If you’ve ever shopped for green tea, no doubt you’re aware that there are a vast number of choices. There are green teas from many regions of the world, and many varieties, grades and flavors from each region.
Green tea was likely the first kind of tea. About 3000 years ago in China, people plucked fresh tea leaves and let them dry in the sun before storing them. In the 8th century, tea processors began using the evaporation process, and by the 12th century, they began sautéing the leaves. Basically, green tea came about before tea processors learned the methods associated with processing black tea.
Even today, green tea is one of the teas left in its most natural state. Unlike black tea, green tea is unfermented. This lack of fermentation leaves the chlorophyll in the leaves, so that they retain their green color. Green tea also retains more of its natural anti-oxidants as a result of being unfermented. This makes green tea a far healthier choice than black tea.
The natural anti-oxidants in green tea hold a great deal of power for protecting our health and preventing disease. Anti-oxidants are important to our health because they neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are created in our bodies as a by product of digestion. These oxygen containing molecules damage our cells and DNA if left unchecked.
A diet rich in foods such as fruits, vegetables and other plant products like tea, helps rid our bodies of free radicals before they can damage our bodies.
In recent years, there has been an abundance of research showing that long term drinking of green tea can protect our bodies from many forms of disease, including cancer, heart disease and high cholesterol. Green tea has also been shown to be an effective weight loss supplement as well as a natural way to help regulate insulin levels. More research is needed, but it’s very likely that as time goes on we’ll find more and more health reasons for making green tea part of our everyday lives.
Classifying Green Tea
The many different varieties of green tea are classified, in part, by the method in which they are dried. The five methods of drying green tea include:
•Stir Frying – Fresh tea leaves are sauteed in a pan. This process is mainly used for export teas. Stir frying gives green a strong fragrance and taste. Some common varieties of green tea that are stir fried include gunpowder teas and Dragonwell teas.
•Roasting – Tea leaves are dried in a roast basket or roast chest. In most cases roasted teas are used as the basis for flower scented teas. Roasting keeps the leaves intact and makes them appear as though covered in a white fluff. Monkey king teas are roasted.
•Semi-roast and semi fry – Sometimes the stir frying and roasting methods are combined. This method is used in order to retain the beautiful look of a roasted leaf combined with the strong fragrance and taste of stir fried tea.
•Solar drying – This is the age old method, whereby leaves are dried in the sun. Today these leaves are typically used as the basis for compressed teas. These are the “green tea cakes” you sometimes see.
•Steaming – The leaves are steamed at a very high temperature to dry them. The most famous steamed green tea is Sencha.
Within each of these varieties of green tea, there are also quality grades. It can be very difficult to determine, however, the quality of tea you’re buying, because each country has different grading methods. China, which produces more green tea than any other country in the world, grades their green tea something like this.
First, teas for export are graded according to the age of the leaf and the finished shape of the leaf. These categories include gunpowder, imperial, young hyson, hyson, twankay, hyson skin, and dust. Within each of these categories there are several quality grades; sometimes as many as nine grades within one leaf shape.
With all the complicated categories of green tea, it can be difficult to know which ones to dry. Understanding the different drying methods and how they affect the flavor of the tea will give you a good start, as you can select varieties dried in the method that produces the taste you prefer. However, when it comes to selecting the best quality of this variety, you have little to go on. There are a couple of ways to spot good quality tea:
•Form – Loose tea is higher quality than bagged tea. Whether it’s black tea, green tea or white tea, you can bet that the lowest quality leaves are the ones used in tea bags. For good tea, always buy loose tea.
•Price – If loose green tea is really inexpensive, it’s probably not very good quality. Shop around to get a good idea of a fair price for good loose green tea so that you can accurately judge prices.
•Reputation of Tea Company – One of the best ways to ensure that you get good tea is to buy from a tea company with a reputation for selling only the highest quality teas. This is particularly important when shopping online.
It’s true that there are many varieties of green tea. But, that’s what makes trying green tea so much fun! There’s almost no end to the many flavors and nuances you can find in the different varieties of green tea. You’re sure to want to try them all!