Green Tea - Lü Cha
Introduction to Green Tea - The Epitome of Nature
When many people imagine the tea fields of China, they imagine a lush, vibrant, tapestry of greenery that shimmers in the sun. It is from this awe inspiring image that green tea gets its name, for when you look upon green tea leaves, much of that color and vibrancy still remains. Although commonplace in many parts of the world, green tea is arguably the most important tea type that there is. Steeped in tradition, antiquity, society, and lore, learning about this verdant tea type just may be the best place to start if you are seeking to know more about tea as a whole. Thus, with that said, let green tea's vibrancy in color and spirit carry you away into Yezi Tea's second installment on tea types.
Green Tea’s Health Benefits - Natural Tea for a Naturally Long Life?
While green teas hail from many different parts of the world, in this entry we will be focusing on Chinese green teas (Yezi specializes in Chinese tea, after all!). In China, green tea has been consumed for centuries as a part of a healthy lifestyle. In the West however, it has only been in the past few decades that its popularity has grown.
Oddly enough, the recent popularity of and general interest in Chinese green tea in the West originated because of Japan. Roughly thirty years ago, scientists sought to find out why Okinawans lived so long and were rarely afflicted by cancer. It did not take long for the researchers to hypothesize that the amount of green tea that Okinawans consumed was partially responsible. Since then, there have been numerous studies on the health benefits of green tea. In the West, a quick search engine search for green tea will show just how often the tea type is correlated with health!
With that said, most of the focus of those studies have been on the antioxidants, namely flavonoids and catechins, that green tea contains. Out of all of the tea types, green tea contains the highest percentage of the polyphenol antioxidant group called catechins. The catechin that is most remarkable and most studied happens to be one called Epigallocatechin 3-gallate or EGCG as its known to its friends. EGCG has been purported to reduce the risk of many different cancers, including, but not limited to, lung, skin, breast, and colon cancer.
The supposed benefits of green tea do not end there! Though EGCG is not solely responsible, some studies have claimed that those who regularly consume green tea have a reduced risk of hypertension, heart disease, LDL cholesterol, poor artery function, and even halitosis! With all of this said, we advise everyone to take these health claims with a grain of salt. Although revealed through scientific research, these studies are all relatively new and science is always moving forward.
When mentioning the health benefits of green tea, it is also crucial to mention green tea’s caffeine. Like white tea, green tea contains quite a fair amount of caffeine due to the young leaves/buds that make up many of the varieties. Thus, those who are sensitive to caffeine should take care not to consume too much. (Alas, it is indeed possible to have too much of a good thing!)
We are not only lucky to live in an age in which there is so much research being done on green tea but, we are also lucky to live in an age in which there are so many wonderfully flavorful types of green tea. In China, there used to be a time, hundred of years ago, in which green tea was solely consumed for its suspected medicinal properties and not at all for its taste. Back then, green tea was quite different from the green teas we know, love, and study today. And now that we have spoken a bit about the use of green tea as medicine, this is the perfect time to talk about how green tea went from solely a medicinal consumable to what it is today. Let's delve into the history of Chinese green tea.
The History of Green Tea - Making Other Teas Green with Envy
Green tea is considered by many to be China's most ancient tea. The first mention of green tea and its processing occurred in Lu Yu's Classic of Tea; a crucial book to read for any tea enthusiast. In Lu Yu's time (the Tang Dynasty), green teas were vastly different than the ones consumed today. Back then, young tea leaves were picked in the very beginning of Spring, thoroughly cleaned, rolled, pressed into bricks, and then baked. To drink, the teas were then ground into a very fine powder and that powder was then whisked with hot water. (Fun Fact: This procedure was the inspiration for Japanese matcha!)
It did not take long for the popularity of green tea to rise. Originally used for its medicinal qualities, with the advancement of tea processing, green tea became a luxury item that people drank for taste and enjoyment. Gradually, tea changed from luxury item to a commonplace drink as more and more farmers created better quality teas. By the Song Dynasty, green tea quality had increased to a point in which the royalty of China demanded that it be sent as a tribute, and considered part of taxation. Consequently, farmers started competing to see who had the best teas and during this time of tributes, a brick of green tea became almost as valuable as gold. Though fascinating and exciting from a historical standpoint, this newly attributed value to green tea was not very healthy for China's economy. Thus, during the Ming Dynasty, the use of green tea as a form of tribute was abolished. Without the pressure of creating tribute tea cakes, tea farmers began to experiment with different cultivars, varietals, and processing methods for green tea. As Oscar Wilde once said, “Variety is the spice of life,” and the variety of green teas that came out of these experiments continue to spice up the lives of tea lovers around the world. It was at this time that loose-leaf tea gained popularity as word spread that loose leaf tea tasted better than powdered tea. This glorious era of ingenui-tea saw the creation of some of the world's best teas, including the ever popular Long Jing.
Today, green tea is still the most consumed tea type in China. Steeped with history, teeming with healthful properties, and with hundreds of types ranging from famous to obscure, it's hard to find a reason not to love green tea! It is a perfect example of why exploration and experimentation is such a great thing in the world of tea. Without either, most of the green teas that we know and love today would not exist. Now that we have spoken a bit about how green tea was traditionally processed, let's delve into how it is processed today.
How Green Tea is Made - Simply Astounding and Astoundingly Simple
Second only to white tea in terms of minimalism, processing green tea contains only a handful of steps – three or four, to be exact. In order, they are: Pick, Wither (the optional step), Dry Heat, and finally Dry.
Some consider the picking of the leaves to be the most important step in creating a great green tea, and we at Yezi definitely agree. Traditionally, Chinese green tea is picked by hand in the early morning of the first days of Spring. The leaves that are plucked are some of the youngest leaves and buds on the plant and can usually only be picked before the sun hits, as the sun will cause the leaves to grow rather rapidly. Once picked, some teas go through the process of withering, which means that the freshly picked leaves are spread out thinly on bamboo for a couple of hours to allow them to reduce water content. After the withering, the very best green teas are inspected again and any yellow or undesirably large leaves are discarded. With such rigorous selection, for a leaf to make the cut to go on to become a high quality green tea is harder than making into an Ivy League university!
Once the best and brightest leaves make the cut (after either being picked or picked and withered), they are then either steamed, pan-fried, or baked. In China, though steaming was originally the only way in which green tea was dry heated, it is now the case that most green teas are either pan-fried or baked. This heating process is what classifies green tea as unoxidized, as is done so shortly after the leaves are picked that it stops them from oxidizing. Furthermore, it is in this dry heating (or Shaqing) step that the activity of the enzymes of the tea is completely destroyed and the tea itself gains the correct color, smell, and taste for its variety. This step also ensures that the leaves themselves become sturdy enough to make it to the next step in the process: shaping.
Finally, after the tea has been shaped, by either flattening, rolling, or curling, it is dried.
It should be noted that tea trees suitable for green tea can be grown all around the world and that not all places have the strict regulations on when green tea leaves can be picked as China. Combining the simplicity of processing, which allows room for variety, and availability of leaf, there are almost innumerous types of green tea around the world.
With that said, let's delve into the different types of green teas.
Green Tea Types - Naturally Numerable
In China alone, some say that there are hundreds of types of green teas. While learning about each type is vastly interesting, we here at Yezi Tea wanted to focus on just a few - the ones we think that all tea lovers should know!
Arguably the most popular and famous green tea in the world, and most certainly the most famous in China, is Long Jing or Dragon Well. Many consider Long Jing to be any green tea that hails from Hang Zhou Xi Hu, China. However, the highest quality Long Jing hails from neighboring areas as well. Long Jing leaves are harvested in early April right after the spring rains and go on to be inspected thoroughly while being meticulously processed. The leaves that make the best Long Jing are the young unopened ones hidden within other leaves called dragon sprouts. Once processed, you can determine the best quality Long Jing by its subdued color and straight, flat, and uniform size. For hundreds of years, Long Jing has been regarded as one of the most beautiful green teas in China for its color, alluring fragrance, elegance during brewing, and light, bright flavor.
Mao Feng or Fur Peak
For many tea lovers, if you mention Mao Feng, it immediately calls to mind Huangshan Mao Feng, one of China's ten most famous teas. Hailing from the breathtakingly beautiful mountain range of Huangshan, Huangshan Mao Feng originated in the 19th century and became famous in the Ming dynasty. And although the Huangshan variety is the most famous, there are several other regions of China that produce Mao Feng as well. This sweet and smoky tea gets its name from the appearance of the dry leaf as the tea is covered in pekoe and totes a sharp point at the end of each leaf. Authentic Mao Feng ranges in color from gray to gold and will contain one sprout for each young leaf. This is a very fragrant tea, almost unusually so for a green tea, and its brew is exceptionally rich, smooth, and never bitter. Many consider Mao Feng to be a perfect green tea for green tea skeptics!
Bi Lo Chun or Green Snail Spring
Bi Lo Chun or Green Snail Spring is named after the twisted shape of the tea's leaves and the season in which it is harvested. Originating in the Tang dynasty, Bi Lo Chun tea trees are planted in the same fields as fruit trees and are said to absorb the aromas of the fruits around it. The tea contains one sprout for every one young, lightly pekoe covered leaf and is known for its beautifully unusual complexity. With a strong, fruity aroma and saccharine peach taste, Bi Lo Chun makes a wonderful choice for tea lovers with a sweet tooth.
It seems rightful that jasmine tea first originated in Fujian as jasmine is the municipal flower of Fuzhou, Fujian’s capitol. This modern style of jasmine tea has been around since the late Ming dynasty and continues to be the most popular of the floral scented teas. We consider Mo Li Hua Pearls to be the best variety of jasmine tea, as the pearl shape of the leaves is not only beautiful, it is also functional, for it allows for a more prominent and complex flavor of jasmine. After the tea leaves are rolled into a pearl like shape, the tea is scented in one of two ways. In the first way, the tea and the freshly bloomed jasmine flowers are blended together and then stored for many hours. In the second way, the tea and unopened jasmine flowers are placed on alternating layers and as the flowers bloom, they strongly scent the tea. In both methods, for the best Mi Lo Hua Pearls, the process of scenting is repeated for several days in a row until finally, the flowers are removed and the tea itself is dried. The jasmine aroma is so strong that the scent remains long after the flowers themselves have bid adieu to the tea.
Now that we have mentioned some of the green teas that we here at Yezi think are important, we should also mention some of the green teas that China thinks are important - important enough to make most of the Ten Famous Teas of China lists, that is!
We have already spoken about two of the green teas noted on many lists, Long Jing and Huangshan Mao Feng, so let's briefly touch on three others: Liu An Gua Pian, Tai Ping Hou Kui, and Xinyang Maojian.
Liu An Gua Pian originated in the 12th century and boasts young, tender leaves with a delicate, bittersweet flavor. Notes of spinach and seaweed are abounds in this unique tea.
Tai Ping Hou Kui hails from the Tai Ping and Jing counties in Anhui province. Originating in the Ming Dynasty, Tai Ping Hou Kui is a very aromatic tea with a sweet and subtle flavor. What makes Hou Kui particularly special is its great rhythm. With each infusion, the tea changes remarkably and takes the tea drinker on an amazing journey which could fool some into thinking that they are drinking several different teas.
Xinyang Maojian dates back over a thousand years and hails from Xiyang city in Henan. Its name refers to the pekoe that can be seen in its resulting brew and the sharpness of the dry leaves. This dark leafed tea will welcome you with a refreshing, crisp flavor and beautiful aroma upon first brew.
So, now that you have learned about some of the most important green teas from China, it would probably be a good idea for us to share with you how to prepare those teas!
Preparing Green Tea - Drinking Your Greens
The vast varying flavors of green teas make them the perfect tea type to drink all year round. And the refreshing tastes of green tea make them a perfect tea to drink all day long or perhaps when you just need a subtle pick me up. (Just be mindful of the caffeine!)
Like white teas, green tea is too delicate to be steeped in boiling water. For the best cup, green tea should be steeped in water that falls between 167 and 175 degrees Fahrenheit. However, for Mo Li Hua Pearls, we recommend that the leaves be steeped in water that ranges from 176 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Per cup, it is best to use 4-5 grams of green tea for every 6 ounces of water.
When preparing Chinese green tea, while we at Yezi Tea prefer to use a gaiwan for our teas, there are many tea connoisseurs who love to use a clear glass for brewing Long Jing to watch the beauty of the tea as it steeps. No matter the tea type though, we thoroughly recommend rinsing your tea leaves first (by steeping them for about a second or two), before preparing your first infusion. After rinsing, the first infusion should be steeped for one minute to a minute and a half, depending on the variety of green tea. And for each following infusion, tack on an additional 20 to 30 seconds. We cannot stress enough how important it is to steep green tea properly as we believe that improper steeping is the reason why many people will say they do not like green teas. If green tea is steeped for too long, the resulting brew can be extremely bitter. So, please, tea lovers, be kind to your greens and be sure to steep them well.
With that said, we cannot talk about drinking green tea without discussing how to properly keep the tea at its best! As we noted in our blog on "Tea Longevity," tea is best stored in a cool, dark, odor-free, and air-tight place. If stored properly, seasonal green teas will last about six months without their characteristics changing. However, some pan-fried green teas may last up to a year. To appreciate nature, we must preserve nature, and the same can be said of appreciating green tea.
Final Words - Standing the Test of Time
There is no doubt that the popularity of Chinese green tea has withstood the test of time. Originally solely consumed for its supposed health benefits, this ancient tea type has grown into a household staple for delicious relaxation and rejuvenation. With its refreshing taste, tantalizing aroma, and potent antioxidants, everyone can find a reason to appreciate the natural beauty of green tea. And with types of Chinese green teas numbering in the hundreds, we are certain that there is one out there for anyone willing to explore. From unique Mao Feng to fruity Bi lo Chun to crowd favorite Long Jing, the different flavors of green tea are not only bold, they are numerable. So with that, we here at Yezi say to you: Happy Exploring!