Introduction to Green Tea

Introduction to Green Tea

by Fiona Kewley

Where do I start with loose leaf tea?

Part 2: Introduction to Green Tea

Many people say they dislike green tea, frequently considered to be bitter and inferior to its milky, black, sugary cousin that we all know and love. Some might still drink it anyway on the premise that “it’s super duper healthy” and will cure us of our many ailments. A common reason that many people don’t enjoy green tea is that, when brewed incorrectly, the tea can be completely spoiled. Oh, if it were as easy as chucking on some boiling water and waiting until we feel like (or remember to) pour it from the teapot. Preparing and brewing green tea to perfection is an art form to say the least, and at Tea & Glory we feel that the precision required only adds to the beauty of the experience of drinking a fine tea. 

How do you brew loose green tea?

 Green tea is very sensitive to water temperature, and is always best brewed at a lower temperature. The golden rule is to avoid pouring boiling water over green tea. The optimum temperature varies depending on what type of green tea you are brewing, and can be anywhere between 50 - 85°C (120 - 185°F). As a general guide, the majority of Chinese greens tend to be brewed at 70 - 85°C (160 - 185°F) for around 3-4 minutes, and Japanese green teas usually need water between 55 - 65°C (130 - 150°F), for around 1 - 1½ minutes. It’s important to pay close attention to how long the leaves are steeping; nothing spoils an afternoon tea like an over-steeped brew.

A fool-proof way to get your water to the right temperature is to first pour the freshly drawn boiling water from your kettle into your empty teapot, which heats up your teaware whilst also cooling down the water. For teas that need lower temperatures such as Japanese greens, you can also pour the hot water into your teacups to warm these as well. It's handy to use a thermometer to check that the water is the right temperature before you pour it onto the leaves. Alternatively you can use a temperature-controlled kettle (for all the tea nerds out there). Put the tealeaves into your warmed teapot and replace the lid, allowing the leaves to gently open in the warmth and release their aroma. Once the water is cool enough, it’s ready to pour onto the tea leaves, in a circular motion.

Brewing at different temperatures

Different components of the tea are brought out in the liquor at varying temperatures. When we brew with cooler water we can taste the sweet, umami vegetal notes which comes from the amino acids in the tea. Hotter water allows catechins (polyphenols that act as antioxidants in the body) to be drawn from the leaves, resulting in a more bitter taste.

One of the joys of drinking loose leaf tea is re-steeping the leaves a number of times to get the most out of the tea. Generally, green teas can be re-steeped around three times, and we advise to increase the brewing time or the temperature slightly each time you re-steep the leaves. Each steep will bring out a variety of new flavour notes as the leaves continue to unfurl and release their components. 

The temperature guidelines are helpful to bear in mind, but ultimately finding the right brewing parameters for you is simply a matter of personal taste. You may enjoy a stronger, more bitter tea whilst others prefer a sweeter, milder flavour. There really is no right or wrong way with tea, so test and taste as much as possible to discover what flavour profile you like in your cup. 

Where to start with choosing and trying loose leaf green teas?

There is a huge range of green teas available to choose from, predominantly found in China and Japan. In China, most green teas are heated in pans shortly after harvesting, a process known as “panning”, which prevents the oxidative browning of the tea leaves and results in a green tea that is yellowy green in colour. Chinese green teas come in a variety of shapes - flattened, curved, long needles, tightly rolled balls - and are revered for their sweet, delicate flavour. Some of the most famous Chinese green teas worth trying are Mao Feng (Fir Peak), Long Jing (Dragon Well), Biluochun (Green Snail Spring), Anji Bai Cha (Anji White Tea), Mao Jian (Hairy Tip), and Gunpowder.  

Japanese green teas are steamed, rather than panned, and are known for their bright emerald colour, precise needle shape and vegetal, umami flavour. The most commonly drunk green teas in Japan are Sencha (translated as Brewing Tea), Houjicha (Roasted Tea), Genmaicha (Brown Rice Tea), and the ever popular Matcha, stone-ground, powdered green tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony which you can see below.

In other parts of Asia, you can find some fantastic green teas that are worth a try. Korea is famous for making Nokcha, which literally means “green tea” in Korean, a delightful green tea with a bright grassy sweetness and lots of umami. In Korea, green tea is both panned and steamed, contributing to its delicious and unique flavour. Vietnam makes lovely loose leaf teas in the north of the country, and produces Jasmine and Lotus green tea.  

If you want to learn more about brewing, processing, tea history and all about the many beautiful varieties of loose leaf tea that are out there, there will be more blog posts coming soon focusing on teas from different countries.  Also keep an eye out for our upcoming tea tastings and workshops that will be taking place at our tea bar in Camden. 

See you soon!

The Tea & Glory Team