written by Zen priest Eisai in 1191, describes how drinking green tea can have a positive effect on the five vital organs, especially the heart. The book discusses tea’s supposed medicinal qualities, which include easing the effects of alcohol, acting as a stimulant, curing blotchiness, quenching thirst, eliminating indigestion, curing beriberi disease, preventing fatigue, and improving urinary and brain function. Part One also explains the shapes of tea plants, tea flowers, and tea leaves, and covers how to grow tea plants and process tea leaves. In Part Two, the book discusses the specific dosage and method required for individual physical ailments.
Growing, harvesting and processing
Green tea is processed and grown in a variety of ways, depending on the type of green tea desired. As a result of these methods, maximum amounts of polyphenols and antioxidants are retained, giving maximum green tea benefits. The growing conditions can be broken down into two basic types — those grown in the sun and those grown under the shade. The green tea plants are grown in rows that are pruned to produce shoots in a regular manner, and are generally harvested three times per year. The first flush takes place in late April to early May. The second harvest usually takes place from June through July, and the third picking takes place in late July to early August. Sometimes, there will also be a fourth harvest. It is the first flush in the spring which brings the best quality leaves, with higher prices to match. Processed green teas, known as “aracha” are stored under low humidity refrigeration in 30 or 60 kg paper bags at 0–5°C (32–41°F). This aracha has yet to be refined at this stage, with a final firing taking place before blending, selection, and packaging takes place. The leaves in this state will be re-fired throughout the year as they are needed, giving the green teas a longer shelf life and better flavor. The first flush tea of May will readily store in this fashion until the next year’s harvest. After this re-drying process, each crude tea will be sifted and graded according to size. Finally, each lot will be blended according to the blend order by the tasters and packed for sale.Brewing and serving
Steeping is the process of making a cup of tea; it is also referred to as brewing. In general, two grams of tea per 100ml of water, or about one teaspoon of green tea per five ounce cup, should be used. With very high-quality teas like gyokuro, more than this amount of leaf is used, and the leaf is steeped multiple times for short durations.
Green tea steeping time and temperature varies with different tea. The hottest steeping temperatures are 81°C to 87°C (180°F to 190°F) water and the longest steeping times two to three minutes. The coolest brewing temperatures are 61°C to 69°C (140°F to 160°F) and the shortest times about 30 seconds. In general, lower-quality green teas are steeped hotter and longer, while higher-quality teas are steeped cooler and shorter. Steeping green tea too hot or too long will result in a bitter, astringent brew, regardless of the initial quality. It is thought that excessively hot water results in tannin chemical release, which is especially problematic in green teas, as they have higher contents of these. High-quality green teas can be and usually are steeped multiple times; two or three steepings is typical. The steeping technique also plays a very important role in avoiding the tea developing an overcooked taste. The container in which the tea is steeped or teapot should also be warmed beforehand so that the tea does not immediately cool down. It is common practice for tea leaf to be left in the cup or pot and for hot water to be added as the tea is drunk until the flavor degrades.
Varieties of green tea
Chinese green tea
- Junshan Yinzhen (Silver Needle tea)[君山银针], known as one of the ten most famous Chinese Teas, is one variety of Yellow Tea, like the Huo Mountain Yellow Buds (霍山黄芽) and the Mengding Yellow Buds (蒙顶黄芽). It is cultivated on Junshan Island, Yueyang City, Hunan Province (湖南省,岳阳,洞庭湖君山).
Zhejiang Province is home to the most famous of all teas, Xi Hu Longjing (西湖龙井), as well as many other high-quality green teas.
- 龙井 Longjing
- Maybe the most well-known green tea in China. It originates in Hangzhou (杭州), the capital of Zhejiang Province. Longjing in Chinese literally means dragon well. It is pan-fried and has a distinctive flat appearance. The tasteless frying oil is obtained from tea seeds and other plants. Falsification of Longjing is very common, and most of the tea on the market is in fact produced in Sichuan Province and hence not authentic Longjing.
- 景宁惠明茶 Hui Ming
- Named after a temple in Zhejiang.
- 开化龙顶 Long Ding
- A tea from Kaihua County known as Dragon Mountain.
- 华顶云雾 Hua Ding
- A tea from Tiantai County, named after a peak in the Tiantai mountain range.
- 天目青顶 Qing Ding
- A tea from Tian Mu, also known as Green Top.
- 平水珠茶 Gunpowder
- A popular tea also known as zhuchá. It originates in Zhejiang but is now grown elsewhere in China.
- This tea is also the quintessential ingredient in brewing Moroccan green tea with fresh mint.
- 洞庭碧螺春 Bi Luo Chun
- A Chinese famous tea also known as Green Snail Spring, from Dong Ting. As with Longjing, falsification is common and most of the tea marketed under this name may, in fact, be grown in Sichuan.
- 南京雨花茶 Rain Flower
- A tea from Nanjing.
- originate in Jin Tan city of Jiangsu Province.
- 太湖白云 White Cloud
- Fujian Province is known for mountain-grown organic green tea as well as white tea and oolong tea. The coastal mountains provide a perfect growing environment for tea growing. Green tea is picked in spring and summer seasons.
- 茉莉花茶 Jasmine tea (Mo Li Hua Cha)
- A tea with added jasmine flowers.
- 毛峰 Mao Feng tea
- Meaning “furry peak”.
- 翠剑 Cui Jian
- Meaning “jade sword”.
- 玉露 Yu Lu
- A steamed tea also known as Gyokuro (Jade Dew) in Japanese, made in the Japanese style.
- 信阳毛尖 Xin Yang Mao Jian
- A Chinese famous tea also known as Green Tip, or Tippy Green.
- 珍眉 Chun Mee
- 狗牯 Gou Gu Nao
- A well-known tea within China and recipient of numerous national awards.
- 云雾 Yun Wu
- A tea also known as Cloud and Mist.
- Anhui Province is home to several varieties of tea, including three Chinese famous teas. These are:
- 大方 Da Fang
- A tea from Huangshan also known as Big Square suneet.
- 黄山毛峰 Huangshan Maofeng
- A Chinese famous tea from Huangshan.
- 六安瓜片 Liuan Leaf
- A Chinese famous tea also known as Melon Seed.
- 猴魁 Hou Kui
- A Chinese famous tea also known as Monkey tea.
- 屯绿 Tun Lu
- A tea from Tunxi District.
- 火青 Huo Qing
- A tea from Jing County, also known as Fire Green.
- 雾里青 Wuliqing
- Wuliqing was known since the Song dynasty. Since 2002 Wuliqing is produced again according to the original processing methods by a company called Tianfang (天方). Zhan Luojiu a tea expert and professor at the Anhui Agricultural University who relived its production procedure.
- A medium-quality tea from many provinces, an early-harvested tea.
- 竹叶青茶 Zhu Ye Qing
- Also known as Meng Ding Cui Zhu or Green Bamboo.
- 蒙顶甘露 Meng Ding Gan Lu
- A yellowish-green tea with sweet aftertaste.
Japanese green tea
Green tea (緑茶, Ryokucha?) is ubiquitous in Japan and therefore is more commonly known simply as “tea” (お茶, ocha?). It is even referred to as “Japanese tea” (日本茶, nihoncha?) though it was first used in China during the Song Dynasty, and brought to Japan by Myōan Eisai, a Japanese Buddhist priest who also introduced the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism. Types of tea are commonly graded depending on the quality and the parts of the plant used as well as how they are processed. There are large variations in both price and quality within these broad categories, and there are many specialty green teas that fall outside this spectrum. The best Japanese green tea is said to be that from the Yame (八女, yame?) region of Fukuoka Prefecture and the Uji region of Kyoto. The so called Uji area has been producing Ujicha (Uji tea) for four hundred years and predates the prefectural system. It is now an a combination of the border regions of Shiga, Nara, Kyoto, Mie prefectures. Sōraku District, Kyoto is among many of the tea producing districts.. Shizuoka Prefecture produces 40% of raw tea leaf.
- Gyokuro is a fine and expensive type that differs from Sencha (煎茶) in that it is grown under the shade rather than the full sun for approximately 20 days. The name “Gyokuro” translates as “jade dew” and refers to the pale green color of the infusion. The shading causes the amino acids (Theanine) and caffeine in the tea leaves to increase, while catechins (the source of bitterness in tea, along with caffeine) decreases, giving rise to a sweet taste. The tea also has a distinct aroma.
- Kabusecha is made from the leaves grown in the shade prior to harvest, although not for as long as Gyokuro. It has a more delicate flavor than Sencha. It is sometimes marketed as Gyokuro.
- The first and second flush of green tea made from leaves that are exposed directly to sunlight. This is the most common green tea in Japan. The name describes the method for preparing the beverage.
- Fukamushicha (深蒸し茶?, long-steamed green tea)
- Sencha, which, in the processing of the leaves, has been steamed two times longer than usual Sencha, giving it a deeper color and producing a fuller flavor in the beverage.
- Tamaryokucha has a tangy, berry-like taste, with a long almondy aftertaste and a deep aroma with tones of citrus, grass, and berries. It is also called Guricha.
- Lower grade of Sencha harvested as a third- or fourth-flush tea between summer and autumn. Aki-Bancha (autumn Bancha) is not made from entire leaves, but from the trimmed unnecessary twigs of the tea plant.
- Kamairicha is a pan-fired green tea that does not undergo the usual steam treatments of Japanese tea and does not have the characteristic bitter taste of most Japanese tea.
- By-product of Sencha or Gyokuro
- A tea made from stems, stalks, and twigs. Kukicha has a mildly nutty, and slightly creamy sweet flavor.
- Mecha is green tea derived from a collection of leaf buds and tips of the early crops. Mecha is harvested in spring and made as rolled leaf teas that are graded somewhere between Gyokuro and Sencha in quality.
- Bancha (sometimes Sencha) and roasted genmai (brown rice) blend. It is often mixed with a small amount of Matcha to make the color better.
- Tencha ( 碾茶?, milling tea)
- Half-finished products used for Matcha production. The name indicates its intended eventual milling into matcha. Because, like gyokuro, it is cultivated in shade, it has a sweet aroma. In its processing, it is not rolled during drying, and tencha therefore remains spread out like the original fresh leaf.
- Half-finished products used for Sencha and Gyokuro production. It contains all parts of the tea plant.
- funmatsucha (粉末茶?, instant powdered tea)
- Milled green tea, used just like instant coffee. Another name for this recent style of tea is “tokeru ocha,” or “tea that melts.”
Other green teas
Research and health effects
Green tea contains a variety of enzymes, amino acids, carbohydrates, lipids, sterols, polyphenols, carotenoids, tocopherols, vitamins, caffeine and related compounds, phytochemicals and dietary minerals. Numerous claims have been made for the health benefits of green tea based on chemical composition, in vitro and animal studies, though results in humans have been inconsistent and few clear benefits for humans have been demonstrated. There is also evidence suggesting consuming large volumes of green tea, and in particularly green tea extracts, may cause oxidative stress and liver toxicity.
A 2012 systematic review concluded the evidence that green tea can prevent cancer “is inadequate and inconclusive” but with some evidence for a reduction in certain types of cancer (breast, prostate, ovarian and endometrial). Green tea may lower blood low-density lipoprotein and total cholesterol levels, though the studies were of short duration and it is not known if these effects result in fewer deaths and evidence does not support green tea reducing coronary artery disease risk. Several randomized controlled trials suggest green tea can reduce body fat by a small amount for a short time, though it is not certain if the reduction would be meaningful for most people.
Production and exports
|2006 Green tea production and export. (in thousands of metric tons)|
Import of Japanese tea
On June 17, 2011, radioactive cesium of 1,038 becquerels per kilogram was detected at Charles de Gaulle airport in France in tea leaves imported from Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, which was more than twice as much as the restricted amount of 500 becquerels per kilogram designated by the European Union, and the government of France announced that they rejected them, which amounted to 162 kilograms. The governor of Shizuoka Prefecture Heita Kawakatsu stated that “there is absolutely no problem when they [people] drink them because it will be diluted to about ten becquerels per kilogram when they steep them even if the leaves have 1,000 becquerels per kilogram,” which was a consequence of own examinations of the prefecture. Minister for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety Renhō stated on June 3, 2011, that “there are cases in which aracha are sold as furikake [condiments sprinkled on rice] and so on and they are eaten as they are, therefore we think that it is important to inspect tea leaves including aracha from the viewpoint of consumers’ safety.”
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- Green Tea (an overview from the University of Maryland Medical Center)
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