Green tea is defined as tea that has not been fermented, as black tea is, before the leaves are dried — and it’s not always green in color.
Although at least one type of generic green tea, usually packaged in tea bags, is available in most supermarkets, there are dozens of green teas, primarily from China and Japan, to choose from. Japanese green tea varieties are considered the most easily available, although others can also be found in large cities or at Web sites that sell green tea.
Supermarkets specializing in organic foods usually carry a larger variety and, in some cities, restaurants or tea shops that focus primarily on tea often sell types of tea not available elsewhere.
Green tea experts advise using the best quality possible and, since overbrewing can easily happen, the tea should be first brewed for half the time suggested in the package directions, then tasted to see if further brewing is desired.
The length of brewing time as well as the temperature of the water can affect the flavor and sweetness of green tea. The higher the water temperature, the more bitter and astringent the taste can become. Higher temperatures should be used only for lower-quality tea, to more easily extract the most flavor and substance.
Experts in green tea recommend using only filtered or bottled water, although some prefer filtered tap water, as many bottled waters contain less oxygen, an important factor in making green tea. Ideally, the teapot and tea cups should be warmed in hot water before using.
The most important rules in making green tea are: never boil the water in an aluminum pot, and never steep the tea in teapots or cups made of plastic or aluminum, which badly affect the taste.
Good choices for teapots are glass, which makes it easy to monitor the strength of the tea, china or porcelain. Although china or porcelain cups are most commonly used in China and Japan, clear glass mugs can enhance appreciation of the delicate color of most green teas.
Water should be below boiling temperature when added to most green teas. One way to adjust the water to the right temperature is to bring the water to a boil, immediately remove from the heat and allow the water to cool one to three minutes, depending on the amount of water used, until the steam drifts sideways rather than rising straight up.
Ideally, tea should be made in a teapot with loose tea, in order to allow enough room for the leaves to “blossom,” or open, and move through the water. Although small teapots for one or two servings are becoming easily available, an infusion basket or tea ball can be used for a single serving — but such baskets and tea balls should be large enough for the leaves to unfurl and move.
However, tea experts warn, infusers shaped like two half-teaspoons wired so they open and close, intended for a single cup of tea, do not allow room for the tea leaves to open, and thus produce an inferior flavor.
More than 40 types of Chinese green tea are available in the United States, although many are only available through Web sites. About eight different types of Japanese green teas are available as well, either at specialty stores or through Web sites. Less frequently, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese and Sri Lankan green teas can be found as well.
- One of the most popular Chinese green teas is Dragon’s Well (or Lung Ching), a classic flatleaf green tea. This tea, which is known for its smooth aromatic flavor, can be steeped up to two minutes.
- Snow Dragon, a Chinese green tea, is known for its complex and somewhat sweeter flavor and a more robust taste.
- Chinese Gunpowder Green Tea (also sold as Pearl Tea or Zhucha) is made with a blend of old and new leaves, and can turn bitter if the tea is of poor quality or overbrewed.
- Sencha is the most commonly used tea for everyday use in Japan. It has a rich, emerald color and slightly tangy, full-bodied flavor. Be careful not to overbrew, which causes bitterness.
- Bancha is another common Japanese tea, but usually lacks the delicate sweetness of Sencha. It has a light green color and deep, robust flavor.
- Hojicha is similar to Bancha, but is traditionally roasted over charcoal. It is known for its red-to-brown color, and a deep aroma and taste.
- Genmaicha is known for its popularity among Westerners unaccustomed to green tea. This Japanese tea is unusual in that it also contains roasted rice. Some of the rice “pops” and looks like tiny popcorn kernels. The more aromatic — and expensive — Genmaicha has a higher amount of popcorn-like rice. Newcomers to green tea find Genmaicha has an agreeably nutty and pleasantly toasted flavor.