Green Tea's Journey to Your Teacup
Green tea is synonymous with both China and Japan, yet these two countries grow and export green teas that differ dramatically in both look and taste. Today, green tea comes from several countries but is always referred to as a Chinese or Japanese processed or styled tea.
Generally, Japanese teas are processed using steam to denature the enzymes found within the tea to prevent it from losing its green color. Chinese teas are typically processed when heat is applied through pan firing. These two distinct methods produce teas with vastly different characters.
(Left: Steaming Tea in Japan @maikotea.jp; Right: Pan firing tea in China. @wooreetea)
Is it me, or is it getting hot in here?
Green tea was first developed in China during the Yuan Dynasty (1280-1368). Tea growers were looking to produce a tea with less bitterness, that was milder overall. They developed a process called chaoqing, which translates to “roasting out of the green.” This pan-fired method de-enzymed the tea leaves, which radically changed the profile of the tea.
This new tea had less bitterness, improved flavor, and an attractive appearance due to its pleasing color. These traits made the tea highly sought after by Chinese consumers. However, with packaging technology lacking, green teas could not travel far, as their quality would not hold up. Nearly every tea region was producing a type of green tea with different production techniques. This led to the array of green teas that are available today. Luckily for us, technology caught up over the centuries so that everyone can enjoy these wonderful tea variations.
Though production processes have been refined over the years, most Chinese green teas go through the same processing steps. The region where the tea is grown and the process are what make each of these green teas taste different.
Those processing steps: Plucking » Withering » First Pan Firing » Shaping » Second Pan Firing » Final Firing » Sorting
There are five notable growing regions in China for green tea –Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Jiangsu, Anhui, and Henan.
Zhejiang Province, an eastern coastal province of China, produces Dragonwell, Gunpowder, and Tian Mu Qing Ding.
The southern province of Jiangxi produces Lu Shan Yun Wu green tea, which is not as popular in the States. But Jiangxi Province played an important role in the spread of tea knowledge. It is here that Japanese monks came to study Zen Buddhism and share tea and the tea ceremony which became chanoyu.
Jiangsu Province, positioned along the Yellow Sea coast, produces Bi Luo Chun green tea.
Land-locked Anhui Province produces Mao Feng and Luan Guapin.
Henan Province, which is located in central China, is famous for its Mao Jian.
What's the magic behind Dragonwell?
Dragonwell green tea is known for being both a mythical tea and one of controversy, as more Dragonwell tea is consumed each year than is actually produced in the West Lake Region. Legend tells us that in 250AD, a Taoist monk told farmers, desperate for rain, to pray to the dragon who lived in a nearby well. When the rain came quickly, the well became famous. Today, the Dragon Well Monastery still stands next to the well.
Consumers are often intimidated by Chinese tea names, although if enthusiasts simply learn the translations of just a few of the words, it is easy to see that they often help describe the tea. A few single words strung together indicate the shape and origin of the teas. As you learn your favorites, you'll know what names to look for when shopping for your favorite brew.
Now it's getting steamy!
In Japan, tea is much more than just a beverage. It is an integral part of the culture and a symbol of hospitality. Though references to tea can be traced back to the early 800s, it wouldn’t be until the 1100s that tea production began, and not until the 16th century before tea production really soared.
Almost all of the tea produced in Japan is some type of green tea. However, there are two main categories of tea produced. The difference is in the growing and cultivating of the bushes - either in full sunlight or shade.
Shade-grown teas include matcha, gyokuro, karigane, and kabusecha.
Full sun-grown teas include sencha, bancha, shincha, kukicha, tamaryokucha, and hojicha.
Back in the early 1100s, the term "sencha" referred to all boiled infused teas, while today, sencha refers to a high-quality spring harvest tea.
Due to the stress that the leaf has been put through, shade-grown teas have a unique taste profile. They produce higher concentrations of chlorophyll, L-theanine amino acid, and caffeine, which produces a tea with less astringency, more body, and a rich umami flavor. You can read more about that fascinating information in our blog about the Science of Tea, here.
Production in Japan is also unique in that there are two distinct stages.
The first stage, called aracha or crude tea, allows tea growers to harvest their tea in the spring when the tea is at its best, and then store it until it is needed throughout the year. This first stage consists of: Sun/Shade Cultivation » Plucking » Steaming » Shaping » Drying » Storing. It is important to note that most of the plucking in Japan is done by machines that are highly advanced and can select only the bud and leaves that are needed. However, some of the more expensive higher quality teas are still hand-plucked.
The second stage, which completes the tea, is referred to as refined tea production. The second stage consists of: Firing » Sorting » Blending. Blending in Japan is slightly different, as it is very common to get tea leaves of varying sizes in a premium grade tea. Unlike teas from China, the look of the leaf is not as important as the taste in the cup.
There are five main growing regions, or prefectures, in Japan. The most well-known region is Uji in the Kyoto Prefecture. Uji is considered to be the birthplace of Japanese tea, even though it doesn’t produce a lot of volume. Other regions include Shizouka Prefecture, Kagoshima Prefecture, Mie Prefecture, and Fukuoka Prefecture. Shizouka Prefecture produces about half of Japan’s overall tea volume, while Fukuoka Prefecture produces more than half the country's volume of gyokuro tea.
Though the largest producers of green tea today are still China and Japan, green tea is produced in several countries. Each may differ in processing methods and taste, yet all growing regions of #greentea follow one of the two processing methods, which are considered the green tea standards for the world.
Thirsty for more?
When cupping green teas, note the slight differences in these variations based on their processing techniques. What are your favorite types of green teas? Share your favorites with us and as always, we love to help! Have a question about what's in your cup? Reach out on your favorite social media! #hulaconsulting
The #teaexperts at Hula Consulting can help with sourcing green teas, flavorings, and ingredients for your tea line as well as tea education courses to give you and your team the tools to be better cuppers, blenders, and purchasers of teas and tea ingredients. Email to Scott@HulaConsulting.com or call 561.600.7025 to get started today.