Tea Primer, Part 2: Green Tea

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Green teas are relatively new to the palate of the western world, but in most parts of Asia they are often the tea enjoyed daily. Much of the research done on human health benefits of tea has been done using green tea, therefore more Americans have begun trying to drink it because of the press regarding its health benefits.

The process of making green tea goes like this: The tea is plucked, withered for only a very short time, and then heated to put a halt to oxidation of its enzymes. Often during the heating period the leaf is also shaped by pressing it against the sides of a wok or box, twisted, or rolled. In China, green tea is usually heated by pan firing or in an oven, whereas in Japan the tea is usually heated by steaming. These differing methods are partially responsible for the differences in shades of green that the finished tea exhibits, as well as differences in flavor and aroma. Other countries producing green tea include Korea, Thailand, and more recently India and Kenya, as well as others where experimentation is taking place.

Some of the most famous green teas include China’s Lung Ching (aka Dragon Well) of the West Lake area in Zhejiang province. Here the two leaves and a bud plucked from the plants are flattened against the sides of heated woks by hand to give the tea its characteristic appearance of smooth, flat, spearlike leaf shape which brews to a pale yellow liquor with aromas and flavors of bok choy and toasted walnut.

Another China Green tea is Gunpowder Green, probably the first green tea exported to the colonies. A sturdy, heartier green tea, it held up well in its long sailboat journey from China to Great Britain, and then on to the colonies. This tea gets its name from the rolled shape of it and the dark grey/green color which resembles the pellets once used by soldiers as musket shots. With a liquor ranging in color from bright yellow to green, its flavor and aroma is slightly vegetal and charred, reminsicent perhaps  of grilled leeks.

A classic addition to green tea in China is the infusion of the scent of flowers into the tea leaves. For centuries the Chinese have scented teas with flowers such as rose petals, osmanthus flowers, and Jasmine flowers. In the highest quality of Jasmine Pearl tea, high quality green tea with many tips, or buds, is plucked, dried, and stored in early spring. When the Jasmine flowers bloom, around June, they are rushed to the tea factory. There, the tea leaves are humidified to make them pliable, allowing the factory workers to roll the leaves into small neat pearls. The pearled leaves are spread out on permeable trays which are slid into racks, alternating with trays of fresh jasmine blossoms. The racks are stored in a small enclosed space for several days, with fresh blossoms changed out each day, until the desired fragrance is achieved. Enjoying a cup of this high grade Jasmine tea is a heavenly experience, and quite different from more cheaply made Jasmine teas where artificial flavoring is used.

 

In contrast, Japanese green teas are grown almost exclusively from the same cultivar, and are steamed to stop oxidation of the leaves. The Japanese cultivar is known for its “umami”, or “mouth feel” which differs from Chinese greens. And the practice of shading the tea plants for a period of time prior to harvest accounts for the vivid, bright green color of Japanese teas such as Gyokuro and Matcha as well as a smoother, more mellow and less astringent flavor than say, the sun-grown Sencha green tea which is the Japanese daily green.

These are only a handful of the varieties of green tea available. The best way to explore the differing styles, tastes, and nuances, is to taste a series of green teas with the goal of comparing and contrasting.

Next time…we’ll look at Oolong teas.

 

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