Chinese green tea is one of the six types of tea produced from the Camellia Sinensis plant, differing from the other types as it has not undergone an oxidation process. China produces 80% of the world’s supply of green tea. Over the past decade, thousands of different Chinese green teas have spread across Asia, Europe, and North America.
What is Chinese Green Tea?
Chinese green tea is one of the oldest and most popular types of tea and is known for its vegetal, roasted, and nutty flavors. The leaves are typically a pale to dark green color, and once brewed, the liquid turns either pale yellow or light green.
Tea has been consumed across Asia for thousands of years, with its origin dating back to 2737 BC. It is said that Emperor Shennong traveled to a distant part of his kingdom and, exhausted from the journey, decided to stop for a rest. When his servants set aside boiling water to drink, a dry leaf fell from a nearby tree into the liquid, coloring it and producing an enticing aroma. Before the servants could stop him, Shennong began to drink the liquid – and to his delight, it was delicious! Inevitably, the trend of this delicious beverage caught on, and tea became the drink of choice in China.
How is Chinese Green Tea Different?
Chinese green tea is a truly unique type of tea, both in terms of flavor and harvesting methods.
Flavor & Taste
The flavor profile of a cup of Chinese green tea largely depends on the conditions of the farm that it was grown in, along with the timing of the harvesting season. For example, if the leaves are picked early in the spring, the taste is usually sweeter than if they were picked in late autumn.
Typically, Chinese green teas consist of one bud and two leaves. This means that most leaves are ready for harvesting around Qingming, the yearly spring-time tomb-sweeping festival. Qingming is important as it usually rains on or around the date of the festival when the tea leaves are just beginning to open.
It is believed that teas picked before the Qingming rains are superior, as the leaves are young and the flavor is more delicate; hence why you will often see Chinese green teas labeled as ‘pre-Qingming’.
This is unlike teas from Sri Lanka and Kenya, which are considered to maintain the same quality when harvested all year round.
Harvesting & Processing Method
Chinese green tea also differs from other types of tea as it doesn’t undergo the oxidization stage, preserving its freshness.
Generally, the first step of green tea processing is harvesting, where the leaves are collected before being left to wither. During this, the enzyme properties within the leaves are broken down, in part to remove moisture content from the newly picked tea leaves.
The second step is called shāqīng, meaning kill-green, where the leaves are pan-fried at high temperatures to prepare them for steaming. Within this, enzymatic and chemical reactions are halted in the tea. This seals in the light, fresh flavors, and turns the leaves from a bright green to dark green, along with preventing them from oxidizing further.
Following that, the leaves are rolled and dried. These steps reduce the size of the tea leaves and intensify the flavor.
Nutrition & Health Benefits
Chinese green tea is full of polyphenols, antioxidants, and anti-viral properties, which are said to help fight viruses and even disease. Chinese green tea has especially high levels of Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG), which has been shown to have anti-cancer properties, help weight loss, and improve cardiovascular health.
One study of green tea showed that the leaves are primarily made up of:
90% polyphenols: Polyphenols are a type of micronutrient, of which there are over 8,000. These include flavonoids such as catechins, which are renowned for being strong antioxidants. They can prevent or reverse cell damage caused by aging and the environment, and over time, this damage can lead to an increased risk of chronic disease.
Along with that, in 2010, a report was published by the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry which stated that the catechins from green tea are absorbed by the lens, retina, and eye tissues, helping to protect the eye against disease.
7% amino acids: One important type of amino acid is L-theanine, which is only present in green tea leaves and boosts alpha wave activity in the brain. L-theanine is known for increasing levels of serotonin and dopamine, along with helping to regulate emotions, concentration, and energy.
3% caffeine: Contrary to popular belief, caffeine can be good for you! Due to its stimulant effect, caffeine in green tea can raise the metabolism and increase the oxidation of fatty acids, helping fat burning. Like L-theanine, it can also help to increase brain activity of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Popular Types of Chinese Green Tea
Green tea is grown pretty much all over China, and yet some regions are considered to produce better tea: namely, the Anhui, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Sichuan provinces. Some of the most popular types of Chinese green tea are the following:
Long Jing (Dragon Well): From Longjing Village, Zhejiang Province. The leaves look like small buds which have been flattened after being pan fired.The taste is nutty, toasted, vegetal, and soft.
Mao Feng: From Huang Shan, Anhui Province. Depending on harvesting and processing, the leaves can be either long and lightly twisted, or small and tightly twisted. The taste is floral, with a light sharpness.
Gua Pian: From Lu An, Anhui Province. This tea is made from a single leaf, rather than a bud, and as such the taste is less astringent. The flavor profile is umami, toasted, sweet, and savoury.
Bi Luo Chun (Green Spring Snail): From Dong Ting Mountain, Jiangsu Province. These leaves are made from tiny buds, but they wield a strong, sharp taste. It’s one of the strongest-tasting Chinese green teas, with a flavor profile of floral, nutty, and fruity.
Hou Lui (Monkey King): From Tai Ping, Anhui Province. These leaves are extremely long – usually around 3 inches – and are pressed flat on screens, imparting a crosshatched pattern. The flavor is light and fresh, with a lilac floral aftertaste.
Lo Chu Cha (Gunpowder): From Zhejiang Province. Each tea is rolled into a small, round pellet which resembles small grains of gunpowder. The flavor is slightly smoky, with a bold sweetness.
How to Brew Chinese Green Tea
When brewing Chinese green tea, you should use a lower temperature for the water, usually between 158°F (70°C) and 185°F (85°C). Along with that, you should only fill 3/4 of the glass, gaiwan, or teapot, allowing air to circulate freely around the leaves.
To brew Chinese green tea, you should:
- Boil a pan of water and leave to cool to the desired temperature.
- Add 3 grams of loose leaf green tea to a glass, gaiwan, or teapot, along with the water.
- Leave the tea to brew for between 60 and 90 seconds. Make sure that the leaves are kept underwater as they brew – otherwise, they may oxidize.
- Strain the tea into a cup.
- To re-brew the tea, you should add 8°F to the water temperature and an additional 15 seconds to each brew. Typically, you can re-brew Chinese green tea 2 – 3 times.
It should be noted that the higher the water temperature is, the more bitter the tea will be.
Chinese Green Tea Vs. Japanese Green Tea
One of the main differences between Chinese green tea and Japanese green tea is its processing method. As a rule of thumb, Chinese green teas are pan fired in order to produce roasted, nutty, and grassy flavors, while Japanese green teas are steamed to preserve vegetal and herbaceous flavors.
Along with that, there are endless types of Chinese green tea, and yet only a few types of Japanese green tea: Matcha and Sencha green tea being most popular of them. Japanese green tea production is dominated by the Yabukita cultivar, limiting the types of tea produced.
Both types of tea are enjoyable and come with their own complex culture and history of tea-drinking – and yet, Chinese green tea is the dominant type of green tea in the market.
The world of Chinese green tea is incredibly rich and diverse, and it is no wonder as to why it has become so popular. With delicious flavors, an incredible range of varieties, and numerous health benefits, what’s not to like?
When purchasing Chinese green tea, it is always a good idea to ask the tea seller about which type of tea may suit you best. There are endless possibilities regarding flavor, style, and appearance – there is no doubt that the perfect brew is out there for you.
You should remember that Chinese green tea should be consumed within 6 – 8 months of purchase. The leaves should then be kept in an airtight container away from direct sunlight and any odors and chemicals, to keep it fresher for longer.