Going Green with Japanese and Chinese Green Tea
The last time I had a craving for a latte, I went for a Starbucks green tea drink instead. Switching to green tea is a new ambition for me in an effort to lower caffeine intake and increase the diversity of flavors in my life.
Tea has been a favorite beverage in the world much longer than coffee. Chinese mythology says it was discovered by an emperor 4,000 years ago: Coffee’s history is only about 1,500 years at best. Since then, an amazing number of Chinese green tea varieties have been developed, along with a similar number of Japanese green tea types. Each has its own special flavor and culinary possibilities, as well as price tag.
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All varieties of tea come from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis, an evergreen shrub native to Asia. The amazing variety of flavors found in both Chinese and Japanese green tea are brought about by different growing methods, the type of soil where the plants are grown, timing of harvest, and processing methods after harvest.
Processing methods are one of the most important ways of creating different kinds of tea, including green teas. In making black and white teas, the leaves are crushed and fermented. In green tea production, the leaves are steamed or roasted immediately after harvest, preventing fermentation and resulting in green tea’s special favors and many health benefits.
There are now dozens of studies confirming the benefits of regularly drinking green tea. Weight control is one reason that interests a lot of people. This effect is brought about by anti-oxidants called EGCGs found in green tea which balance blood glucose and increase fat metabolism.
These same anti-oxidant EGCGs are also responsible for cleaning up free radicals which are linked to cancer and heart disease. Both of these conditions are lower in populations who drink green tea regularly. Green tea’s alkaline nature may be responsible for this, because the body is naturally slightly alkaline, and drinking green tea helps maintain this balance.
Japan Vs. China
Japanese varieties of green tea appear to have more antioxidants than their Chinese counterparts. This is reflected in the greener color of freshly brewed Japanese varieties of green tea. Japanese growing conditions also expose the plants to less lead from pollution in the air, making green teas from Japan lower in this contaminant.
Chinese green teas have the advantage when it comes to price and availability. China produces 80 percent of the world’s supply of this beverage, while Japan comes in at only 1 percent of the export market. The roasting or frying method of processing the tea leaves used in China also makes Chinese varieties of green tea slightly sweeter.
Green Tea Varieties
Sencha, the most commonly produced variety and the least expensive, because it is processed in the simplest way.
[easyazon_link identifier=”B00BGGDMCK” locale=”US” tag=”matcsecr0e-20″]Fukamushi Sencha[/easyazon_link] is a higher quality green tea which is steamed for twice as long as Sencha, giving it a more refined taste.
Gyokuro is one of the more expensive, and more flavorful and unusual, green tea types. In production of Gyokuro tea, the leaves are covered for 20 days prior to harvest, creating a finished product with a less astringent, deeply rich, umami flavor.
Let’s Not Forget Matcha
The best green tea benefits are delivered by the powdered form called matcha green tea. The powder is so finely ground that the entire leaf can be consumed, rather than just tea infused water. This results in as much as 137 percent more anti-oxidants in each serving. Matcha green tea is also used in preparation of foods containing green tea as an ingredient.
Green Tea and Beer?
One surprising new home for green tea is in beer. Stone brewery is now making green tea IPA, and other breweries may soon be jumping onto the trend. It is not clear yet if the benefits of green tea will survive when consumed as an alcoholic beverage.
Because green tea contains caffeine, albeit at only a quarter the levels of coffee, it is still a significant source for this stimulant. People with anxiety and pregnant women are most at risk of having bad effects from the caffeine in green tea beverages.
Green teas also contain high levels of vitamin K. While getting more of this nutrient is important for most people, anyone who takes blood thinning medications like Warfarin should talk to their doctor before going green in the tea department.
Balance is Key
On balance for most people, drinking Chinese green tea or Japanese green tea is likely to be a plus for both health and pleasure.
Which country’s tea do you prefer? Let us know in the comment section below.