While many westerners believe they do not like the taste of green tea, this is often because they have only experienced poor quality leaves, brewed too long and at too high a temperature. In fact, green tea can be a truly remarkable drink, full of delicate flavours, complex aromas and endless variety. Rich in antioxidants and other health-giving compounds, green tea has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Contrary to popular belief, however, it does contain caffeine, though generally less than black teas.
Green tea is made from the Camellia sinensis plant, the same plant species from which black teas are made. In the Chinese provinces of Fujian, Zhejiang and Anhui – the home of some of the best green teas – over a thousand different types of green tea are made, rivalling wine in diversity. Here, ancestral techniques vary from region to region, or even from village to village. Introduced to Japan in the eighth century by Buddhist monks, green tea has more recently spread to other tea-producing countries such as Vietnam and northern India.
Unlike with black teas, with green teas the process of oxidisation – the natural darkening of the leaf that occurs after picking, also called fermentation – is prevented through the application of heat. The leaves can be ‘fired’ in a pan placed over a flame, baked in a heated revolving drum, or steamed in the Japanese style. The leaves are shaped by curling, pressing, rolling and swirling motions. Manual rolling requires enormous practise and dexterity, and countless shapes have been created, all of them revealing slightly different tasting notes. The liquor of a green tea is typically a green or yellow colour, and flavours range from toasty, to more grassy, to fresh and mild.