A Brief History of Green Tea

Green tea has been popular in China, Japan, and other Asian countries for thousands of years, while the West’s interest and experience with green tea is new by comparison. History records point to consumption of green tea in China as far back as the third century B.C., but the tea was clearly consumed far before then.

There are many stories about the first introduction to green tea, with one interesting story suggesting that a scholar and herbalist, Shen Nung, was boiling water to drink in 2737 B.C. when a leaf dropped into his hot water. The resulting brew, was both refreshing and stimulating. Is this how green tea consumption actually started? The real truth is unknown.

Records from the third century A.D. suggest that green tea had become popular in use for increasing alertness and reducing the effects of depression as well as other nervous and digestion conditions. During this time, the leaves were primarily baked and compressed into cakes, while some producers had begun steaming the leaves to create the beverage.

You can't separate the history of China and green tea.

Chinese history and the history of green tea go hand and hand.

During the “golden age” of tea, the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-906), cultivation and production of green tea rapidly increased. Steaming the leaves had become a standard practice, and a set of clearly defined rules was established for processing the leaves and brewing the beverage. The green tea beverage had also begun to be consumed both for pleasure and for medicinal purposes by this time.

Tea Master Lu Yu put the rules and ceremony of green tea consumption into writing during his lifetime (A.D. 733-804). He wrote The Classic of Tea, or Cha Chang. Lu Yu’s work turned the process of tea-making into an art and his manual became a standard that other tea-makers would look to for cultivation and production in China and later, in Japan.

Some have said that Marco Polo was the first to bring green tea to the West, but this part of history also remains clouded in mystery. The first written records of tea importing come from Portugal and Holland in 1610, with an initial shipment of a few jars of green tea for society’s elite.

Today, most green tea is still produced in Asia. in particular from China, Japan and growing areas of production such as Vietnam and Indonesia. This subtly sweet beverage, while growing hugely in popularity in the West remains produced primarily on the same lands that have produced it for centuries.

 

Types of Green Tea

If you’re beginning your foray into the world of drinking green tea, you should know about the different types of green tea. This section will discuss a few of the most popular types available.

Chinese Green Teas

A Chinese tea ceremony

A Chinese tea ceremony.

First, we have Gunpowder tea, one of the most popular types of Chinese green tea. Grown primarily in the Zhejian Province of China, however, plantations for this type of tea are spreading elsewhere throughout China. Once processed, this tea looks like tiny pellets that open up when you are brewing your tea.

Next and even more popular, is Long Jing (also known as Dragonwell Green Tea in the United States), it is also produced in the Zhejian Province of China. The leaves of this tea, once processed, are usually flat and have a jade color. Dragonwell Green Tea is probably the most well known green tea.

Snowy Mountain Jian is grown at high altitudes of the Yunnan Province of China, and is noted for particularly long leaves. While this is a green tea, it is processed a bit differently from other green teas, thus having a full body flavor more akin to black teas than most green teas.

If you want a rare green tea, and can find it, Pi Lo Chun is a very unique Chinese green tea. Grown in the Zhejian Province among plum, apricot and peach trees, these tea leaves pick up the fragrance of the fruit blossoms from the tress, enhancing the flavor of the tea. This tea is also known as Green Snail Spring tea, because it has a snail like appearance when the tea is rolled.

For another full body flavored tea, try Hyson Lucky Dragon, a premium hyson green tea. The leaves of this tea have a greenish-yellow color.

Japanese Green Teas

Moving on to green teas from Japan, we come to Gyokuro, considered the very best of Japanese green teas. It is harvest once each year between May and June. It is famous amongst connoisseurs for its purity, depth and breadth of flavour which is uniquely Japanese. It usually plucked by hand and just before harvest, is covered with special cloth or reed mats to minimise sunlight. This increases the chlorophyll content of the leaf which is what helps give Gyokuro its sweet and complex flavour.

Next is Sencha, which is the “everyday” Japanese green tea. It is characterised by its flat leaf style, vegetal taste and vibrant, grassy aroma. Sencha is usually blended and should be steeped very carefully so not to spoil or burn the leaves. The hotter the water the more astringent the taste, while the cooler the water, the more mellow the taste. Regardless, it is an inherently sweet tea, and accounts for the majority of tea produced in Japan.

Bancha is also a common tea but is considered lower in quality than Sencha. While Bancha and Sencha are produced in a similar way, Bancha leaves are plucked following the first or second flush of each picking season once the Sencha production is over. It’s a popular tea to drink with food and has quite a strong flavour.

Matcha is a different type of green tea. It’s a powdered tea with an intense vegetal flavour and mineral, herbaceous aroma. Its manufacture is intricate and there are generally two different types – ceremonial grade or culinary grade. It’s believed that matcha offers excellent health benefits. It is produced from the same leaves used to produce Gyokuro but the leaves are left to dry and are then ground into the fine powder like substance that characterises matcha.

 

Production of Green Tea

Where is Green Tea Produced?

Green tea being picked in Japan.

Green tea being picked in Japan.

The production methods for green tea have been refined over thousands of years, to the point where green tea production has been elevated to the status of an art form. The same lands that have produced green tea since the leaf was first recognized as valuable are still producing the tea today, and while the production methodology has become modernized, there are many aspects of production done the same today as they were thousands of years ago.

Green tea requires a particular climate to thrive, so green tea is grown primarily in China, India, Japan, and Indonesia. The leaves are cultivated on lush hills, high mountains, and coastal regions in a geographic belt that runs from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn. The plant does not grow well in cold climates, and the roots of the tea bushes are used to temporarily store nutrients. For this reason, the soil used for growing tea must be well-draining, have sufficient depth to allow the roots to grow and spread, and should have good aeration and moisture-retention properties.

In China, tea is produced in vast areas mainly in the southern half of the country. In Japan, green tea is grown in Shizuoka, Kagoshima, and Mie. India, which produces some of the most exquisite teas in the world, grows teas primarily in the Assam, Darjeeling and Nilgiri regions. Within Indonesia, most tea is grown in West Java, Central Java, and North Sumatra. Another popular tea is Ceylon tea, which is grown in Sri Lanka, but Sri Lanka is known more for its black tea production than green tea production.

How is Green Tea Harvested?

Young tea plants are raised from cuttings obtained from a mother bush, and are carefully rooted and cared for in a special nursery until the new plant is 1 to 2 years of age. Then, the tea plants are transplanted in the tea fields, a process known as cloning.

When the tea plants are about one to two feet above ground, it is time to prune and pluck the plants. The plant is cut back and pruned to within a few inches of the ground, which encourages new shoots to form. This increases the yield of the plants, and a regular 2-3 year pruning cycle encourages a fresh supply of new shoots for future crops.

A tea leaf, just picked.

A tea leaf, just picked.

Throughout the growing season, the green tea plants are harvested in a process known as “flushing.” The flush of a particular tea is determined when the leaves are plucked, and the quality of the tea is often closely related to whether the leaf comes from first flush, second flush, or autumn flush. The first flush takes place in late April to early May, and the second flush usually happens from June through July. The third flush, or the autumnal flush, takes place in late July to early August. Some of the more expensive teas are only harvested once a season, which makes them rarer teas.

Depending on the grade of the tea produced, the plucking is either fine plucking or coarse plucking. With fine plucking, only the bud, second and third leaves are plucked, so the most is obtained from a harvest of tea. The harvesting needs to be done in the early morning, to preserve the longevity of the plucked tea leaves. This type of harvesting makes very fine and delicate flavored tea that is usually lighter and sweeter in taste.

Coarse plucking produces a lower quality of tea, and involves harvesting the bud and more than two leaves while harvesting the tea. This is typically done at a very fast pace, and produces a stronger flavor tea than that of fine plucking.

The leaves are carefully pinched and twisted when removed from the tea bush, and handfuls of the shoots are placed into carrier baskets. After the tea is harvested, it is brought straight to the tea factory where the production process begins.

How is Green Tea Produced?

The finest green teas are handmade during the spring season in China and Japan. Green teas are often referred to as unfermented teas, because the production process aims to stop the oxidation and fermentation process that begins soon after the raw tealeaves are picked, thus preserving the healthy and natural elements of the fresh leaves. The process used to get the tea leaves ready for brewing might vary slightly from variety to variety of green tea, but the process can typically be summed up in three main stages: “shaqing”, rolling, and drying.

Shaqing

The “shaqing” stage comes from the Chinese “killing of the green.” After the tealeaves are plucked, they must be heated to prevent fermentation. This stage destroys enzyme activity through high heat, preventing the enzyme-induced oxidation which leads to fermentation. This can be done through withering, pan-firing, or steaming.

When withering is used, the leaves are spread on racks of bamboo or woven straw to dry in the sun or using warm air. The leaves are stirred around to ensure uniform drying. This particular process is not commonly used, since it is not as effective as steaming and pan-firing.

In China, the shaqing stage is done by pan-firing the tealeaves in very large woks, either over a flame or using an electric wok. The tealeaves are stirred constantly to ensure even drying.

In Japan, steaming is typically used to shaq the tealeaves. Before the steaming process is begun, the leaves are sorted and cleaned. The steaming time determines what type of Japanese green tea is produced: sencha tea is normally steamed for 30-90 seconds, while fukamushi tea is steamed for 90-150 seconds. The steaming is conducted in a bamboo tray over water, or by a revolving or belt-conveyor machine that ensures even steaming and accurate steaming times.

Shaping

After the leaves are dried, the tealeaves are shaped. In most countries today, this stage is done by machinery. The tealeaves are shaped or rolled, primarily rolled. This helps the tealeaves take on the twisted, curled, or flattened shape we typically see of the “final” dry leaves. This stage also destroys the cell structure of the tealeaves and extracts the juices of the raw leaves, which helps release the flavor of the tea while also improving the number of times the tealeaves can be steeped.

Drying

Green tea being dried.

Green tea being dried.

The final stage of the production of green tea is drying, and there are four main ways of doing so. Drying can be done through steaming, baking, roasting, or sun-drying. This process is intended to improve the taste and nature of the tealeaves, as well as to further reduce the moisture in the tealeaves to prevent mold and improve the shelf life of the tea.

One of the oldest methods of drying tea leaves is teaming, which dates back further than the Tang Dynasty. Steaming does not produce the same full flavor as roasting, however, so it has been largely abandoned since the Ming Dynasty.

When the tealeaves is baked, the leaves are placed into a baking cage and baked until dry. This method is also used to process scented tea, such as jasmine tea.

The green tea leaves can also be dried by roasting or “frying” them in a wok. This is used for a variety of green teas including pearls and higher grade varieties like Dragonwell green tea.

Finally, sun-drying is a very straightforward method used mostly for lower grads of tea, and primarily in Yunnan, Sichuan, and Guangxi. The leaves are arranged under the sun, allowing nature to do the job of drying out the tealeaves.

Production Summary

The cultivation and production of green tea has, as earlier stated, been refined over thousands of years. While it is often considered an art form to tea masters, the strong demand for green tea throughout the world has necessitated the incorporation of technology to keep pace with the demand. Rarer, more expensive teas are still produced almost entirely by hand, though, which is the primary reason for their high cost compared to other varieties of green tea.

 

The Health Benefits of Green Tea

Overview

For centuries, green tea has been valued for its medicinal properties. Beginning in ancient China, but quickly spreading throughout all of early Asia, green tea was used for a multitude of medicinal purposes. The beverage has been used for lowering blood pressure, preventing cancer, helping with diabetes, and many other purposes. In fact, green tea is said to have many more medicinal values than black tea because of the way green tea is processed. Black tea processing allows fermentation, while the processing of green tea is aimed at preventing fermentation. This way, green tea retains all of the antioxidants and polyphenols, the substances that are said to provide green tea with all of its health benefits.

In the next few sections, we will discuss the many ways green tea proponents claim the beverage will help your health. Allegedly, green tea can be used for everything from weight loss to a fertility aid, as well as numerous home remedies and oral health benefits. Read on for more information.

Weight Loss

If you are trying to lose weight, and aren’t we all, then green tea is said to be highly beneficial in boosting your metabolism and helping your body turn food into calories instead of fat. The polyphenols found in green tea intensify the levels of fat oxidation and the rate at which your body turns the food you eat into calories, instead of fat. One study even found that exercisers who drank green tea along with their exercise regimen lost twice as many pounds as those who followed the same exercise regimen, but did not drink green tea.

In fact, even flavored green tea can still provide these same benefits, according to some nutrition experts. As long as you don’t overload your green tea with sugars, the added flavorings don’t take away from the amount of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), the health-boosting antioxidant that is believed to provide much of the weight loss characteristics found in green tea. The one thing you want to remember, though, is to carefully inspect the ingredients found in your green tea. Look for brands that use all-natural ingredients, for both flavoring and processing.

Green tea can also act as an appetite suppressant. While the specific mechanisms are not fully understood, it is thought that the major appetite suppressant factor lies behind green tea’s impact on norepinephrine and dopamine. These two peptide hormones activate the sympathetic nervous system, creating a reduction in the desire for food. Green tea can help reduce the desire to mindlessly eat and help you focus on making healthy food choices.

Fertility and Pregnancy

Green tea, when used in moderation and in place of black tea or coffee, seems to help increase fertility. Because green tea has less caffeine than other teas, it is a smart choice for those looking to conceive because caffeine is a known fertility buster. Green tea is loaded with potent polyphenols (which have antioxidant properties) that help prevent and repair cellular damage to reproductive organs and may make eggs more viable.

The health benefits of green tea also possibly double the chances of conceiving when drinking half a cup or more per day. In addition, the rate at which eggs mature can also be increased, and the eggs may even become more fertile. These are all great ways in which women can use green tea to become more fertile, but their partners may benefit as well, with increased health, stamina, and sperm count.

It is believed that green tea is linked to increased fertility because of the two main ingredients in green tea, polyphenols and hypoxanthine. In men, these polyphenols act as an antioxidant, ridding the body of unwanted toxins which main limit sperm motility. In both men and women, green tea can repair and mitigate the oxidative damage that occurs to our bodies from the environment, poor diet, stress, and aging, which is great for overall body health, not just fertility. A healthy body is essential for optimal chances of conception and for a healthy pregnancy, and green tea can increase your chances, especially when taken in conjunction with a healthy diet and exercise regimen.

Green tea also plays a key role in hydration. Many women do not get enough fluids each day, and proper hydration is essential in the production of cervical mucus. Increased cervical mucus can improve the chances of conception. It acts as a lubricant to the reproductive tract, and, unlike artificial lubricants, it actually helps keep sperm viable longer, up to five days. Green tea helps hydrate the body and prepares it to more successfully conceive.

A word of caution, though: large amounts of green tea seem to decrease the effectiveness of folic acid — a crucial nutrient for fetal development. So if you’d like to give green tea a chance, go for it, but play it safe and stick with one cup a day. As with all things during pregnancy, moderation is best.

Home Remedies

There are numerous theories about green tea use at home.

There are numerous theories about green tea use at home.

Green tea is known for its health benefits, and although it is most well known in the West for its weight loss properties, it can be used at home to combat a variety of problems. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of drinking green tea protect the skin from the harmful effects of free radicals, which cause wrinkling, brown spots and skin aging.

It is also thought that green tea applied topically can reduce sun damage and lessen acne symptoms. Simple face masks, made by mixing your crushed green tea leaves with common kitchen ingredients like honey and yogurt, can be used to treat everything from acne to skin aging. Adding a few green tea bags to your nightly bath can help reduce your overall stress and tone your skin. Using green tea water as a final rinse after shampooing and conditioning can increase hair strength and act as a protectant from pollution and harsh hair products.

Try using your saved green tea bags in place of cucumbers to help minimize dark circles and puffiness under your eyes. Place your used green tea bags in the refrigerator, and after they’ve cooled, place one over each eye and let the relaxation begin. The tea contains polyphenol particles known as tannins. Tannins are a natural astringent and are able to shrink living tissue, including human skin. Green tea bags can reduce swelling and tighten the skin around the eyes by reducing the dilation of the blood vessels under the eyes, giving you a fresher look in just minutes.

There are a variety of other uses for your leftover green tea bags or tea leaves. Try using them in the refrigerator in place of baking soda to absorb odors from onions or garlic. After about a week, incorporate them into your compost for an easy way to give soil a nitrogen boost, which will most likely produce an increase in yield from both your flowers and your vegetables. It also works great as a pest repellant. Used tea leaves sprinkled around your garden work like a barrier for insects and small pests.

Green tea bags or leaves work as a powerful deodorizer, leave a fresh scent, and can even be used to clean washable surfaces, such as yoga mats, air mattresses, and pet beds, all of which might fall victim to malingering odors. The leaves can be added to kitty litter to give a deodorizing boost and also to help deter fleas from both cats and dogs. Giving your pet a green tea bath may work as well as harsh chemical treatments in reducing or eliminating fleas and other backyard pests.

Oral Health

Few beverages can claim to improve your oral health, but green tea is one that research is showing does have some benefits. It’s believed that the catechins present in green tea help fight off the bacteria and other microbes that can cause tooth decay and gum disease. Kyushu University, in Fukuoka, Japan, conducted a study of male participants aged 49 through 59, looking at three indicators of periodontal disease. Researchers found that for every one cup of green tea consumed per day, there was a decrease in all three indicators of periodontal disease, showing those subjects to have a lower instance of gum disease than those who did not drink green tea.

Green tea is also said to help prevent cavities, because it controls the bacteria and lowers the acidity of your saliva and dental plaque. The same antioxidants that help your health in other ways are said to also control the amount of bacteria and acidity in your mouth, leading to less tooth decay and less loss of teeth.

While the green tea is killing off those microbes in your mouth, it is also helping your breath. Those microbes that cause tooth decay and gum disease also cause bad breath, so it is said that drinking green tea will help you have better smelling breath while also helping the rest of your oral health.

Now, remember that sugar is the antithesis of good oral health, so if you load your green tea down with sugars and other flavorings, you might not reap the same benefits that plain green tea will offer you. The truth of the matter is, most people who drink green tea for its health benefits are not drinking it for the taste. So, don’t overdo it on artificial sweeteners, flavorings, or sugars.

Caffeine

Most adults incorporate caffeine into their daily routine, but limiting caffeine intake –or getting your caffeine boost from more beneficial sources- can lead to improved overall health. If you’re bothered by headaches, wrestle with restlessness, or struggle with anxiety, you may want to consider cutting back on your caffeine intake. If your total overall caffeine consumption is more than 500 milligrams (mg) per day, you may be doing more to harm your health than good.

Let’s look at some of the most popular sources of caffeine and how green tea compares. Most coffees have between 90-200 mg of caffeine per 8 oz. serving. If you are drinking more than two cups per day, which many adults do, you could be suffering needlessly from over stimulation. Black tea, whether brewed or iced, has between 40-70 mg of caffeine per 8 oz. serving. Most colas have between 30-50 mg of caffeine per 8 oz. serving.

Green tea is, by far, the best way to get some caffeine without the troublesome side effects. Green tea has between 20-40 mg per 8 oz. serving, offering just enough caffeine for an energy boost without the headaches, restlessness, and anxiety of other higher caffeine content beverages.

Side Effects

Green tea is likely safe for most adults. It offers a wide array of health benefits, but it is important to note the instances in which green tea can turn from a healthy habit into a harmful problem.

In some people, green tea can cause stomach upset, especially those who suffer with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or liver disease. Those who have existing glaucoma should be warned that green tea, especially in higher concentrations, does increase the pressure inside the eye. The increase occurs within 30 minutes and lasts for at least 90 minutes after consumption.

Green tea consumption in extremely high doses can even be fatal. The fatal dose of caffeine in green tea is estimated to be 10-14 grams. This is 10,000-14,000 mg of caffeine. Assuming that your green tea has 40 mg of caffeine per 8 oz. cup, you would need to consume more than 250 cups of green tea per day to reach a fatal dose.

The active agents in green tea can interact with many medications, so it’s important to consult with your prescribing physician before beginning a health care regimen with green tea. The greatest interactions will be found with stimulant medications, such as amphetamines and ephedrine. Mixing green tea with these types of medications can produce heart problems and even death.

Antibiotics and birth control pills will be less effective if used in conjunction with green tea, especially when consuming more than five cups per day. Some medications for depression, such as MAOIs, can interact with green tea causing rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, and nervousness. Limiting your other sources of caffeine can lessen these effects.

 

Helpful Green Tea Links

Here’s a range of helpful links on all things green tea. Happy reading!

Green Tea lovers – Weight Loss & Health Benefits of Green Tea – Specializing in maximizing the health benefit of green tea and cater to the health conscious consumer. Try our Japanese sencha, organic, decaf, teabags, white & rooibos selections too!

Japanese Green Tea – Great information for green tea lovers – health benefits & enjoy organic matcha, karigane and genmaicha from Uji, Kyoto, Japan.

Chinese tea – China FML Co. deals in processing, packaging, and trading of Chinese teas including white tea, green tea, Oolong tea, black tea & flavoured tea.

Seven Cups – Seven Cups is an American tea company based in Arizona that sources traditional, handmade Chinese teas directly from the growers and tea masters who make them.