A simple introduction to Chinese green tea; its history, how it's grown and produced, and the different green tea varieties available.
Green tea (lu cha) is made from the cooking (or firing) young tea leaves either in an oven or a specially made wok known as Ding. Chinese tea makers used to cook green tea by steaming it and this is still the preferred method in Japan. The firing process helps to preserve the tea's colour and produces a fuller flavour and body. Green tea is characterized by nutty, sweet and vegetal flavours.
- The production of green tea as we know it today probably started in China in the 2nd century.
- Chinese sources claim that tea drinking dates back to 2737BC when Emperor Shen Nung accidentally discovered that the tea leaf that fell into his cup of warm water produced a delicious infusion.
- From the 7th to 14th century the Chinese boiled and baked green tea into a pie shape. Elaborate ceremonies developed around the serving of Pie green tea and its production was banned by reforming Emperor Hong Wu in 1391.
- Loose leaf green tea production, including firing the leaves, began to take over around this time.
- Tea was introduced into the UK by Catherine de Braganza, the Portuguese wife of Charles II, in 1673 and popularized by her friend the Duchess of Lauderdale at Ham House in South West London.
- For the next 200 years, nearly all the tea consumed in the UK was green tea.
Growing and Production
- Zhejiang Province is the major growing region and produces the most famous green teas, including Dragon Well (Long Jing), Anji Bai Cha and Jade Tips (Mao Jian)
- Green Tea is also produced in Hainan, Anhui and Jiangsu.
- Green Tea is picked between March and June, depending on the region and varietal. The larger leaf varieties tend to be harvested late in the season.
- First flush green teas such as Dragon Well and Anji Bai Cha are harvested before the Qingming Festival (around the 6th April) every year and are known as Pre-Qingming teas.
- Leaves are fired soon after picking to stop the natural oxidation process and preserve the fresh vegetal flavours.
- The scientific term for the effect that withering has on tea is the Maillard Reaction, the same process that creates the browning of grilled meats.
Green Tea Varieties
Dragon Well Tea (Long Jing)
Dragon Well (Long Jing) is China’s best-loved green tea. Characterized by flat, spear-shaped leaves, which are picked in pairs, true Long Jing is grown only around Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province. It is widely faked in China so always choose a reputable supplier.
Anji Bai Cha
Anji Bai Cha is a high quality green tea made from the same varietal of ‘Big White’ tea plant as Yin Zhen. Oxidation is stopped by firing to give a more pronounced depth of flavour to the young leaves, which are arrow shaped and feathery in appearance.
Mao Jian (Jade Green Tips)
Mao Jian (downy tip) is a high quality green tea produced in Xinyang, Henan Province. It is characterized by small slightly downy sea-green coloured leaves with silver tips. The light yellow liquor is deliciously sweet and nutty.
Pouchong (Baozhong) is a very lightly oxidised tea, somewhere between green tea and oolong tea, though often classified with the latter due to its lack of the sharper green tea flavours. Pouchong offers both mineral and floral notes and has a rich, melony taste.
Green tea health benefits
Green tea is high in antioxidants. The relatively light processing, used to make Green teas, causes them to have particularly high levels of catechin polyphenols – the most important of which is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a powerful antioxidant which has been linked to inhibiting cancer and heart disease.