If you love tea, you may know that green tea is most famously produced in Japan and China. However, not all green teas are alike. Some have wildly different tastes, and even different health benefits, depending on where they come from.
In this article, I'm going to share:
- What is green tea?
- How is Japanese green tea made?
- How is Chinese green tea made?
- What are green tea's health benefit?
- Is Japanese or Chinese green tea healthier?
- How to brew Chinese and Japanese green teas, using Western and Gong Fu methods
- Green tea tips & safety considerations
- The 7 best green teas for beginners
Japanese green tea. Note the bright green, almost chartreuse, color, thanks to the high chlorophyll from shading the tea leaves during the last few days to weeks before harvest.
What is Green Tea?
Just like black, white, oolong and pu-erh teas, green tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. Unlike black, oolong and pu-erh, though, green tea is unoxidized.
Tea leaves oxidize just like an apple; they turn brown if left exposed to the air. This chemical reaction changes the taste of the tea, and, to state the obvious, reduces the amount of antioxidants in the leaf.
This is why green and white teas have more antioxidants than black, oolong and pu-erh teas.
Green tea is produced everywhere that tea is grown; however, Japan and China are famous for their green teas. They have elevated their production to an art form.
Because green tea is minimally processed and unoxidized, there is little room for error when it comes to the taste profile. Unlike with, say, a roasted oolong where the heavy roasting can obscure a poor quality tea, there is no room to hide when making a green tea!
A peaceful, Zen-like garden in Tokyo. Photo taken in 2017 by Vientiene during one of the founders' trips to Japan.
Japanese Green Tea Origins: A Very Brief History
Japan and China have developed their own styles and methods of making green tea, to such an extent that, with some teas, you'd be surprised that they come from the same plant.
The practice of drinking green tea for medicinal purposes began in China, and the first recorded use was 4,000 years ago! Really, that says about all that needs to be said - if it's been popular that long, it’s gotta be good.
The production of tea spread to Japan via monks traveling between the two countries in the Nara period (710-794). We can thank a monk named Eisai for popularizing the industry by promoting the health benefits in 1191.
After several hundred years of tea belonging solely to the upper class, in addition to only being consumed in a powdered form. It was also heavily incorporated into the various Zen philosophies that developed over the centuries, thanks to its caffeine and antioxidants which enabled alert yet calm meditation.
Mass production techniques in the early 19th c. led to Japanese green tea's widespread popularization, and the rest is history.
Although Japan produces tea in a solely mechanical/industrial approach, it still produces less than China, which is predominantly hand-prepared.
According to ChinaDaily, in 2016 China produced about 40% of all the world wide tea (2.4 million tons)! Japan produces about 94 million kgs and exports 2% of the world’s tea.
Learn more about the history of green and matcha tea in Japan here. We will be publishing a separate article about the history of Chinese and Japanese green teas in the future, so this brief summary is just to whet you appetite!
Brewing Sencha tea at a teahouse in Tokyo, using the Japanese teapot kyūsu (急須), where a lot of tea and not very much water is used for fast brewing with an intense flavor. This photo was taken in 2017 when during one of the founders' many trips to Japan, as part of their tea education and research.
How Is Japanese Green Tea Made?
Japanese green teas are more standardized in flavor than Chinese green teas. There are multitudes of green tea grades, and with Japanese green tea, you can be pretty certain what that cup of tea will taste like based on name and grade.
Japanese green teas are steamed, and many grades are grown in the shade, which yields a higher chlorophyll content. This means that Japanese teas tend to produce a greenish liquor.
I will be writing a future post about the specific types of Japanese green tea, but for now, you can check out Elizabeth and Vientiene's travel blog for their piece on Japanese tea types - from sencha (pictured above) to bancha, tencha, hojicha, genmaicha, matcha and gyokuro.
Celebrating Buddha's birthday in Hong Kong in 2017, during an intensive tea-focused visit by the founders to learn more about Chinese tea types.
How Is Chinese Green Tea Made?
Because Chinese teas are lower in chlorophyll than Japanese greens, they tend to brew a tea with golden and brown tones (check out the photo above to see what I mean!).
Chinese tea leaves are generally picked every two weeks during their season (depending on the type), and then solar withered in rooms beneath glass ceilings to prevent oxidizing. They go through a second step of withering before being pan-fried.
Far and away the most famous of all Chinese green teas is Dragonwell, also known as Longjing. It is also one of the most ancient, with records of its planting dating back to 618 CE!
Dragonwell can only be harvested two weeks out of the whole year, and is gently hand fried. The leaves are broad and pressed entirely flat, and it brews a rich golden color.
The flavor is smooth and unique, with a creamy mouthfeel. We have Superior Buttery Dragonwell Green Tea if you want to try it for yourself!
Other common Chinese green teas include:
- Gunpowder, so named because the tea leaves are rolled into pellets
- Green Snail Spring (it looks like snails)
- Jasmine Pearls (it looks like pearls)
- Jasmine (green tea blended with jasmine flowers & the classic tea to pair with Chinese food, and also is delicious in baking, such as in our Jasmine tea cake)
- Maofeng (Yellow Mountain Fur Peak, whose leaves have delicate yellow hairs).
Chinese tea names are definitely descriptive! These are the main types of Chinese green tea, though bear in mind there are thousands of variations.
Withering Chinese green tea, the first stage of making tea
The Health Benefits of Green Tea
The health benefits of the many green teas are numerous - not surprising, when you consider that it originated in China as a medicinal drink.
- Green tea contains EGCG (Epigallocatechin gallate), an antioxidant unique to tea which increases metabolism and supports healthy weight loss.
- EGCG plays a role in helping with glucose management, mainly by interfering with the process of breaking starch down into sugar.
- Matcha has 2-3 times the amount of EGCG than non-powdered, non-shaded Japanese green teas (e.g. your typical green tea), with an ORAC of 1384 vs green tea's 1253 (see below).
- Green tea helps protect the heart, due to its ability to accelerate heart antioxidant defense mechanisms and normalize lipid peroxidation levels. Long story short, the cardioprotective effects are largely due to its antioxidant content! (Khan)
- Green tea catechins seem to help balance "good" and "bad" cholesterol (Maron)
- Green tea can prevent infections, as well as helping to address ongoing infections. This is because it contains catechins, which exhibit antibacterial and antiviral properties.
- Green tea aids relaxation, thanks to its high levels of theanine - an amino acid that induces relaxation, antagonizes caffeine, and can help manage anxiety by reducing excitatory brain chemicals.
- Green tea can help decrease blood pressure. The flavonoids in green tea dilate the blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely (Hodgson).
The ORAC level of green tea varies considerably by tea type; however, the general value is 1253 for loose leaf. For comparison, matcha has an ORAC of 1384 and Rooibos has an ORAC of 1537. Learn about matcha's antioxidant levels in Busting the Matcha Myth: Does matcha really have 137 times more antioxidants (EGCG) than green tea?
ORAC is a measure of antioxidant levels that allows comparison between different foods and teas. To learn more about how ORAC is measured and what it reveals about different teas, check out my post on the subject.
Decaf Green Tea Benefits
Incidentally, a 2012 study found that low-caffeine green tea had higher levels of antioxidants than standard green tea (Carloni).
For this reason, decaf green tea's benefits can be even better than green teas with higher caffeine levels (note: decaf tea still contains a little caffeine, but not much).
If a low caffeine green tea sounds like the drink for you, hojicha (a green tea from Japan) fits the bill perfectly with only around 7mg of caffeine. For comparison, coffee has around 95mg and a standard cup of green tea between 30-40mg.
Are Japanese or Chinese Green Teas Healthier?
The answer to this one is simple: You may remember that Japanese green teas are often grown in the shade, which gives them a higher chlorophyll content. More chlorophyll equals a richer nutrient density, meaning higher antioxidant levels.
Japanese green teas are also higher in amino acids, and they act to support the immune system. The green tea health benefits of those hailing from this little island are remarkable!
The verdict is pretty clear - Japanese green teas are healthier.
That said, both Japanese and Chinese green teas have amazing health benefits. No matter which kind you prefer, you can be certain of getting a brew that your body will appreciate.
This is a quick answer - to learn all about the health benefits of green tea, read my in-depth article Most Common Antioxidants in Green Tea.
Growing green tea: the bushes are kept low and carefully pruned, for easy harvesting and to maximize fresh young growth
How to Brew Green Tea
These brewing instructions below are taken from our "Ultimate Guide to Brewing Tea and Tisanes" blog post. There's a lot more information there! But here's what you need to know for green tea specifically:
In general, green tea is delicate and burns easily. When it burns, it becomes bitter and astringent, and probably tastes like the green teas you've had in restaurants and diners.
When it ISN'T burned, you will discover a whole range of personalities. Some are extremely sensitive to heat (gyokuro and sencha are good examples), and others are able to handle near-boiling water without issue (e.g. hojicha, like our Sleep Easy Hojicha Roasted Green Tea).
So, whatever teaware you are using, whether it's a simple infuser in a mug, a teapot with ball infuser, or a full gong fu cha ceremony, go easy on the temperature!
The Western brewing method, for a standard 8oz mug
The Western method uses less tea and more water, and brews for a longer period of time than the Gong Fu Cha method described below. It's easier, in that you can pour your water and walk away for a few minutes, but make sure you don't forget your tea or else you'll have a very bitter cuppa!
- Use 1-2 tsp (heaped) of green tea, depending on how densely packed the leaves are. For example, only use 1 tsp for a dense tea like the Japanese Sencha, but use 2 tsp+ for the looser Chinese Flowery Osmanthus Tea.
- Rinse your tea leaves with water that has just started simmering, and discard the rinse water. This 'wakes up' the leaves and removes small particles that can make it astringent. You can also use cold tap water for ease.
- Pour 8 oz (one mug) of ~120-180F (50-82C) water over the leaves. Use cooler water for Japanese green teas and hotter for Chinese greens. Again, don't use boiling water! Boiling water will burn the delicate leaves and reduce their antioxidant and nutrient properties.
- Steep for 1-3 minutes. Because green tea is a "true" tea (from the Camellia sinensis plant), brewing for too long will result in a bitter drink. If you want a stronger flavor, use more leaves and steep for the same or slightly less time as with the Gong Fu Cha method below.
These green teas are being brewed using the Gong Fu Cha method with Yixing teapots. This photo was taken in Chinatown in Bangkok during an extended visit by the founders to research tea and tea culture in Thailand
The Gong Fu Cha brewing method
If you're unfamiliar with this type of brewing, it is basically using a lot of tea and a small amount of water, for a shorter but more intense brew. You can use a yixing teapot or a gaiwan, or if you don't have these Chinese tea vessels you can use a mug or bowl. The principle is the same.
- Use around 8 grams of tea, which is around 4 heaped teaspoons, filling your tea vessel.
- Rinse the tea leaves as described above, discarding the rinse water.
- Pour over your hot water (~120-180F / 50-82C) and cover your vessel. Depending on your tea type, brewing for 5-30 seconds. For a sencha, you may find 5 seconds is enough, for a dragonwell you may want to go even longer than 30 seconds. This is a nice chance for some deep breathing tea meditation!
- Pour your tea into your 'sharing' vessel. If you don't have one, any small jug or pitcher will work just fine. You can hold the leaves back using a lid, or sieve them using a tea strainer
- Serve your tea in small teacups. In the Chinese ceremony, the traditional amount is enough for three sips, but this varies - it's up to you!
- Leave your tea leaves uncovered so they cool while you drink your first steeping, this helps yield more brewings
- Repeat as many times as you wish! Some teas will only give 2-3 brewings, while others may yield as many as 8 pots! Notice the flavor differences between rounds - this is due to different oils and antioxidants being released at difference times, and you may find that your third brewing is the most floral and rich. You will need to vary the timings, and you can use this progression as a starting point:
- 1st brew: 30 seconds
- 2nd brew: 20 seconds
- 3rd brew: 30 seconds
- 4th brew: 40 seconds
- 5th brew: 60 seconds+
There are some powerful senchas and gyokuros that will brew perfectly in only 5 seconds, and some Dragonwells that require 3-4 minutes, so play around with your timings. When in doubt, try a sip and then decide if it tastes good or if it needs a bit more time.
Now that you know all about Japanese and Chinese green teas, you need to try them!
Green tea leaves after brewing, beautifully unfurled
Green Tea Tips & Safety
I get questions all the time asking about green tea's health benefits and whether or not it is safe under various circumstances.
Green tea is entirely benign 99.9% of the time. The two main concerns I hear about green tea are these:
Can I drink green tea while I am pregnant?
Green tea is safe to consume appropriately during pregnancy - the main concerns center around caffeine content. So enjoy the tea, but don’t go over a cup or two per day.
Also, caffeine content is directly dependent on the water temperature used when brewing. The cooler the water, the less caffeine will end up in your body. Thus, if you're concerned but don't fancy , why not try cold-brewing your green tea for a refreshing drink?
Green tea can also benefit pregnancy in small amounts.
If you're curious to learn more about teas and tisanes for pregnancy and how tea can impact women's health, I've written in detail about these subjects:
- Teas for Women: Effects on Pregnancy, Periods, Estrogen & More
- Rooibos, Honeybush, Pregnancy & Estrogen: What you need to know
Is green tea bad for your kidneys?
The very abridged answer though is:
If you have a kidney disease, you should always talk to your doctor before taking botanicals. That said, the main key lies in the dosage and in your kidney health. Basically, it’s up to the jury.
Green tea contains compounds that can both protect and support kidneys, and others that may be mildly problematic. If you have kidney disease, be sure to enjoy in moderation with your doc’s go-ahead.
If you are prone to kidney stones, good news! A new study found that green tea contains components that prevent the formation of kidney stones.
If you have healthy kidneys and are staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day, a few cups of green tea are unlikely to be any cause for concern. So pull up a chair and sip away!
Best green teas to get you started...
Now that you're excited to try some Chinese and Japanese green teas, here are the seven best green teas for beginners, to ease you in:
Pure Green Teas:
1. Superior Buttery Dragonwell Green Tea - Renowned for its quality, Dragonwell is buttery and smooth on the tongue, with a rich, sweet taste. Its nose is of delicate butter and hay, and its liquor is a clear, sunny yellow. A great introduction to Chinese green tea.
2. Sleep Easy Hojicha Roasted Green Tea - This roasted Japanese green tea is almost caffeine free, with only 7mg of caffeine per mug (on average, most green tea has 30mg!). A rich roasted rice nose, with a strong toasted barley flavor.
3. Delicate Fuji Sencha Organic Green Tea - This organic sencha is grown high up on the slopes of Mt Fuji in Shizuoka, Japan, giving it more antioxidants and a complex flavor. It has a delicate seaweed nose, with a round, slightly floral, slightly salty, and lightly grassy liquor.
4. Superior Osprey Gunpowder Organic Green Tea - This Chinese green is not actually made with gunpowder! Instead, the leaves are rolled into tight balls, and look like gunpowder. Smooth, smoky yet strong, with a strong liquor.
Blended Green Teas:
5. Dusky Mango Green Tea - Gentle fresh mango transports you to twilight in a tropical garden. Its fruitiness is light so you can still savor the Chinese green tea.
6. Just Peachy Apricot Green Tea - Sweet and balanced, and like a cup of summer. Especially delicious in the afternoon, as green tea aids digestion and is calorie-free. The Chinese green tea base gives added depth and keeps the tea from being too sweet.
7. Sour Green Apple Green Tea - Smooth yet powderful, with distinct green apple on the nose and palate. Made using a base of Chinese sencha and is beautiful both hot or iced. You may be noticing a theme - fruit + green tea is a great pairing!
A Note From The Herbalist...
I love sipping green tea. The complex flavor profile, full of surprising notes such as sweet, nutty, mild, tart, astringent, floral, vegetal, and even savory never ceases to amaze me.
I also love the culture that surrounds green tea, with tea first being drunk in China thousands of years ago! As China is enormous, with many different climates, their tea culture has evolved into a varied treasure trove of teas. You have the pu-erhs from Yunnan, the white teas from Fujian, and green and oolong teas from all over (the main areas being in the south of China).
The size of China means that exploring it can take a lifetime, which is no bad thing if that means drinking tea along the way!
Originally published November 2019. Updated and expanded June 2021.
All of the information regarding the herbs, botanicals, minerals, vitamins, etc., is information drawn from traditional use data or academic research and should be regarded as such. If you, the reader, has a health or medical concern, please consult your healthcare professional. The information found here is not meant to diagnose, treat, prescribe or cure and has not been evaluated by the FDA. This information is for educational purposes only.
Green Tea References and Further Reading
Background on Green Tea & Markets:
Articles & Studies on the Health Benefits of Green Tea:
Reygaert WC. Green Tea Catechins: Their Use in Treating and Preventing Infectious Diseases. Biomed Res Int. 2018;2018:9105261. Published 2018 Jul 17. doi:10.1155/2018/9105261. Accessed September 20, 2019.
Peng X, Zhou R, Wang B, et al. Effect of green tea consumption on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of 13 randomized controlled trials. Sci Rep. 2014;4:6251. Published 2014 Sep 1. doi:10.1038/srep06251. Accessed September 20, 2019.
Khan, Gyas & Haque, Syed & Anwer, Tarique & AHSAN, MOHD & SAFHI, MOHAMMAD & Alam, Dr. Mohammad, 2014. Cardioprotective effect of green tea extract on doxorubicin-induced cardiotoxicity in rats. Acta poloniae pharmaceutica. 71. 861-868. Accessed September 20, 2019.
Maron DJ, Lu GP, Cai NS, et al., 2003. Cholesterol-Lowering Effect of a Theaflavin-Enriched Green Tea Extract: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Arch Intern Med.163(12):1448–1453. doi:10.1001/archinte.163.12.1448. Accessed September 20, 2019.
村松 敬一郎, 福與 眞弓, 原 征彦, 1986. Effect of Green Tea Catechins on Plasma Cholesterol Level in Cholesterol-Fed Rats, Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, 32 巻, 6 号, p. 613-622, 公開日 2009/04/28, Online ISSN 1881-7742, Print ISSN 0301-4800. Accessed September 20, 2019.
Hodgson JM, et al. J Hypertens, 1999. Effects on blood pressure of drinking green and black tea. Randomized controlled trial. J Hypertens. 1999 Apr;17(4):457-63. PMID 10404946. Accessed September 20, 2019.
Bao H, Peng A. The Green Tea Polyphenol(-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate and its beneficial roles in chronic kidney disease. J Transl Int Med. 2016;4(3):99–103. doi:10.1515/jtim-2016-0031. Accessed September 20, 2019.