If You Love Green Tea, We Have Great News for You
Because who doesn't love options?
Green tea may often be referred to by its blanket category, but green tea comes in many varieties, each with its own signature flavor, brew time and temperature, and caffeine level.
“All green tea is from the same tea plant, camellia sinensis, as any other types of tea,” explains Ashley Lim, a certified sommelier and founder of Mansa Tea. “What makes green tea a green tea is its specific method of processing.”
For the tea novice, knowing what differentiates one green tea from another can be daunting. Processing of tea leaves isn’t typically written on tea packaging or on cafe menus, and knowing your sencha from your gunpowder takes a little bit of knowledge. That's why we enlisted two tea experts to talk us through all the different types of green tea—and good news: there are more than you thought.
Types of green tea
Green tea can come from anywhere in the world where tea is grown, though green tea is most commonly from China or Japan. “Tea type is determined by how the tea is grown, harvested, and processed after harvesting,” explains Kyohei Sugimoto, the president of Sugimoto Tea Company and certified Japanese green tea advisor. “Chinese green teas are typically pan fried and Japanese are typically steamed, however this isn't the only thing that makes for all the different kinds of Japanese green teas,” Sugimoto says.
While Japanese and Chinese green teas are the most popular, green teas are now surfacing from India and within the United States. “A few Indian producers are experimenting and fine tuning their technique for other types of tea besides black,” Lim says. Stateside, we don’t have as much of a history of growing tea, but American tea growers are now experimenting with growing green tea as well as other varieties.
Japanese green tea
“Japanese green teas tend to have vegetal and grassy notes with umami,” Lim says.
Gyokuro is the highest quality Japanese green tea. “The tea plants are shaded for about three weeks before plucking, and this process leads to sweeter and more brothy flavor with intense umami,” Lim says.
Sencha is “shaped like a needle and has marine and vegetal flavors,” says Lim. It’s the most commonly consumed tea in Japan. Bancha is the lower grade of sencha. It's much coarser and has a rougher flavor. Bancha is also used to make hojicha, a roasted tea with more savory notes.
The part of the tea leaf used, as well as how it’s processed, also affects the type of tea, Sugimoto explains. Genmaicha is typically a mix of Bancha and roasted rice, Kukicha is a green tea that uses the stems of the leaves, and matcha is special in that the stems and veins are removed from the leaves before it's ground into a fine powder. Matcha power then gets rehydrated with water, rather than steeped.
Kukicha, made of young stems, is one of Sugimoto’s favorites. “Kukicha has high L-theanine (amino acid) and low caffeine content, which make it a mild and umami-rich cup of tea with unique aroma,” he explains.
Chinese green tea
“Chinese green teas tend to have a bit more toasty notes compared to Japanese green teas,” Lim says.
Dragonwell, also called Long Jing, is flat shaped with sweet and nutty and toasty notes. “Because the leaves are pressed, not rolled, you can brew this tea at a higher temperature than other types of green tea,” Lim says.
Gunpowder Tea is sold in pellets in varying sizes. “It is full-bodied, bold, and smoky,” Lim says. Gunpowder pellets are also made in Taiwan.
Bi Lo Chun has light roasted vegetal notes.
Buying different types of green tea in the U.S.
“Consumers looking for quality green tea on retail shelves should first look to see if the country of origin is stated and see if it's from China or Japan,” Sugimoto suggests. If the specific type of tea doesn’t match its place of origin, it’s likely not great quality.
Packaging is also important. “Green tea quality is degraded through exposure to heat, oxygen, and light, causing a decrease in nutrients and bad flavor,” Sugimoto says. “If you can see the tea through the packaging, the tea has been exposed to light for longer than it should have been and may have already become bitter. If the bag has excess air in it and is not vacuum sealed, there may be a problem with oxygen exposure to the tea.” The best type of packaging for green teas especially is a foil bag, which should have been nitrogen flushed and vacuum sealed. This preserves the flavor and nutrition of the tea for the longest before you open it. And, of course, check the expiration date. Just like anything in your pantry, tea expires!