Why Green Tea is Green: a look at how green tea is processed.
Tea, these days, comes in all sorts of different colors and flavors, but that wasn’t always the case. Maybe you’ve asked yourself how one plant can be made into such a diverse array of beverages. I’d like to take the next few blog posts to explain how tea is processed to give a spectrum of colors. We’ll start with the original: green tea.
All true tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant (sorry Rooibos but you’re still considered tea in my cup!) This evergreen grows predominantly in hot humid climates and generally stands at 15ft. Only the young leaves at the tips of the branches are used to make tea. These leaves are picked, usually by hand, and then withered to remove water trapped in the leaves. Early tea producers would lay the leaves out in the sun for an hour or two, though some tea producers wither their leaves in a heated room. After the leaves have been withered, it’s time to fix them.
Fixing tea leaves keeps them green; if not fixed, the enzymes in the leaves will slowly turn them brown, like an apple slice left open to the air. This is accomplished by heating the leaves to destroy those enzymes. Traditionally, the leaves are steamed, but a variety of fixing methods have been invented. Pan searing is particularly popular in China. Although it’s slower than steam fixing, this process allows for more complex aromas to develop and imparts a subtle sweetness. Another fixing method involves blasting the leaves with hot dry air instead of steam.
Next, the tea leaves are rolled. Many green teas are still rolled by hand resulting in a myriad of diverse shapes. Our own MarketSpice Dragon-Phoenix Pearls tea is a great example of this, with the leaves rolled into little pea-sized balls. Gunpowder tea is even named after its compact shape. You may also come across tea rolled into rings, long spindles, and twisted curls. The shape of the rolled tea is often influenced by the shape and size of the leaves themselves as well as the region in which they were grown. Some tea producers have been using the same rolling technique for hundreds of years! The final step in green tea production is drying before it’s packaged for sale.
Green tea is more delicate than black tea or oolong. When brewing, it’s important to keep an eye on water temperature. (Between 160 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit is considered ideal. Any hotter and the tea leaves will be scorched, losing their aromatic flavors.) The tea should be brewed for 2-3 minutes taking your own personal tastes into account. If you’re unfamiliar with green tea, I suggest trying our Imperial Gunpowder or Jasmine tea. Both are common green teas you’ll encounter in the world and a great way to introduce yourself to this timeless beverage.