Green tea has become a very popular beverage in the Western world. It has been popular in Asia for centuries, where it was produced more than 3000 years ago. Today, most green tea is still produced in Asia, though other countries produce green tea, as well. There are literally hundreds of varieties of green tea, and many grades of quality within these many varieties.
Green tea comes from the same plant as black and white teas; the Camellia sinensis. Green tea differs from black tea in the way it’s processed, however. Green tea is not fermented during its processing of the way that black tea is. Rather, after the tea leaves are plucked, they are laid out to wither for about 8 to 24 hours to let the water evaporate from the leaves. Next, the leaves are steamed or pan-fried to prevent fermentation from taking place. Finally, the leaves are rolled and then dried once again.
Because of this different processing, green tea looks, smells, and tastes different from black tea. It brews to a green color and, when unflavored, has a very natural, grassy flavor. The lack of fermentation that makes green tea so unique in flavor also makes it healthier than black tea.
The fermenting process used for black and oolong teas causes an antioxidant called EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) to be oxidized and converts it into other compounds. In green tea, the EGCG is left in its natural state. This is important because EGCG is one of the most potent anti-oxidants, and it is far more powerful in its natural state.
EGCG is helpful to the body because it can neutralize damaging free radicals. Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules that are created as a byproduct of our digestive processes. Unless they are eradicated from our bodies, free radicals damage our cells and DNA, causing aging and disease. This cell damage contributes to the development of some serious illnesses like cancer, heart disease, and high cholesterol.
Doctors recommend a diet rich in antioxidants like EGCG to help us live longer and stay healthy. Asian cultures, which have consumed large quantities of green tea for centuries, have far lower incidences of these serious diseases.
When you start to look for green teas to try, you’ll find that there are more varieties to choose from than you can even name. Green tea is grown in almost every region of China, is a large part of Japan, and in other countries including India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Korea, Vietnam, and even Australia! So, you’ll have a lot of choices in your green tea!
One of the choices you definitely want to make is to choose the best green tea there is, regardless of the variety you try. This means choosing the best of the year’s tea crop and choosing tea that comes from the best tea gardens.
There are many tea gardens in the world, and as with any other product, some gardens produce better tea than others. Producing the very best green tea is labor-intensive. If farmers use shortcuts, it shows in the final product. The best tea gardens pluck the tea leaves by hand and process them the very same day they’re plucked.
The best tea gardens employ skilled tea artisans who can judge exactly how much steaming time is needed to get the tea just right. Though the steaming time varies just from 30 seconds to 60 seconds, it’s critical that each batch of tea leaves steamed for exactly the right amount of time based on the size, thickness, and softness of the leaves.
In addition to choosing tea from the best tea gardens, you should also choose a tea that is from the best plucking of the year. Each year green tea gardens will pluck tea from the first harvest in the spring until frost. This can mean that the trees will be harvested as many as four or five times in one growing season.
A really good tea farm will produce good tea throughout the summer, but their best tea will always be from the first plucking in the spring.
Reputable tea gardens will ensure that tea from subsequent plucking is given a lower grade than the tea from their first plucking. In addition, many “first plucking” teas will be labeled as such. Tea from the first plucking will cost more than tea from subsequent plucking but will have much better flavor.
So, if you’re interested in ensuring that you buy only the very best green tea, look to your tea shop. The best tea shops will get their tea from the best tea gardens and their stock will be appropriately marked and graded so that you can tell when you’re purchasing tea from the first plucking.
In fact, many of the best tea shops will notify their customers when the first shipment of the year is received, so that they can buy tea from the first plucking as soon as it is available.
Because the quantity of tea from the first plucking of the season is limited, you may not be able to find it all year long. The first tea of the season is usually ready for the market in May or June. Keep your eye out each year for the perfect time to buy.
Buying the best quality green tea needn’t be difficult. Just be sure to use a quality tea shop that can provide you with the best and first plucked green tea each year.