What is Green Tea?
Unbeknownst to many, green tea is the oldest tea preparation ever known to man — and arguably the healthiest. Some even claim the fresh green tea leaves have been used as far as 5,000 years ago. Others believe a legendary Emperor Shennong, a mythical Chinese ruler considered a deity in folk religion, has been instrumental in discovering the merits of green tea in 2737 BC. All by accident.
Whether such a legend is true or not, we can’t really ascertain. We don’t have reliable records to prove such a mythical figure ever walked the Earth. But even if the drink’s exact origins are untraceable, what’s apparent is green tea and its tremendous health benefits cannot be simply ignored. Small wonder Buddhist monks spread its magnificence all over Asia.
For some time there, green tea - fetching astronomical prices - was a drink available only to the highest tiers of Chinese society. As its magnificence eventually trickled down to the masses, so did its variants. In the 10th century, semi-fermented versions of green tea called Oolongs invaded the market. Pushing the envelope further, farmers introduced black tea or a fully-fermented version of green tea in 1590. Today, we may not be able to count by hand all versions and names of tea that sprung from green tea.
Indeed, every tea on the planet owes its existence to its mother, the green tea. What should astound you, even more, is green tea’s health benefits can hardly be outdone. Top of the list is the drink’s ability to fight the big C or cancer — amongst a long line-up of diseases. Indeed, that’s telling you you’d be doing yourself a huge favor when you choose to sip a cup of green tea, Camellia Sinensis leaves in its purest form. Read on.
History: The Birth of Green Tea
By definition, green tea is tea from the tea shrub or Camellia Sinensis leaves that have not undergone any oxidation or withering process common to Oolongs and black teas. In short, green tea is tea leaves at their freshest.
And though green tea is generally prescribed to have originated from China, other East Asian countries such as India, Myanmar, and Tibet have used it as a medicinal drink a long time ago. Legend has it the Emperor Shennong in 2737 B.C. discovered the drink when he drank a cup from hot water where a dead tea leaf accidentally fell and boiled in it. Fascinated by the startling find, the emperor made a habit of drinking green tea ever since. As word got out of this new invigorating drink, the habit spread like wildfire.
What is increasingly clear, however, is that official records of consumption of green tea emerged not until 618-907 AD during the Tang Dynasty. It was a book called The Classic of Tea (Cha Jing) written by Lu Yu, a Chinese tea master who spent a lifetime studying the drink fascinated by its tremendous health benefits, that heralded the drink’s wondrous health benefits. Pretty soon, Buddhist monks caught the habit, enamored by green tea’s ability to keep them in high spirits even after long hours of meditation.
● For one, not only did wandering Zen monks learn Buddhism in China, but also they got back to Japan complete with the tea plant and leaves in 611 AD. In short, Buddhist monks had a hand in spreading the habit all over Asia.
● It was but a matter of time before the amazing benefits of green tea would reach the West. Thanks to European explorers, green tea was introduced to the continent in the 16th century. And as Europe became the center of power in those times, exploring vast corners of the planet, the habit of drinking tea went where European explorers go. All this culminated in the 19th century, a time when the continent led the world in terms of democracy, industrialization, and free-market systems.
● Without a doubt, green tea was a huge success. Today, tea is the national drink both for Great Britain and Ireland.
● America was no exception. Shipped overseas from its English motherland, green tea found favor in early American settlers. So popular was tea drinking that the British Parliament sought a Tea Tax in the year 1767. Well, that may have proved to be a bad call. Taxation without representation incited the Boston Tea Party and for America to revolt and gain its independence.
The popularity of green tea has multiplied by leaps and bounds over the years. For one, many tea shops all over the world serve different versions of green tea — from iced matcha latte to hot jasmine green tea. Even better, millions of people seek the drink for its tremendous health benefits.
Global green tea demand is second only to black tea. Experts detail world production of green tea will reach 3.6 million tonnes (metric 1,000kg) by 2027. Black tea’s global production is expected to reach 4.4million tonnes in the same year.
People in China consume about 50% of the total green tea consumptionof the planet while people in Japan follow a close second. Take notethat almost every tea drink in Japan is a green tea drink. So if you’reinvited to a tea ceremony, expect nothing else but green tea in theLand of the Rising Sun.It’s no accident then that the most popular variations of green teaemerged from these two Asian countries. Some of these drinks are:
You may wonder why green tea is called green. Well, that name actually follows. The first stop, the Camellia Sinensis plant or tea plant, has leaves that are dark green in color. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, when you infuse fresh green tea leaves, you get a liquor that’s green in color. It's logical that people call it green tea.
However, take note that if the tea leaves are not as young, the resulting infusion will turn yellowish in color.
As green tea consumption all over the world has spread, green tea processing and growing are as unique as the kind of green tea being produced. There may be similarities but each farmer and tea producer follow a strict protocol to produce taste consistent with the infusion desired by their market.
As a result of such a desire to please the market, maximum amounts of antioxidants and polyphenols are retained. In the process, unique taste and aroma have come to the fore.
Basically, there are two basic types of green tea being produced: one grown under the sun and the other grown under the shade. Generally, tea leaves are harvested thrice a year from green tea shrubs grown in rows. These plants are pruned on a regular basis to maximize shoots produced.
Usually, the first flush in spring brings about the best quality tea leaves, a time that usually corresponds to late April and early May. It’s easy to understand then why some green tea variants such as Korea’s sejak are harvested at a specific time of the year. In addition, the second harvest usually happens in June and ends in July. The third picking coincides in late July and early August.
As the first harvest is usually the best, these green tea concoctions also carry a steep price.
As for green tea processing
There are traditional methods and modern ones.
Traditional, also dubbed as artisanal methods, include:
● Sun-drying ● Charcoal or basket firing . ● Pan-firing
More modern methods involve:
● Steaming ● Tumbling ● Oven-drying
Once processed, green tea is known as aracha. For best results, these are stored under below-normal low humidity refrigeration at 0.5 degrees centigrade or 32 to 41 degrees Fahrenheit in bags of 30 to 60 kg. The tea leaves will have to pass the final firing before the actual blending and packaging takes place.
For longer shelf-life, these aracha leaves will be re-fired every now and then. It’s possible to store this year’s aracha leaves using this method to be marketed next year when the new batch of leaves comes. After being re-dried, each tea leaf crude as they are will undergo sifting and grading according to size. In the end, each lot shall be blended in accordance with the wishes of the tasters.
Health Benefits of Green Tea
If there’s a debate on the healthiest tea, green tea may count as the winner. Truth be told, the benefits of green tea are so many you could write a book about it, exactly why the habit of drinking green tea has endured for thousands of years.
Here are some of the many health benefits of green tea, dubbed as the healthiest beverage on the planet today:
Help You Lose Weight
Green tea has been shown to boost people’s metabolic rate in the short term. That can certainly help you reduce the number of fats in your body. Even better, studies have shown that green tea can help lower body fat, especially in the abdominal area.
One particular study involving 240 overweight people in 12 weeks showed those who drank green tea regularly burnt fat around the waist faster than those who didn't. Thus they ended with far lesser belly fat and waist circumference than those who were not given any green tea.
Fight Heart Disease
It’s no joke. Heart disease is the top killer disease in American and Great Britain.
Each year over 600,000 Americans succumb to heart disease.
The good news is green tea has been shown to improve many of the major risk factors of the many forms of heart disease. We’re talking about improving good cholesterol and lowering bad LDL cholesterols, study shows.
For a more comprehensive list of green tea health benefits, click here.
Lowers Cancer Risk
When you talk about degenerative diseases, you can’t possibly finish your statement with justice if you don’t discuss cancer.
Recently, nearly 10 million people succumb to cancer each year. Research indicates that oxidative stress brought about by free radical damage can push the body into chronic inflammation.
Such an inflammation, if left to its own devices, can lead to cancer complications of the body. Unfortunately, we are surrounded every single day by free radicals. Some of these come to invade our bodies through cigarette smoking, exposure to air pollution, exposure to the sun, exposure to x-rays, and industrial chemicals.
The good news is more than any tea on the market today, green tea
has tons of antioxidants or active ingredients that counteract free radical damage. The most active and most abundant of which is the catechin EGCG or epigallocatechin-3-gallate and other polyphenols. As these compounds actively scour and counteract free radicals, they can minimize your chances of developing cancer.
In fact, studies have shown active compounds in green tea have been shown effective in inhibiting tumor cells from proliferating.
Indeed, green tea can help minimize cancer. Some of these are:
Studies show that women who regularly took green tea had a 30% lower chance of developing breast cancer. If you want to maximize the cancer-fighting ability of green tea, avoid adding milk to the infusion. Studies have shown milk can minimize the antioxidant action of tea.
Analysis of not one but 29 studies showed that people regularly drinking green tea are 42% less likely to get colorectal cancer.
A study has shown that men who were actively drinking green tea have a dramatically lower risk of developing prostate cancer.
If you want to maximize the cancer-fighting ability of green tea, avoid adding milk to the infusion. Studies have shown milk can minimize the antioxidant action of tea.
Fight Brain Diseases due to Aging
Brain disease usually plagues older folks. And that can certainly be a lot to contend with as you age. Fortunately, green tea can also help you with your cognitive functioning in this regard.
Is a brain disease that affects movement making it harder for people to move about even when doing the most simple of tasks such as walking or eating. It is caused by the death of dopamine-producing neurons in the brain.
Is the most common form of dementia found in older adults. People with dementia will have a loss of memory, difficulty concentrating and have drastic mood changes. Worse, they may forget how to do simple things such as bathing or eating.
Catechin compounds in green tea show great protective effects on the neurons of animal brains and in vitro. Drinking green tea regularly could lower your chances of dementia.
How Does Green Tea Taste?
First stop, we’ll have to remember that green tea is the freshest kind of tea you can buy on the market today, generally speaking, that is. So green tea is more astringent if you compare it to black tea. That means it’s slightly bitter and acidic while black tea is maltier or suppressed in terms of taste (just as you would describe beer).
So green tea tastes fruitier and would taste more like green grapes or zucchini or fresh cucumber. However, don’t steep it too long as it can get bitter — if not it will go totally bad.
Also, know that green tea has more caffeine compared to black tea. Green tea undergoes the least amount of oxidation so the freshness of the leaves are kept. The fresher, the greater the amount of caffeine.
So if you want to perk up your senses, you can take a sip of green tea instead of coffee. It’s steadier releasing caffeine in a slower fashion while caffeine is mong like a jolt of caffeine. If you want to have more caffeine in tea, check the buds of the tea leaves. The more tea buds, the more caffeine. Young leaves harbor more caffeine than older ones.
If you want a jolt of caffeine from tea leaves, chew on Matcha. Those green leaves should provide the best experience for you, assuming you don’t just drink them.
It must be noted that the taste and aroma of your green tea depend a lot on the processing. So green tea from Japan will taste differently from the one coming from China. Most Japanese green tea involves steaming to preserve the freshness of the greens as much as possible. Chinese counterparts, however, usually involve baking or pan-firing, and not steaming. So the green in the leaves is lost in Chinese green tea, replaced by a somewhat golden color.
Still, both Chinese and Japanese green teas are just slightly oxidized.
Indeed, it’s really hard not to be attracted to green tea. All those antioxidants and polyphenols that it brings to the table is essential for anyone. If there’s any tea on your list, at the top of it should sit the freshness of green tea, the mother of all tea.