Green Tea: the what and how. An introduction.
Words by Marlijn Berendsen
Photography by Timo Janse
Marlijn, teasommelier, and Timo, master of the cocktail, join forces to bring you the ultimate tea-cocktail merger experience. Dive into the depths with us! Part 1: green tea.
As a tea sommelier, but more often so when selling tea directly to the consumer, I often get asked: what is green/black/white tea? Because “isn’t tea, just tea”? Well… no, not at all, and then again, it is. Let me elaborate…
Tea does all come from the same type of plant, the Camellia Sinensis. Two main varieties are distinguished: the Camellia Sinensis Sinensis, which hails from China and is primarily used for the production of green, white and oolong teas, and the Camellia Sinensis Assamica, originally from the Assam region in India, and mostly used for the production of black teas and Pu’Erh. The difference between the types of tea comes entirely from the processing of the leaves after they are picked.
A little disclaimer, before we start: nowadays, there is a tremendous amount of experimenting going on. Sometimes with different cultivar of the Camellia Sinensis, different ways of growing and processing the tea leaves. As a consequence a large grey area has appeared, where some teas can not be categorized into a green, black, yellow, white or blue area. Simply because the production process has borrowed elements from different classical production processes and brought them together to create something new. In these descriptions, to avoid confusion and for the sake of education, we stick to the better known, classic methods.
Green Tea: An Introduction
Green tea is usually made by picking the young buds and top leaves of the tea plant: two leaves and a bud.
Green tea is un-oxidized, which means the (hand)picking and processing needs to be done with a lot of care to prevent bruising the leaves, which would cause oxidation to start happening. After picking, the leaves are withered ,often out in the sun, and then pan-baked or pan-fired in large wok-type pans. The reason they are baked is to bring the temperature up to a point where it stops the enzymes within the leaf from reacting, which would cause oxidation.
Japan VS Chinese method
The major difference between Chinese and Japanese green tea, is the method of heating and deactivating the enzyme: the Chinese, as mentioned, pan-fry the leaf, and the Japanese steam the leaf.
This causes the Japanese tea leaves to have more pronounced grassy, umami-like flavors, whereas Chinese green teas (while some do have grassy undertones) are often a bit more nutty, a bit more toasted. After this so-called stay-green process, the leaves are rolled or pressed into shape, before being dried to reduce the moisture in the leaves to about 2-3%.