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Psst: You’re Brewing Your Green Tea All Wrong

Why knowing your green tea varieties holds the key to brewing a perfect cuppa.

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Boil, brew and sip? Not so fast, there’s actually more to making your daily cup of green tea than you think. There are a surprising number of factors that might be making your tea taste bitter, or even medicinal. We reached out to Silvia Mella, Founder and Creative Director of the online tea retailer, Sorate Matcha and Green Tea to find out what you might be doing wrong – and how exactly to brew that perfect cup of tea. 

“Oversteeping the leaves is a major mistake as it clearly changes the taste of the tea. In any cooking recipe, time is the key factor for a well done meal – the same goes for tea,” explained Mella. 

To make the perfect cup, Mella says to follow these three principles: heat the water (preferably filtered) to the correct temperature, measure the correct tea to water ratio and lastly, steep for the correct amount of time. Sounds simple right?

It would be, if all green tea was the same. But there are actually several varieties of green tea out there, each with their own unique characteristics and brewing methods. 

 

Sencha green tea leaves

From Sencha to Matcha

All green tea – in fact, all varieties of tea including black, white and oolong  – come from the Camellia sinensis plant. But differences in farming and harvesting account for the variety among teas, said Mella, who sources Sorate’s teas from a family-owned farm in Ujitawara, the Uji region of Kyoto, Japan

Of the Japanese varieties, gyokuro is the highest quality green tea, according to Mella. It is shaded before it’s harvested to let the leaves cool off. When it’s harvested, the first pick of the leaves is known as the “first flush,” where the most tender, young leaves are selected. Sencha is also considered a high-quality tea, but uses a different farming method whereby the leaves are not shaded. As with gyokuro, the first flush of sencha is also the most revered.

Bancha, on the other hand, uses the “second flush,” so the leaves tend to be more mature, and slightly lower quality. Other varieties to know are hojicha, a mix of either sencha or bancha leaves and stems that are roasted; and genmaicha, usually a sencha tea with the addition of roasted rice. Lastly, matcha, is a tencha tea leaf that is grown in the shade and ground into a powder.

The taste, look and scent of each variety is distinct. For instance, hojicha has a nutty flavor, while genmaicha has a popcorn-like taste due to the addition of rice. “Each green tea has its own smell, color and flavor. No two varieties of tea should taste or smell the same!” said Mella.

Why do these subtle differences matter for the average home brewer? The brewing method changes depending on the variety of tea. Bancha, for example, is slightly lower quality, so you may need to brew it longer, while hojicha requires a higher temperature of water to release the flavor since it’s a roasted leaf, but less brewing time since the flavor is stronger. 

Brewing 101

There are no hard rules when it comes to brewing, according to Mella, but there are general guidelines. Make sure you have a kettle that displays the temperature, purchase a higher quality tea (sencha or matcha for example) and then follow the instructions for that particular brand for the best brew. Mella shared her own brewing guidelines that she uses for her Japanese teas at Sorate.

Tea Variety Amount per ½ cup water Water Temperature  Brew Time/Method
Gyokuru 2 tsp  176°F 2 minutes
Sencha 

Genmaicha

2 tsp  176°F 1 minute
Bancha 2 tsp  176°F 5 minutes 
Hojicha 1 tbsp 212°F 15/20 seconds
Matcha powder 1 tsp 160°F Add to warm water and whisk in a zigzag motion until frothy 

 

Loose Leaf or Tea Bags? 

Mella always prefers loose leaves over tea bags, as some brands contain plastic, pesticides or are chlorine-bleached. But it’s also about the brewing process. “Tea bags don’t always give the leaves enough space to unroll and swim freely into the water, which is only that way the tea can release their full aroma,” she said. 

If tea bags are your jam, you can still continue to use them – just be mindful to  seek out organic, unbleached varieties. You can also purchase chlorine-free tea filters to use with loose leaf teas.

How to Store 

Unlike black and oolong teas, green tea has not been oxidized so it’s more delicate, according to Mella. An unopened pack of green tea can stay fresh for one year in the refrigerator or six months outside the refrigerator. She recommends always storing your tea in a sealed bag away from light, heat and moisture. 

A Cup of Catechins

You may already know that green tea is a rich source of phenolic compounds known as catechins, the most abundant of which is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). These compounds act as antioxidants in the body, and may have anti-cancer, cardioprotective and metabolism-boosting effects. While all teas contain catechins, green tea has more than black tea, making it a favorite in health and wellness circles. While there are differences among green teas in the amount of catechins they contain – sencha, for example, comes out slightly higher than other tea leaves – they are all a healthful addition to your diet.

Personal Preference 

Remember that there is a lot of variability among tea types, and different farmers may recommend different brewing methods due to preference  – but there is flexibility. “Each tea farm advises on how to prepare their own tea to offer the best taste and aroma but it’s also personal, and a tea lover knows how he or she likes their tea,” Mella explained. “So I think that once you know your tea, it’s fun to play with it and see how slight differences in preparation can change the flavors.”

 

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