Monday, 13 September 2010

Green Tea- a general (and fairly brief) overview

All of the teas mentioned in this article have been kindly provided by Grey's Teas and is a selection of their best selling green teas. If you have any suggestions of any other tea merchants or varieties I should try, please leave a comment or email me

It is said that the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung first discovered tea when a leaf from the tea plant drifted into some boiling water. In reality, tea probably first migrated from India to China some 1800 years ago. Until relatively recently, green tea was an exotic beverage only drunk by those who travelled to the Far East. It was shrouded in mystery and ritual, revered and highly regarded. Even now, tea ceremonies in Japan draw tourists. Green tea still needs special attention and care given to its preparation in order to produce the best results- over-boiling damages the leaves and thus the taste of the tea.

Green tea has become more widely drunk in the West in the last few years and many people will buy it because of the very real health benefits reported in the media. The problem with green tea becoming a ‘trend’ is that many people have bought low-quality teas and been confronted with a bitter, unpleasant brew. People who only drink green tea for health benefits are missing out on an exciting range of flavours; excellent tea is becoming as highly sought after as fine wines.

Thankfully, however, a range of tea merchants have begun exploring new avenues of green tea and as a result have produced a variety of delicious grades and flavours, each one unique. For example, Grey’s Teas carry interesting teas from the Darjeeling area of India, the Zhejang Province in China and two of the most highly sought after Japanese teas. Each variety has its own unique character.

China exports 80% of the world’s green tea and Chinese green tea is perhaps my favourite of the three varieties. It is the mildest of the three types, with both Pinhead Gunpowder and Tian Mu Quing Ding being excellent examples. Pinhead Gunpowder is the classic green tea from China. It is made of tightly rolled leaves and produces a pale yellow green tea, which is light and refreshing. As an introduction to green tea, this is perfect, as it is not too overpowering for the uninitiated.

Tian Mu Quing Ding produces a similar tea in looks, but in terms of taste, this one is light, summery and has a hint of delicate sweetness. Tian Mu Quing is highly prized, due to the fact that it is only picked for two weeks every year. This means that each cup is very, very special and should be savoured.

Japanese green teas usually have an attractive green colouration- more so than the Darjeeling and Chinese varieties. The teas I tried for this experiment are of the high quality that is expected in Japan, including the celebrated Sencha Gyokuro, also known as ‘Precious Dew’. This variety of tea is unusual, as the tea leaves are grown in the shade and picked early in the harvesting season. As a result, the tea itself has a full bodied, yet delicate taste. This is a also a tea for first thing in the morning, due to an unusually high caffeine content; perfect as a healthier alternative to the first coffee of the day.

Sencha is the most popular form of tea drunk in Japan (it is the powdered Matcha tea which is used in the traditional tea ceremonies) and the Japanese consume it as much as the British tend to drink their black tea with milk. Sencha Fukujyu tea is a refreshing, pale green tea with a refreshing, cleansing taste. Again, this is another tea that would be perfect as an introduction to the different varieties of green tea and a great one for people wanting a genuine Japanese experience.

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