Green shamrocks, green hair, green clothes, green hats, even rivers dyed green — um, I think I’ll stick with green tea this St. Patty’s Day. It’s healthy, it’s tasty, and it’s green!

Repeat after me as we skip down the yellow brick road of teadom: flavonoids, polyphenols, and catechins — oh, my! These magical ingredients are classified as anti-oxidants and keep at bay those nasty oxygen-containing molecules called free radicals and peroxides that could damage your cells’ DNA and membranes, as well as other important body parts.

How better to celebrate a day of green than with a nice, fresh green tea steeped in a Little Japanese Teapot? St. Patrick himself would have approved most heartily. Centuries ago, when he went to the various kings of Ireland to convert them from their “heathen ways,” he didn’t have this wonderful beverage to serve. Too bad. It would have been hospitable as well as improving the dispositions and general health of those fierce monarchs of the “Emerald Isle.”

What keeps green tea leaves green after being harvested? Well, like the folks in Chicago do to the river every year, they could be dying the leaves green. Or they could be adding pistachio dust (the naturally green ones, not the ones colored red). Maybe soaking them in a vat of lime Kool-aid is the secret. Maybe not.

Actually, the leaves start out green off the tea bush (Camellia Sinensis) and begin oxidizing right away. Heating them stops this and keeps the leaves green. In China, the leaves are baked or pan heated while in Japan they are usually steamed. Unfortunately, this means the tea has a short shelf-life and should be drunk soon after being harvested. You will need to be aware of this when shopping. Online stores often have fresher teas, since many of them deal directly with tea growers and processors.

Of course, not all green teas are made alike. How the leaves are processed once the oxidation has been stopped makes quite a difference.

Some variations from China are:

  • Gunpowder — Well-known in the U.S. with distinctive rolled leaves, resembling pellets or gunpowder; “liquor” is medium green, strong-bodied, sweet, and earthy. A staple in my tea pantry.
  • Dragonwell (“dragon’s well”) — “Liquor” is yellowish green, sweet, and vegetal. This tea comes from a particular area in China and is highly prized.
  • ChunMee (“precious eyebrows”) — “Liquor” is golden green, sweet, and musty.
  • Hyson — Small, slightly curled green/gray leaves; “liquor” is medium-bodied and earthy.
  • Pi Lo Chun (“green snail spring,” “astounding fragrance”) — The small leaves are curled like snail shells; “liquor” has a sweet flavor and aroma.

Some variations from Japan are:

  • Gen Mai Cha (“popcorn tea”) — Becoming better known in the U.S., this green tea is blended with roasted and puffed brown rice that gives the tea a toasty flavor like popcorn. I got to try a sample recently and was thrilled by the unique taste.
  • Gyokuro — Regarded as the finest tea in Japan, with very deep green leaves; “liquor” is light green with sweet-and-sea taste.
  • Hojicha — Made from toasted green tea leaves; “liquor” is amber or light brown, full-bodied, tasting similar to burnt toast. I just got a sample of this to try. Exciting!
  • Matcha — Tea powder that brews up a thick, frothy, bitter, and bright green (sort of like a British-style pea mash) drink that is used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies.
  • Sencha — Gaining popularity in the U.S. with its fresh taste and pale green color, a relaxing afternoon tea, with a hint-of-the-sea taste. The Japanese have this as their “everyday” tea (much like black tea blends such as Typhoo and PG Tips are for many Westerners and Europeans) but save their best quality sencha teas for special occasions.

So many choices that I’m going to have to declare every day to be St. Patty’s Day. Hmm, green hair and green rivers everyday…not sure I could stand that. Of course, a cute little stuffed hedgehog wearing a green hat and holding a green shamrock — that I could take. Enjoy!

For more great writing, pay a visit to A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!

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