Green tea is one of the most famous teas, right up there with black tea. It’s widely known and very much loved, so a guide for newcomers to this drink will be much appreciated.
I would’ve loved to know just how to brew green tea in my first year, to avoid all the mistakes I made. And so I’d know just what to expect from this delicate tea, since I was very disappointed at first
This beginner’s guide is going to do just that. Show you how to brew green tea, and also explain its background, health benefits, flavor variations, and anything else you’d need to fully understand green tea.
Fair warning, this will be a long read, so make sure you use the Table of contents to navigate to what interests you most.
Introduction to green tea
This first part is going to give you a rundown on what green tea is, the bare facts. Keep in mind that this is a very old drink, centuries old actually.
It’s become very popular in the West in the last few decades, and as such you’re going to have an extremely easy time finding it on shelves.
However, like black tea, it’s become such a fixture that it’s being taken as something that doesn’t even need explanation anymore. The facts of the matter is, green tea is very specific and needs a lot of understanding on your part.
What is green tea, really ?
Green tea is a brew made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The leaves are processed in a very specific way, in order to obtain green tea, as opposed to white or black tea.
It’s a brew that’s meant to provide the body with a series of antioxidants, which lend the brew its signature flavor. A delicate, grassy, cucumber-zucchini note that’s very refreshing.
Green tea is usually served hot, though it’s alright as cold or iced tea as well. In fact green tea, after black tea, is the second most common base for iced tea.
Where does green tea come from ?
Green tea comes from Asia, for the most part. Originally it came from China, and only China. After a few centuries, the tea drinking practice spread to Japan as well, and Korea and Vietnam, and through them to the rest of Asia.
But China is the birthplace of green tea, tea, and the tea plant itself (Camellia sinensis).
Nowadays you’ll find green tea from Sri Lanka (usually labeled as Ceylon, it’s ancient name), Taiwan, South Korea, and even Indonesia.
Back when green tea was first developed, the tea wasn’t actually green or black. It was just processed tea leaves, and the whole process became very specialized in time.
Green tea as we know it only became widely available during and after the Tang Dynasty (ruled China in 618-907 A.D.), and has since only been perfected, but not drastically altered.
How is green tea made ?
Green tea is made using the Camellia sinensis leaves. this is an important note, as there is another famous tea plant, the Camellia assamica, of which the Assam tea is famous for.
However the traditional and original plant use for green tea is the sinensis variety.
Green tea has a few very specific key elements that define it:
- low oxidation, as opposed to black tea which is a high oxidation tea
- minimal processing and heat exposure
- very young tea leaves, harvested mostly in the first part of the year
For green tea it’s important to obtain young tea leaves, meaning they should be harvested in the Spring, or very early Summer. The earlier in the year, the more delicate the flavor of the tea leaves.
This often results in floral teas, with some fruity notes.
Now, each time a leaf (actually two leaves and a bud) is plucked, the plant starts to grow again from that spot. That new growth is always allowed to reach the stage where its leaves have just unfurled, and there is one bud in the center.
Once that happens, the leaves are harvested, and sent to be processed.
By comparison, black tea usually needs tea leaves that are slightly older, and are also harvested a bit later in the year.
Once the tea leaves have been picked, they are left to dry out. The whole point of processing green tea is to oxidize it as little as possible. This means that it’s bruised and battered only as much as necessary to handle it.
Once the leaves have dried out (using different methods), they are then fired. Either through pan firing, or steamed, or oven baked, or another method.
Artisanal (or manual) methods give a higher quality tea, and thus a higher price tag.
Firing is just a way to expose the tea leaves to high heat, so as to dry them out completely, and make sure they cannot oxidize more than they already have.
This locks in the final flavor of the green tea you’re buying.
The less oxidized the leaves are, the clearer and fresher the flavor of the green tea. Some oxidation does occur, since the leaves are handled and left to dry, which does bruise them a bit simply by touching them.
Green tea grown in the shade vs in the sun
Another interesting nuance to your cup of tea is whether the tea was grown in the shade or in the sun. You might think it doesn’t matter all that much, since all plants get fair amounts of sun and shade alternately during the day.
While that is true, in tea this is a very important factor that can change the taste (and thus the quality) of the tea.
In short, shade grown teas are harder to care for, since the tea plant must be tended to much more than regular tea plants. Less exposure to direct sunlight means a more pure flavor, since the sun changes some of the plant’s natural chemistry.
For example the tea leaves grown for Matcha are shade grown teas.
You’ll find this practice mostly in Japan, but it’s also present in some other countries for their high-profile green teas.
Most teas are grown in the sun, which runs the risk of dulling the flavor, aside from literally scorching the leaves if the weather hits too hard.
Japanese vs Chinese green teas
There is a bit of difference between the Japanese and Chinese green teas, and they’re important if you’re planning on really getting to know green tea.
Both Japanese and Chinese green teas are grown from the same plant – Camellia sinensis. But the way they are processed changes their properties.
A rundown of each country’s specific methods will give you a clearer view.
Japanese green teas:
- Are steamed directly after harvesting, leading to almost no oxidation, and a clearer taste
- Are either powdered (Matcha) or rolled into needle-shaped leaves
- Are almost always machine-processed, removing manual labor
- Are rarer on the market than Chinese green teas
- Come in very few flavors or varieties, instead focusing on the pure green tea flavor
- Almost always result in a green hued brew, due to steaming the leaves
By contrast, Chinese green teas:
- Are stored and left to dry after harvest, leading to some oxidation
- Come in a variety of shapes – rolled, twisted, little balls, rarely flat
- Are hand-made most of the time, since those shapes require human hands
- Are very common on the market, and are probably in your cupboard right now
- Come in a whole slew of flavors and blends and options
- Rarely produce a green hued brew, due to pan-firing or baking which results in light golden hues
Now, when it comes to flavor these things do matter, so take a look at the tea box next time you buy some, and note where your tea is from so you know what to expect from it.
Green tea brewing and taste profile
Alright, now you’ve got the basics of green tea down pat. You know where it comes from, how it’s grown, and how it’s made. Not let’s talk about it’s flavor ad how to make sure you brew it so you actually enjoy it.
My first tries when making green tea were… uh, not great. I ended up disliking it after a while, because I didn’t bother to read the instructions printed on the pack. This lead to very bad tea, which was completely my fault.
So pay attention, and you’ll know just what to expect from your cup of green tea.
How to brew green tea
Green tea, assuming you’ve got loose leaf green tea, is going to be easy to brew but you’ll need to be very careful with a few elements, like how much time you let it steep and the water temperature.
Now, exactly how much tea leaves do you need to use for an 8 oz/236 ml cup of tea ?
From what I’ve noticed and tried on my own, exactly two teaspoons of green tea are enough. Add too much, and you risk getting a very bitter cup of tea due to exposing too much in the hot water.
Water temperature is another element to watch out for, since green tea really is a delicate tea, and needs a specific temperature. While black tea may be more forgiving, green tea isn’t. And it’s not really easy to smooth it out once it’s bitter.
So make sure you only use 80 C/176 F water for your green tea brewing adventures. For this a food thermometer is going to help, and I suggest you go looking for one (or just check this one on Amazon) since heating water and hoping for the best won’t be enough.
And since we’re talking about heating water, make sure you heat yours in a kettle or pot on the stove, and not in the microwave. Why ?
Well, put simply traditional methods of heating water are more reliable (constant temperature) and have a much smaller chance of literally blowing up in your face.
And since they work slower, they also make it easier for you to keep track of how fast the water is getting to the necessary temperature, and you can turn it off in time.
You’re going to need something to brew your green tea in. This big (15 fl oz/450 ml) cup has pretty much everything you can ask for.
A large serving size, a good metal filter to keep your tea leaves and remove them, a ceramic lid to keep the tea hot (can double as a coaster), and a large amount of color options.
You can check the listing on Amazon here, and read the reviews as well.
Once your water is hot, and your tea leaves are in position, let the leaves sit in the hot water to exactly two minutes, Very few green teas need more than that.
Make sure to set a timer with an alarm, not a stopwatch. You risk forgetting about your tea (speaking from experience) and getting distracted in those 2 minutes.
Once the alarm goes off, remove the tea leaves or strain your tea, and enjoy your brew !
What does green tea taste like ?
Green tea is a very fresh and vegetal type of tea. It’s certainly not a tea for everyone or just anyone, since it’s not a flavor you can easily get accustomed to if you prefer sweet drinks. Most people do, and they’re disappointed at first by green tea.
Think green grapes (including the skin), cucumber, zucchini, under ripe honey melon, fresh hay. That’s the general smell and taste of green tea, a pure green tea. One that hasn’t been grown or processed to develop a certain flavor, and instead has it’s own taste.
In truth pure green tea is a bit harsh, and has a definite astringency. You’ll feel it on your tongue, and possibly on your teeth. That’s due to the high amount of antioxidants present in green tea, and they are responsible for many of the health benefits associated with green tea.
If you’ve never had green tea before, then you should know that you’re going to need to get used to it at first. Plunging right into a pure green tea might not be the best idea, since it might be too much in one go. Instead I recommend you go for a blended or flavored green tea at first.
Then, after you’re used to the flavored one, you can transition to the pure green tea.
A flavored green tea you’ll love
A great green tea to get yourself used to the green tea flavor without being overwhelmed, this ginger and peach green tea is going to provide lots of cushioning for the sometimes strong green tea flavor.
Peach is a really nice flavor on its own, and ginger will make it lighter, and all of this over a layer of green tea to get you accustomed to the taste. Great tea to start your foray into green tea.
It comes in a nice, ornamental tin, in the form of 50 tea bags (unbleached). One teabag will get you one cup of tea as large as 8 oz/236 ml.
You can check the listing on Amazon here, and read the reviews as well.
A pure green tea to show you its true taste
Now here’s a pure green tea, and a Japanese one at that. You’ll get the full, unbridled flavor of Japanese green tea, and finally taste what green tea really is like.
This is organic green tea, grown on a family-owned farm in Shizuoka, Japan.
Comes with full USDA approval, and organic label.
The package is 100 gr/3.5 oz, which should last you about 50 cups of tea, if you use 2 teaspoons per 8 oz of brew.
You can check the listing on Amazon here, and read the reviews as well.
Green tea variations and blends
As you might’ve noted above, there’s quite a few blends of green tea, or just simple variations on the standard recipe.
The main reason behind this is that green tea is a bit harsh for many people, so the demand for a more palatable version of green tea came forward.
This is how we ended up with jasmine green tea, for example. And why you’ll sometimes find green tea mixed with herbal teas, like green tea with mint, or green tea with chamomille, or strawberry or another flavor to tone down the green tea.
In fact this is what most green teas on the market are made of. A simple green tea, usually a standard quality one, blended with different flavors.
For example I’ve been drinking green tea with tropical fruit mixes for some years now, from various brands, because pure green tea is too much for me.
Is Matcha green tea ?
I’ve brought Matcha into discussion a few times now. Let’s talk about it and green tea a bit, since they’re often in the same sentence.
Matcha is actually green tea, but not was we normally know it and there are some differences between pure green tea and Matcha. It’s a very specific type of green tea. Only grown in Japan, and only in the shade.
The leaves grown for Matcha are the same leaves used for Gyokuro, a high quality Japanese green tea. After picking they’re de-veined and the stems are removed so the only parts left are very small flat surfaces from the leaves.
Then they’re dried completely, and milled into a fine powder, which makes a very vibrant, green color. That is Matcha powder, and you’re meant to simply mix it thoroughly with some hot water, and obtain a suspension, not an infusion.
Can you add milk to green tea ?
No, you shouldn’t add milk to green tea. The whole point of green tea (and Matcha) is to enjoy the pure, green flavor of the tea.
Adding any sort of milk, or steamed milk, or milk foam will greatly dilute the flavor and experience of green tea.
Besides, there’s a grassy, raw sort of taste to green tea that just does not mix with milk.
I know there’s Matcha lattes, or green tea smoothies. Please refrain from getting those, and instead look for a green tea blended with fruits, since that will get you a better sweetened green tea, without sacrificing its flavor.
Going on a bit of a tangent, Matcha cakes and other assorted baked goods cannot be very close to the original Matcha/green tea flavor, due to exposure to air( oxygen, and thus oxidation which changes the taste) and heat.
If you ever get a green tea inspired food or drink, make sure it’s a cold/iced type, and contains not milk. Plant-based milk is alright, since it’s got a different composition than dairy and will not ruin the flavor of green tea.
Can you put honey in green tea ?
Yes, you can use honey in your green tea. It’s going to enhance both the flavor and the health benefits.
You can even add honeycomb, and that’s a more reliable source of raw honey that’s going to keep the exact flavor of honey, straight from the hive.
Whether you add honey or honeycomb, the final product is tea with honey. This means you’re going to need to be careful about the temperature of your tea.
Bringing honey to temperatures above 40 C/104 F is not a good idea, since this will ruin the composition of honey. Its taste won’t be the same, it loses its antibacterial properties, and really there’s nothing good left in it.
But how do you know when your tea is cool enough to add honey ? Well, if you have no food thermometer to use, you can guide yourself by whether you can comfortably hold the cup of tea in your hands.
Normal skin temperature is 37 C/86 F, so if you cup feels warm but not hot, like your own skin, then it’s safe to add honey.
Why is my green tea bitter ?
Your green tea can get bitter if you brew it incorrectly.
This can happen when you’re using water that’s too hot – anything over 80 C/176 F – because it will draw out more tannins than your cup of tea would need in one steeping.
There’s also the flavor of green tea, which can and does get ‘scalded’ if you use water that’s too hot. It’ll not only be bitter but also taste a bit off.
Another reason your green tea will get bitter is if you’re using too much green tea or letting it steep for too long.
For 8 oz/236 ml of brew, you need 2 teaspoons of loose leaf tea. And they only need to be kept in hot water for exactly 2 minutes, on a timer.
Leaving them too long, or using more than recommended, will again lead to too much tanning content, which will ruin the taste of the green tea.
What to add to green tea to improve the taste
Improving the flavor of your green tea can be fun, and it’s really a great way to experiment with different flavor enhancing ingredients.
Aside from adding honey, which we’ve discussed just now, there are a few other things you can add.
Mostly fruits and other plants, like mint or jasmine flowers, or a wedge of lemon.
For example if you were to add ginger (grated) to your green tea, and let it brew with the tea, you’d get a very lovely version of green tea that’s going to be forgiving even if you oversteep it.
The same goes for mint, peppermint to be exact. Both peppermint and spearmint are great in tea, but I’m a peppermint fan so I’m backing this one. The point is that mint will refresh the cup of tea to the point where it won’t really matter if your tea became bitter or not.
But if you try adding anything to your tea, and see that it’s just too bitter, it’s best to start over and try again with a fresh new cup, and pay more attention to instructions.
Green tea and your health
Alright, no you know what green tea is, and how to brew it, and how to influence its taste. But what about green tea’s health benefits, since it’s such a popular topic in the last decade ?
Well green tea’s been studied quite a bit, but even so researchers still argue over the results point to a definite effect on health or not. Most of the time the findings are along the lines of “improved blood circulation by 11%”, or other such percentages.
Those aren’t very impressive, I know. But it’s as far awe we’ve managed to get; very few studies point out any significant, life-changing effect of consuming green tea daily.
Though most agree that taken in moderation, green tea will not harm you.
Does green tea contain caffeine ?
Yes, green tea does contain caffeine, and let me tell you it’s higher than black tea !
There’s a caveat.
Caffeine is present in the Camellia sinenis plant by default, which means all teas from this plant contain caffeine. Including green and black tea.
The younger the plant, or the parts of the plant used, the more caffeine content it has so it will fend off predators. Meaning the younger leaves, in the first half of the year when the plant has more resources, will always have more caffeine.
And that’s usually green tea. But, caffeine needs 3-5 minutes to fully infuse from tea leaves or coffee beans. And since green tea gets soooo very delicate when it comes to steeping times, you won’t get the most caffeine from brewed green tea.
Unused green tea leaves, which weren’t steeped, will have more caffeine than unused black tea leaves.
But, since black ta can be steeped for longer and in hotter water, it ends up being the most caffeinated tea out there.
So in short yes, brewed green tea does contain caffeine. Maybe a bit less than brewed black ta, but still.
What are some green tea health benefits ?
Some of green tea’s health benefits are in regard to fat loss, fat burning, energy levels, blood pressure, and the sheer power of antiodixants.
Antioxidants are a great way to boost your metabolism since they help the cells that make up your body become more stable, and withstand bombardment from bad elements coming from sleep deprivation, bad food, lack of exercise, and general unease.
That is, antioxidants from green tea won’t turn your life around, but they will give you a small boost if you put in some work.
For example if you’ve got serious cholesterol problems, green tea can help lower ‘bad’ cholesterol levels and raise ‘good’ cholesterol levels.
This contributes to better blood pressure, and helps with burning body fat.
In some cases it can even help (marginally, but still) with Type 2 Diabetes, since it lowers the body’s resistance to insulin, meaning less shots for you.
Is green tea safe for pregnancy ?
As long as you limit your green tea intake to no more than 2 cups a day, you should be fine. That’s no more than 15 oz/450 ml of green tea per day.
This is because green tea does contain caffeine, but in a smaller amount than coffee. And that’s the biggest reason you can drink a bit more green tea than you can coffee while pregnant.
Caffeine during pregnancy can lead to dehydration, since it will send you to the bathroom more often than would be needed. And when you’re pregnant, you really need to up your water intake, not lower it.
And no, coffee and tea do not count as water, since both trigger frequent urination, which removes water from your body.
So in short yes, you can drink green tea while pregnant, but no more than 2 cups a day.
Is green tea safe for kids ?
Seeing as green tea contains some caffeine, but it acts in a different way than coffee, 1-2 cups of green tea would be alright for children.
They should not be toddlers, otherwise it may upset their stomachs. And there’s a high chance they won’t even like the flavor.
So for example if you’ve got a 10 year old who is curious about your cup of tea, allowing them a few sips wouldn’t hurt them.
But if it’s a very curious 2 year old, it’s best to keep it away from them.
A small child’s metabolism is very different from an adult, and the various elements naturally present in green tea haven’t really been proven to be either safe or unsafe for kids.
Most doctors recommend you don’t give green tea to your kid, just because it’s not fully studied yet.
But if the child seems find after one cup, it’s safe to assume they’re reacting well to the drink. Still, no more than 2 cups of green tea a day, in order to limit caffeine consumption.
What are some green tea side effects ?
Most of the side effects associated with green tea stem mostly from the caffeine content in green tea.
Thus, drinking too much green tea (more than 5 cups a day) can lead to high blood pressure, cold sweat, jitters, insomnia, IBS triggers, and serious dehydration.
This is because high caffeine levels can trigger this, and more than 5 cups of green tea a day can lead to a serious caffeine buildup in the body.
Given the fact that caffeine from tea is slow-releasing, and takes longer to leave the body, it has a longer lasting impact on the body and as such you can actually ‘stack’ the caffeine with several cups of tea within the span of a few hours.
Drinking green tea really is a way to de-stress and get to know yourself better. Simply because ti asks you to quiet down and sit still for a few minutes while you’re drinking it.
After all, you can’t really enjoy green tea on the go, rushing to a meeting. Not truly enjoy, since then it only becomes a liquid to drink, and it’s not the most comfortable drink for this since it has such a distinctive flavor.
This guide was meant to show you the basics of green tea. There are some very fine points, that I haven’t touched on here. There’s no need for that in a beginner’s guide. I might write about them at a later date, though.
If you want to know more about coffee or tea, feel free to check the related articles below. Who knows what else you might find ?