There are lots of green tea groups out there; two are Chinese and Japanese. They have similarities but also some distinct differences, which as you start to explore each kind you will see quite clearly.
Both Chinese and Japanese green teas start out as tea plants (Camellia Sinensis), verdant in the sun. The intensive labor to tend these plants and then harvest the tender leaves and buds at the tips of each branch are pretty much the same.
Now for the differences:
Stopping oxidation, the key step in producing a fine green tea, is done differently. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.
Chinese — mainly roasting (with some exceptions), a method that imparts a nice smell and enables makers to shape the teas; also oven dried and sometimes steamed. Often, methods are combined. Examples: Houkui (wholly ovened); Biluochun (roasted then ovened); Zhuyeqing (all three methods).
Japanese — mostly steaming, making the tea greener and thus more attractive but grassy tasting; also some pan-roasting.
Without a doubt, there are far more varieties of Chinese green teas than Japanese. They come in about nine shapes, including rolled into tight balls (Gunpowder) and looser balls (Dragon Pearls), or gently curled to then uncurl in your cup or teapot while steeping (White Monkey Paw). Some have Jasmine added, while others have flowers and fruits in them.
Teas vary by the location where they’re grown. China grows tea in 15 provinces and so is more geographically diverse than Japan, with the taste varying accordingly. Chinese teas are also more likely to be hand-processed instead of made in a factory. The top Chinese green tea is Dragonwell, so popular that fake Dragonwell has entered the market (made from teas not grown in the Dragonwell area of China).
Japanese teas come mainly in two types: needle-shaped pieces (Gyokuro and Sencha) and powder (Matcha). Some of these teas can taste fishy, especially if not properly processed. Not an issue if you like sushi. Some (pan-roasted) can taste nutty and go well with stir-fried foods. Sencha mixed with roasted rice is one of the most popular teas in Japan (Genmaicha), with good reason. It’s toasty tasting yet smooth and slightly sweet. Houjicha is a roasted green tea that is nutty in flavor with a brown liquid.
Here’s where the differences end:
Both Chinese and Japanese have been shown in various studies to be good for you. Loose teas are best, versus the green tea dust in a bag available in most grocery stores.
Start with a substance called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), one of several in these teas. It’s an antioxidant and can help prevent cancer, along with other benefits. Add Theanine, an amino acid in high-quality Chinese and Japanese green teas that relaxes you, countering the stimulating effects of caffeine. That caffeine can be beneficial in moderation and, in excess, can make you jittery (fortunately, these teas contain only a fraction of the caffeine in coffee). Vitamin and mineral content is also high, including C, B2, E, calcium, manganese, and phosphorous, all of which help your body be its best. There are also saponins and GABA that help lower blood pressure, fluorine that helps prevent cavities, and chlorophyll to fights bad odors.
[Note: Always verify health claims and check with your doctor before starting a regimen of green tea or other homeopathic remedies. More health benefits.]
Green teas come from other countries as well, including India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Viet Nam. If the tea you are thinking to buy just says it’s “green tea,” see if the vendor can be a bit more specific. It does make a difference.
Well-known brands like Golden Moon, Twinings, Harney & Sons, and Stash create a variety of blends mostly based on Chinese and Indian green teas. Some are combined with vanilla, jasmine, mint, cherry blossoms, citrus, and other fruits. Lemon in green tea is one of the most popular, especially for chilled (iced) tea. The bleaching effect of the citrus doesn’t adversely affect your visual enjoyment of the tea.
Time for a cuppa green tea. Which one? Eenie, meenie, minie, moe…
Learn more about the fascinating world of tea at Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!