What Is Green Tea?
Green tea is made of tea leaves that are not oxidized, or that have not turned brown. Green tea leaves are heated promptly after harvesting to stop oxidation from occurring.
But this is a pretty broad definition. Each region that grows green tea has their own style, with distinct characteristics. Between different countries and localities, the variety is endless. Steamed Japanese green teas, for instance, are bold and savory. By contrast, roasted Chinese varieties are usually nutty and buttery. Even within China, local environmental factors and crafting styles create variety. A vast array of flavor profiles results from these derivations.
The most distinctive green teas from China come from a small area. Our selection of green teas comes from Zhejiang and Anhui. These provinces have crafted the most famous styles in China for centuries.
How Is Green Tea Made?
In China, green tea is traditionally roasted, either in a large wok or a rotating bamboo drum. These crafting methods produce delicate flavors with a full-bodied mouth feel. Spring tea leaves lend buttery smoothness, while later harvests have more vegetal notes.
One of the most well-known and distinctive styles of Chinese green tea is Dragonwell. This name describes a style of green tea from Zhejiang Province. The leaves are pressed and folded into a hot wok, giving the finished tea a flat, blade-like appearance. The direct application of heat used in this process creates a nutty, toasted flavor. These flavor notes appear in many other roasted Chinese green teas, as well.
Another method of roasting uses a large bamboo drum rotated over a fire. The constant motion of the tea as the drum rolls prevents the leaves from burning. This allows the crafter to roast larger batches of leaves. It also preserves more fresh, grassy flavors in the finished tea.
Different methods of heating the leaves can have a dramatic impact on the finished tea. It can affect the aroma, flavor, and appearance, and is a defining factor for many regional styles.
Signs Of Quality
Green tea harvests occur year round, but the first leaves to sprout in the springtime are the most prized. In the winter, the plant is dormant, and produces no new leaves. When buds emerge in the spring, they have high concentrations of flavor compounds. They also have plenty of natural sugars stored to fuel the growth process. These compounds create a rich, buttery mouthfeel and soft, delicate flavors. In ancient China, these spring buds were reserved as tribute tea.
In general, the grade of a green tea corresponds to its harvest date. Higher quality teas are picked earlier in the springtime. Lower grades are harvested in the summer, or in warmer climates closer to the equator. These fast growing crops are usually found in mass produced teabags. High temperatures and plenty of sun exposure create vast quantities. But fast growth also creates bitterness in the leaf, and limits flavor compounds. Early spring harvests, by contrast, have low to non-existent levels of bitterness. This makes them easy to drink, regardless of water temperature or steeping time.
When shopping for green teas, select spring leaves from the most recent harvest. Since green tea undergoes minimal processing, it can go stale over time. Exposure to light and air creates further oxidation in the finished tea. Stale green teas look browned, and have less flavor in the cup. We recommend opaque, double lidded tins to keep your tea fresh between harvests.