For a very long time I believed that I did not like green tea, so I avoided it. To me the taste was reminiscent of three-week-old grass clippings swept up off of a dusty garage floor. I still hold this as an accurate description of the taste of teabags of poor quality green tea steeped in boiling water. Green tea had always struck me as one of those things that people drank because they were told that it was good for them, not because they actually enjoyed it. But with added knowledge and experience I determined that my dislike had been formed through encounters with poor quality teas, brewed improperly. After choosing to give green teas more of a chance, and arming myself with better information about proper preparation methods, I have found that even reasonably inexpensive loose-leaf green tea, when fresh and made properly, can be quite a pleasant drink.
In general, green teas are more sensitive and unforgiving compared to black teas and oolongs. It is very easy to brew really awful green tea even if the tea is very high quality. Some very delicate teas have a steep learning curve, resulting in a few miserably brewed failures before the proper methodology can be identified and followed.
One of the most important factors in brewing good green tea is water temperature. The hardier of the greens, like Chinese Yunnan green brew nicely at 170-180 degrees. Really delicate Japanese teas like Gyokuro are best brewed with water at about 140 degrees.
There are a number of methods used to produce water at the correct temperature, varying in their levels of ritual and science. The most convenient tool for lower temperature water is Adagio’s variable temperature UtiliTEA kettle. It works very well and is convenient and fast. The more traditonal method is to use cooling vessels. The Japanese yuzamashi, pictured below, is used for this purpose. This particular yuzamashi holds only 4 oz. of water and is intended to be used in the preparation of Matcha.
The general rule is to cool boiling water for two minutes, but naturally factors other than time affect this: volume of water, material the cooling vessel is made of, temperature of the environment. If you have the patience and a good thermometer, you can do some experiments to figure out what works. If you are less patient, just knowing that the water used to steep green tea must always be cooler than boiling can get you a lot closer to brewing better green teas.
I am frequently amused by green tea apologists who hail green tea as the solution to all the world’s ills, from the personal to the global, from athsma to the Federal deficit. But actual green teas themselves don’t need these evangelists and their hyperbole. The teas are perfectly respectable and enjoyable when given proper care and preparation, bringing out their best attributes. They require more attention and care to produce good results, but it is worth the effort.
September 14, 2008 at 10:04 am
Well said. There’s also a lot to be said for starting with the best tea possible. Break down the price per cup, especially with multiple steeps in the mix, and expensive tea isn’t necessarily all that expensive after all.
September 15, 2008 at 8:09 am
Yes, the quality of the tea certainly makes a difference, and you’re absolutely right about the per-cup cost and how that helps put it into perspective.
September 19, 2008 at 3:13 pm
Excellent post.Keep up the cool work,You must definitely have to keep updating your blog
September 23, 2008 at 10:24 am
Thank you for reading!
September 24, 2008 at 7:54 pm
Loose leaf green teas are superior to bagged but out and about Numi’s green tea is my choice.
September 25, 2008 at 2:14 pm
I’ve never tried any of Numi’s teas, but I probably should give them a taste.
September 30, 2008 at 3:20 pm
Something else that significantly affects the flavor of tea is the oxygen content of the water used. Transferring the water to and from the yuzamashi helps replace gasses that may have been displaced from the water when it was heated. Slurping has the same effect.
October 1, 2008 at 3:04 pm
Yes, that is a good point. I believe that oxygenation is also related to the preference for boiling water and then cooling it to the proper temperature before steeping rather than only heating it to 180 degrees (or less).
November 5, 2008 at 12:10 am
Very nice summary about green tea.Keep up the good work.
November 14, 2008 at 1:58 am
Nice detail on green tea…. however im a strong believer that white tea tastes even more better…coz of the sweet and mellow taste.
January 22, 2009 at 9:57 pm
Excellent overview of what green tea is and more importantly is not! And I have been dying to get my hands on a Japanese yuzamashi for a while now. Thanks for sharing!
February 11, 2009 at 12:46 am
I’m glad you put this up. It’s a honest viewpoint of green tea (including the taste), but I agree that it’s important to prepare it right in order get it to be more appealing. I’m not saying that it’s the know-all of end-all when it comes to the world’s ails, but it does have the ability to naturally energize anyone ingesting it. More energy means more physical activity in any given day. In the long-run, anything that would promote the body to move more would in turn be beneficial to the body as part of a good health plan. Wouldn’t you agree that in the long-term that it would increase weight-loss? I would think so.
June 28, 2011 at 5:14 am
Great article. Tea is like many things in that you have to try it a few times before you develop a taste for it. It’s such a shame that so many people’s first experience with green tea is with a tea bag and boiling water.
June 28, 2011 at 5:16 am
Great article completely agree. It’s such a shame that so many people’s first experience of green tea is with a tea bag and boiling water. People don’t like beer or wine the first time they try it so why would tea be any different!