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Green Tea

Wednesday, 9 September 2009 | Tags: ,

The world's second-most popular beverage after water, tea has been enjoyed in China for over 5000 years. Unlike black tea, green tea doesn't undergo a fermentation process, so the flavour is quite a bit more astringent and closer to that of a fresh leaf. It also means it is a lot higher in antioxidants. We conduct a green tea taste test to find out if just any old brand will do.

The Basics

  • A popular practice in China was to boil water to make it safer to drink. Various tea plants originally grew wild in China and it was discovered that their leaves added an enjoyable flavour to hot drinking water.

  • “True” teas (i.e. not those made from herbs and fruits, actually called tisanes) come from the same species of plant, a flowering evergreen shrub related to the magnolia, called the Camellia sinensis. Variations in soil, altitude, climate, processing, and fermentation (or lack thereof) produce the wide range of teas.

  • The four main varieties of tea (from least to most processed) are:

    • White tea has a pale colour, fruity flavour, and less caffeine than other varieties. The leaves are picked young before they’re open completely and flower buds are still covered with a fine, white fuzz. White tea never undergoes fermentation. Instead, the leaves are steamed and dried. Some studies suggest that it may have even more anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and antioxidant qualities than green tea.

    • Green tea has an astringent, slightly bitter taste. The leaves are picked when they’re mature and just steamed and dried, not fermented. Well-known varieties of Chinese green tea include:

      • Gunpowder tastes pungent and slightly smoky since the leaves are rolled into small pellets to help preserve their flavour and protect them from breakage.

      • Dragon Well (“Lung Ching”) is the most popular tea in China, with a mild and slightly sweet flavour.

    • Oolong tea leaves are picked when they are mature, rolled, partially fermented (for a short period of time, between 15-80%), then dried. Oolong tea leaves are often dried over a charcoal fire, which gives a slightly woody flavour.

    • Black tea leaves are mature, rolled, fully fermented (100%), and then dried. The fermentation process allows the leaves to develop new flavour compounds (e.g fruity and/or sweet notes).

  • Some health benefits and concerns of green tea include:

    • Lower in caffeine than coffee, cola, black tea and oolong tea, but higher than white tea, herbal tea, and decaffeinated drinks.

    • Higher in antioxidants, which studies have shown help prevent heart disease, stroke, many types of cancer, diabetes, and Parkinson’s.

    • Green tea may also boost your metabolism, which makes it popular in weight-loss regimens.

  • Most of the green tea you find at supermarkets is made from lower quality, crushed leaves. Crushed leaves lose flavour and anti-oxidants faster than tea made from whole leaves.

  • Individually-wrapped teabags in foil packages retain their freshness for longer than those boxed loosely.

  • Organic tea is a better choice since pesticide use is less-regulated in China, India, and many major tea-producing countries than it is in North America. Studies suggest that many commercially available green teas contain pesticide residues—often from pesticides that have been banned for use in North America.

Other Considerations

  • Brewing your green tea the right way can help you get the best flavour and benefits:

    • The water should be 170-180°F. Water boils at 212°F, so use a thermometer, or stop your kettle when it is close to boiling. Too-hot water can make it bitter. Too-cool water will taste bland.

    • In the first infusion, brew the tea for about 2 to 3 minutes. Second and third infusions can steep for 3 to 4 or 4 to 5 minutes, respectively. (Note: you can extract flavour from the tea with repeated steepings, but most of the caffeine and antioxidants are in the first steeping.)

    • If using loose tea, make a light brew from 1 teaspoon for each 6 ounce cup of hot water, or a strong brew from 1 heaping teaspoon for every 6 ounces of water.

    • If using tea bags, note that a tea bag contains about ¾ teaspoon of tea.

  • Store green tea (whether loose or bagged) in an airtight container, away from light and heat. Green tea does not keep for as long as black tea, and should be used within 6 months.

Be Aware

  • The process used to develop most brands of decaffeinated green tea eliminates the majority of its antioxidant benefits.

  • Flavoured green teas may also contain much lower antioxidants, since the flavour agents may be masking low-quality leaves. If you like flavour, simply add a squirt of citrus juice to your cup, or steep a sprig of mint or a piece of vanilla bean in the pot with your tea.

  • Brands of teabags commonly available at the supermarket are usually filled with the lowest grade of tea. Plus, they’re crushed into tiny particles (called “fannings and dust” in the tea industry) which allows their flavours and catechins (an important antioxidant) to deteriorate quickly.

  • Bagged green teas also work out to be more expensive than most loose green teas, and they’re often packaged in bleached paper which can affect the flavour. Go loose!

TEST CRITERIA

We went to a tea shop to get a lesson from two tea sommeliers on how to best brew and serve Chinese green tea. We tested:

  • Tetley Pure Green Tea: $4.29/24 bags (48 g), or $8.94/100 g
  • Stash Premium Green Tea: $4.49/20 bags (40 g), or $11.23/100 g
  • Tazo China Green Tips: $6.95/24 bags (48 g), or $14.48/100 g
  • Mighty Leaf Organic Green Dragon: $11.50/15 bags (37.5 g), or $30.67/100 g
  • Dragon Well Tea Premium Grade (loose, whole leaf): $64.00/lb, or $14.08/100 g

Taste Test

  • Tazo smelled nutty and was more yellowy than green. It tasted pretty good (that is, until we tried the loose leaf).

  • Stash wasn’t very green in appearance and tasted similar to Tazo.

  • The Mighty Leaf Organic was surprisingly bland.

  • Tetley was murky and a dull brown. And it tasted like cardboard.

  • The Dragon Well loose leaf was light and clean tasting, and had many different levels of flavours.

OUR TOP PICK

There was no question Dragon Well Tea Premium Grade loose, whole leaf tea tasted far superior to all the other brands. It was the best, and actually worked out to cost less per pound than two of the others!

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