Green tea has a long and rich history. Its popularity and touted medicinal powers stem from the story of ancient Chinese ruler, Yan Di. One day, while experimenting with herbs to uncover their medicinal properties, he accidentally poisoned himself. Legend has it that water from a tea tree dropped into his mouth and miraculously brought him back to health. His recovery spurred a movement hailing the medicinal value of green tea across China.
During the Tang Dynasty (618-904 AD), Buddhist monks imported green tea from China to Japan. As tea was a rare commodity, the country developed a ceremony—a choreographed ritual of preparing and serving green tea (specifically Matcha)—to represent four principles: harmony, reverence, purity, and calm. To this day, the Japanese Tea Ceremony is an integral part of Japanese high culture.
Several centuries passed before green tea made its way to the US in the early 1900s. And recently, scientists confirmed what the Chinese and Japanese already believed to be true—adding green tea to your everyday diet enhances your health and overall well-being.
All tea (black, green, oolong, pu-erh, white, and yellow) is made from leaves of Camellia sinensis, a slow-growing evergreen shrub. The Camellia sinensis, found primarily in Asia—specifically China, Japan, Korea, and India—grows up to 4 meters high.
The flavor and nutritional value of green tea varies greatly depending on the growing environment of the Camellia sinensis. Quality of soil and sunlight exposure both play a role. The way the leaves are processed for sale (steamed, toasted, etc.) and how we prepare the tea for consumption further affect the nutrient value and taste.
Green tea grown in China, Japan, and Korea have distinct flavor profiles.
Chinese green tea leaves are toasted. This process gives them a fermented, nutty taste. Common varieties of Chinese green teas are Gunpowder, Longjing, and Lucky Dragon.
Japanese green tea leaves are steamed. This process gives them an oceany, “umami” (savory), and sometimes grassy taste. In general, Japanese green teas are considered healthier due to the Japanese soil in which they are grown: Japanese soil is characterized by its rich nutritional content. Common varieties of Japanese green tea are Sencha, Gyokuro, and Matcha.
Korean green tea leaves are lightly steamed and pan fried. This process gives them a flavor profile somewhere between Chinese and Japanese green tea. This tea is typically more astringent and oceanic than Chinese green tea, but slightly sweeter than Japanese green tea. The most common variety of Korean green tea is Nok Cha.
The quality of tea leaves depends on their location on the Camellia sinensis bush. Leaves from the top of the shrub are younger and therefore of the highest quality, while leaves from the bottom are older and of the lowest quality. Whole tea leaves are characterized as healthier than broken tea leaves. When the tea leaves are broken, the essential oils evaporate out of the leaves, causing them to lose their nutritional value.
To receive maximum health benefits and optimal flavor, opt for higher quality teas. Loose-leaf tea is primarily composed of higher grade, unbroken tea leaves. The taste is generally sweet.
Leaves in tea bags are typically picked from the bottom of the bush and may be broken, thus are lower in quality. In addition to having fewer health benefits, tea in tea bags is more astringent in taste.
To keep loose-leaf tea fresh, store in an airtight container in a dark cupboard. When opened, exposure to heat, moisture, and light may strip the leaves of nutrients and taste. Refrain from storing tea in the refrigerator or freezer to prevent odor absorption. If stored properly, loose-leaf tea remains fresh for two months after opening.
Pre-packaged tea bags generally have a longer shelf life than loose-leaf tea. Follow the instructions on the box for storage.
Measure tea leaves or choose a number of tea bags according to your desired serving size. Choose steep time (1 to 3 minutes) and temperature (158 to 212˚F) to fit your preferred flavor profile. Shorter steep time and lower temperatures yield milder flavors, while long steep times and high temperatures yield bitter flavors. Avoid scorching the leaves with boiling water right off the stove.
Traditionally, Japanese and Korean green teas are steeped for one minute at 175˚F and Chinese green tea for two minutes at 175˚F.
Green tea is a great addition to a health-supportive lifestyle. The antioxidants in green tea, specifically thearubigins, epicatechins, and catechins, combat free radicals (unstable molecules) in the body. Left alone, free radicals latch onto healthy cells. This process damages healthy cells and produces more free radicals.
Antioxidants minimize damage to healthy cells by stabilizing free radicals. Without antioxidants, free radicals cause excessive damage to cells, accelerating the aging process, potentially altering our DNA, and even contributing to the development of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Studies suggest drinking 2 to 3 cups of green tea daily yields optimal health benefits and counters these damaging effects.