If you love tea, you may (or may not) know that green tea is most famously produced in Japan and China. 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...
What is green tea?
Green tea is made from the tea bush, same as black, white, oolong and puerh tea. Unlike black, oolong and puerh, 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 puerh 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 is 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! Both countries have developed their own styles and methods, to such an extent that with some teas you'd be surprised that they come from the same plant.
Japanese green tea
Japanese tea is 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 higher chlorophyll content. More chlorophyll equals richer nutrient density. They are also higher in amino acids, and they act to support the immune system and cleanse the blood. The green tea health benefits of those hailing from this little island are remarkable.
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, such as Sencha (pictured above), Bancha, Tencha, Hojicha, Genmaich and Gyokuro.
Chinese green tea
Because Chinese teas are lower in chlorophyll than Japanese greens, they tend to brew a tea with golden and brown tones instead of green ones (see photo above to see what I mean!).
Chinese tea leaves are generally picked every two weeks during their season (depending on the type of course!), and then solar withered in rooms beneath glass ceilings to prevent oxidizing. They go through a second step of withering before being pan-fried.
These are the main types of Chinese green tea, though bear in mind there are thousands of variations! Far and away the most famous of all Chinese green teas is Dragonwell / Longjing, as well as one of the most ancient (records of its planting date 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 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), and Maofeng (Yellow Mountain Fur Peak, whose leaves have delicate yellow hairs). Chinese tea names are definitely descriptive!
Health benefits of green tea
The health benefits of the many green teas are numerous, and while Japanese teas tend to be higher on the scale for health perks, Chinese teas do still benefit the drinker (remember, 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.
- It plays a role in helping with glucose management (mainly by interfering with the process of breaking starch down into sugar).
- Green tea helps protect the heart: The cardioprotective aspect is due to its ability to accelerate heart antioxidant defense mechanisms and normalize lipid peroxidation levels (lipid peroxidation is when free radicals damage the lipids in cell membranes), meaning the cardioprotective effects are largely due to antioxidant content! Read the study here.
- It helps balance “good” and “bad” cholesterol: Green tea catechins seem to improve the metabolism and excretion of both good and bad cholesterol. It appears that catechins in tea reduce intestinal absorption of both forms of cholesterol, but is more effective at reducing the absorption of "bad" LDL cholesterol. (We don't understand why, exactly, yet.) Read the study here.
- Green tea can prevent infections plus help address ongoing infections: it contains catechins which exhibit antibacterial and antiviral properties.
- Green tea aids relaxation and anxiety: Because it contains theanine, an amino acid that induces relaxation, antagonizes caffeine (and thereby prevents jitters), it can reduce anxiety by reducing excitatory brain chemicals.
- It decreases blood pressure: The flavonoids in green tea dilate the blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely and thereby decrease pressure. Read the study here.
The ORAC* level of green tea varies considerably by tea type, however the general value is 1253. A 2012 study (Carloni, "Antioxidant activity of white, green and black tea obtained from the same tea cultivar") found that low-caffeine green tea had higher levels of antioxidants than standard green tea.
*ORAC is a measure of antioxidant levels that allows comparison between foods, teas, etc. You can see a chart of ORAC levels in the teas sold at MatchaAlternatives.com here.
|Learn more about EGCG in|
How to brew green tea
The 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).
Rinse your tea leaves with water that has just started simmering, 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 over 8oz (one mug) of ~120-180F (50-82C) water. 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 this is a true tea (Camellia sinensis), 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.
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 you know all about Japanese and Chinese green teas, and how to brew them, you need to try them!
Green Tea Tips & Safety
Because I love green tea so much, I thought I’d pop in and give you some tips and safety information. I get questions all the time asking about health benefits and whether or not it is safe when…
Well, let me begin by saying it 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. Green tea can also benefit pregnancy in small amounts!
Is green tea bad for your kidneys?
If you have kidney disease, you should always talk to your doctor before taking botanicals. But, the main key lies in dose and in your kidney health. If you have kidney disease, it’s up to the jury.
Green tea contains compounds than can both protect and support kidneys and others that may be mildly problematic. If you have kidney disease, simply 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!
A Note From The Herbalist...
I love sipping green tea, don’t you? 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 puerhs from Yunnan, the white teas from Fujian, and green and oolong teas from all over (the main areas being in the south of China though).
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! Of course, if you don't have a lifetime you can choose a region at a time, or you can go full-adventurer and do an overland driving expedition to see it all at once. Some friends of Matcha Alternatives have actually done this, spending 40 days driving and camping around China - and having some wild adventures (and teas, I'm sure) along the way. You can read about their experience here if you're curious about what goes in to a China-wide expedition! Their blog is called Overlandsite.com and they drive everywhere. The founders of Matcha Alternatives are full-time travelers, which is how they got to know Evelin and Ferenc at Overlandsite - these two truly take it to the next level!
Best green teas to get you started...
Now that you're excited to try some Chinese and Japanese greens...here are some of my favorites:
Pure Green Teas:
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. $9.00 for 1oz, or ~14 cups
Sleep Easy Hojicha Roasted Green Tea - This roasted Japanese green tea is almost caffeine free, with only 7mg of caffeine per mug (green tea has 30mg by comparison!). A rich roasted rice nose, with a strong toasted barley flavor. $7 for 1oz, or ~14 cups
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. $7.00 for 1oz, or ~14 cups
Blended Green Teas:
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 green tea. $6.00 for 1oz, or ~14 cups
Luxurious Chocolate Mint Green Tea - Warming, rich chocolate pairs with mint freshness to make a decadent brew. It has a thick chocolate aroma, and a sweet liquor that lingers on the tongue. $7 for 1oz, or ~14 cups
Strawberries & Cream Green Tea - Sweet strawberries and delicate cream with a smooth green tea base. Ideal as a dessert tea, especially 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. $6.00 for 1oz, or ~14 cups
To learn more about Matcha Alternatives' teas, check out my Spotlight series, where I introduce all our teas and tisanes.
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And of course... 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. The information here is for educational use 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.