The Ultimate Guide to Green Tea

guide to green tea

Everything you need to know about this amazing beverage

Green tea is one of my go-to drinks.  In fact, I don't drink much else other than water, green tea, black tea and kombucha (and yes, the occasionally wine and cocktail).  I've found that green tea though can be confusing for people: they've heard it's healthy, but aren't quite sure why.  They tried it once, but it was super bitter.  They want to try it again, but aren't sure what's the best kind to try or how it's different from black tea or other teas.  Oh, and what's matcha again?

In this post, I want to quickly drop some green tea knowledge so that you'll be confident trying green tea the next time you see it and be able to make a proper cup that doesn't taste like bitter grass (The biggest problem when you order it at a coffeeshop!  And it's totally avoidable.)

What are the health benefits?

Green tea has a reported myriad of health benefits, some of which are backed up by studies.  Green tea is rich in anti-inflammatory flavonoids which may reduce plaque build up in arteries.  Other studies have shown green tea to help fight and prevent cell damage, improving blood pressure, block the formation of plaques that are linked to Alzheimer's disease and even keep blood sugar stable in people with diabetes.  The strongest evidence for green tea appears to be in relation to heart health. 

Green tea can also be a healthy addition to your diet in a more holistic sense.  Often people use it to replace coffee if they are looking to lower their caffeine intake and reduce stress hormones or to replace sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas or higher calorie drinks like lattes.  Also green tea can serve as a calorie-free pick-me-up in the afternoon (or pre-workout) that takes the place of our usual sugary or carby snacks.  In this sense, the health benefit is in what the tea is replacing, not what is in the tea itself!

I try to drink tea before or between meals (instead of with them) since tea can bind to non-heme iron (the kind of iron found in plant sources).  This probably isn't a big issue for most people since most Americans consume plenty of iron, but you can read more here

How much caffeine is in green tea?

Speaking of caffeine, there can actually be a huge range in the caffeine content in green tea, but overall it tends to be much less than coffee.  According to Starbucks, their tall size (12 oz) blonde roast has 270mg of caffeine, whereas the Mayo Clinic reports than an 8oz cup of green tea averages 25-29mg of caffeine.  

However, the caffeine content increases based on water temperature (hotter = more caffeine extracted) and brewing time (the longer the tea leaves are steeping = more caffeine extracted).  Keep this in mind if you want to toggle the caffeine content up or down.

How is green tea different from black tea or other teas?

I used to give food tours at a store called TeaGschwendner in Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood.  One fact that I shared that really blew people's minds is that all tea comes from the same plant!  It's called the tea plant (duh) or scientifically, the cameliia sinensis plant.  From that plant you get the four types of tea: white tea, green tea, oolong tea, and black tea. 

While all those different tea leaves come from the same plant, they are distinguished by when they are plucked and how they are processed.  White tea is basically just dried, green tea is lightly oxidized by steaming or pan-frying, oolong tea is more fully oxidized by rolling and bruising, and black tea is fully rolled and oxidized. 

Just like other plants or even beverages like wine, you'll also get variations in the plant based on its variety, elevation, soil content, and regional differences and preferences in taste.

And while green tea is the variety that you hear about the most in terms of health benefits, other teas (white, oolong, and black) possibly have at least some similar health benefits because they come from the same plant.  Many studies have simply focused on green tea or green tea extracts.

What are the different kinds of green tea?

There is a huge variety of teas within the green tea family.  These are some of the most popular types of green tea:

  • Sencha: the most popular type of Japanese green tea comes from the first flush or harvest of the tea plant.  The leaves are then steamed and dried and appear needle-like when dried and brew a cup of yellow-green tea that is herbal and astringent.
  • Bancha: this tea is taken from the regrowth after the first flush is taken for Sencha tea.  It can be slightly more bitter and mellow and lower in caffeine than Sencha.
  • Gyokuro: this is similar to Sencha except 3 weeks before harvest, the tea plants are shaded. This creates a more nutrient-dense and stronger (as well as pricier) cup of tea.
  • Genmaicha: a mixture of green tea (bancha or sencha) and toasted rice. This tea has a warm and toasty flavor.
  • Hojicha: a roasted type of Japanese green tea that appears brown and has less astringency and more nuttiness and caramelly taste.  It's often served with food and more appealing to non tea-drinkers.
  • Jasmine Tea: this tea is made by mixing green tea leaves with jasmine blossoms to impart their aroma.  Jasmine tea is popular in China and also found in Japan and Vietnam.

How do you properly brew green tea?

Each type of tea that you buy will have specific brewing instructions and your best bet is to follow those.  But as a rule, green tea is brewed at lower temperatures and for a shorter amount of time than most people expect.  When it doubt, aim for water at about 175 degrees Farenheit and brew for 2 minutes only.  If you don't have an electric kettle or thermometer, try boiling water and then letting it sit for a full 5 minutes before adding to the tea leaves.

What tools do you need for green tea?

You don't need much fancy equipment to make loose leaf tea--a pot to heat water in and a strainer will do.  But for an easier to steep and better tasting cup, I can't do without these 2 essentials:

This electric kettle is the best purchase that my husband and I made.  Anyone who drinks coffee and/or tea everyday should invest in a kettle like this that can heat water incredibly quickly and to the precise right temperature.  I have 2 of these tea pots with removable strainers that are easy to clean and stackable if you have minimal storage space.

What is matcha?

Matcha is a green tea powder made of ground up tea leaves.  Typically match is made from a type of tea similar to gyokuro that is shaded before harvesting to boost chorophyll production.  That's how they get that brilliant green color.

The biggest different between matcha and steeped green teas is that when you make matcha, you whisk the powder into water and drink the whole thing so you are consuming more of the actual plant.  This likely increases any medicinal quality of the tea as well as increases the caffeine content.  (I can't handle coffee and matcha is usually too caffeinated for me too.)  Matcha can also be added to desserts, baked goods, marinades and really anything in the kitchen.

What are good brands of green tea?

Of course, which brands to buy are all up to personal preference, but here are a few companies I love that are good resources for green tea.

Are you a tea lover like me?  Let me know your favorite kind in the comments below.

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