Green tea has such a rich, ancient history stretching back so far that the origins are a bit of a mystery, steeped in legends. Of course, the result of that long history and centuries of cultivation, there are now hundreds of green tea varieties, blends, and brands for you to choose from. Let’s take a closer look at what green tea actually is before you find out how to pick the best green tea for you.
What is Green Tea
Green tea is produced mostly in China and Japan from the same tea leaves as the black tea you may be used to. Once the tea leaves and buds are picked, by machine or hand, they’re fired or steamed immediately to stop them oxidising. By firing or steaming them at a high temperature, this “fixes” the tea leaves and stops the enzymes that would otherwise turn the leaves the brown/black colour.
In terms of flavour, this keeps that fresh flavour of the tea leaves. Unlike the rich, full-bodied flavour of black tea, green tea is typically brighter, lighter and slightly bitter.
Firing the tea leaves is the typical Chinese method of processing green tea. It gives the tea a warmer flavour profile, sometimes with woody or smoky notes. In Japan, green teas are steamed instead of being pan-fired. This enhances the grassy and fresh flavour of green tea, but it does tend to enhance the bright bitterness too.
History of Green Tea
If you follow back the legends, you’ll find that green tea was discovered quite by accident by a Chinese Emperor when tea leaves blew into his cup. The process of picking, drying, firing and then boiling the tea leaves into tea came later, but still centuries before tea was consumed elsewhere in the world. Buddhist monks eventually brought tea to Japan somewhere between 589 and 618 AD, starting Japan’s love with the drink too.
After centuries of cultivation, these 2 countries now produce some, if not all, of the best green teas in the world. Despite all those green teas coming from one type of plant, they vary drastically in flavour, aroma, and texture, depending on how/where they’re grown and processed.
So, what does it mean for you? Put simply, it means that the world of green tea is vaster than you imagined and contains so much for you to explore.
Different Tea Shapes and What They Mean
Green tea bags – square, round or pyramid bags, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the tea within. Green tea in tea bags is crushed or chopped, or simply tea dust. This allows a quick infusion, but it’s not good. Even if a green tea bag contains a delicious Sencha (one of the best Japanese green teas listed below) it will never be as high quality as loose leaf!
Gunpowder, pellets, and pearls – rolling and shaping green tea leaves into curls is a common practice for several green tea varieties, particularly Chinese green teas. Some are rolled by hand, others by machine. Usually, the larger leaves are rolled and curled into pellets. This slightly crushes the structure of the leaves, so when they’re infused the slowly unfurl and allow the water to really infuse deep into the leaves, releasing the flavourful tea oils.
Needle shapes – leaves and buds can also be rolled into tight needle shapes. This protects the delicate buds within the leaves and is used for a variety of Chinese and Japanese tea types, like Maofeng green tea. Just like the rolled pellet type leaves, they need space to unfurl so that the water can really infuse to the centre.
There are many other green tea shapes, from the super flat and thin to the large pearl shapes. What makes these whole leaf green teas better than cut or crushed green tea is the size and consistency. The less surface area that’s exposed to oxygen, the more the leaves will be able to retain their flavour, including the delicate and subtle flavour notes that would be lost if the tea was chopped and sold in tea bags.back to menu ↑
Types of Best Green Tea
These green tea types and varieties are a great place to start. They’re widely considered the best because they’re most well-known. That doesn’t mean an unknown green tea variety will be poor quality, but by starting out with these specific best green teas, you’ll know you’re receiving something special.
Chinese Green Teas
Chinese green teas are loved around the world. Green tea is actually the most produced type of tea in China. Traditionally the leaves and buds are pan-fired or roasted to fix them. This gives the tea liquor a lovely golden colour and warm aroma.
- Biluochun (Green Snail Spring) – the delicate fruity and floral green tea leaves harvested from the Jiangsu province are rolled into snail-shell shapes, similar to gunpowder green tea.
- Chun Mee (Precious Eyebrow) – a bright and slightly acidic green tea with distinct toasted notes. Chun Mee tea leaves are slightly dusty and darker than most green teas. They produce a warmer, more golden than green liquor.
- Gunpowder – grown around China, this tea is rolled into little pellets that resemble gunpowder. Many different teas grown in a variety of places around China can be rolled into Gunpowder green tea.
- Longjing (Dragon Well) – grown in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, this tea is pan-fired for a gentle, mellow, sweet flavour with notes of nuttiness and fresh vegetables with a lasting aftertaste.
- Lu’an Gua Pian (Melon Seed) – the flat oval shaped leaves (like melon seeds) brew a tea with a full, sweet and fresh flavour.
- Mao Feng (Fur Peak) – produced in the Anhui Province, Mao Feng is typically light and summery with fruit notes. Once brewed, it’s a very pale green.
- Taiping Hou Kui (Peaceful Monkey Leader) – this is a very famous green tea grown at the base of Huangshan in the Anhui Province. The leaves are long, thin, vibrant green and very flat. They’re oven-baked for a smooth, creamy and sweet flavour.
- Xinyang Maojian (Fuzzy Tip) – produced in Xinyang, these furry young tea tips give a brisk cup of green tea with grassy and nutty notes. It’s one of the best and most famous Chinese green teas.
Japanese Green Teas
Green tea is widely consumed in Japan, it’s traditional even if it hasn’t been around for as long as green tea in China. Here, the leaves are steamed after they’re picked. Typically, Japanese green teas are fresh, grassy and vegetal as the steam preserves those refreshing flavours.
- Bancha – the second flush of the iconic Sencha Japanese green tea (read more about that a little below) is called Bancha. It’s harvested at the end of the summer months, towards autumn and has a distinctive nutty, robust hay-like flavour with astringent notes.
- Genmaicha – green tea and toasted brown rice kernels create a subtle, nutty green tea with a toasty edge and full-bodied feel. It has a unique savoury edge that we love.
- Gyokuro – this green tea is shade grown, shielded from the sun, to create a smooth, light and complex flavour. It’s very high-grade and rich in healthy amino acids (read more about the health benefits of green tea below).
- Hojicha – unlike most Japanese green teas, this one is roasted. So, if you like Chinese green tea there’s a fair chance you’ll like this one too. It has a slightly smoky flavour and mellow green tea body.
- Kukicha – this “twig tea” is made from the stalks of the tea plant, usually discarded after the leaves are harvested. It has a surprisingly sweet, creamy flavour with a refreshing mouthfeel.
- Matcha – made from green tea leaves that are powdered and then whisked into tea, rather than infused. It tastes rich, vegetal and a little bitter with a subtle sweetness.
- Sencha – grown and steamed in Japan for a sweet, grassy flavour and slightly thick texture. It’s one of the most popular!
While the best and most well-known teas are from China and Japan, there are also a handful of other green teas from around the world that you might be lucky enough to try, from Taiwan’s green tea to Korea’s Ujeon. Check out the full list of tea varieties and types in our Guide to Different Types of Tea.
These are classics that you can’t go wrong with (so long as you buy them authentic from a trustworthy tea brand) and a great place to start as a beginner.back to menu ↑
How to Choose The Best Green Tea?
Taste is largely subjective – we love light, sweet and mellow green tea, but you might prefer the strong bitter and grassy notes of matcha. Regardless, there are still key things that will tell you if a tea is good or bad. Quality of tea isn’t subjective and often the quality of the tea will determine how fresh and flavourful the tea is.
A poor-quality tea, even if the flavour notes are what you generally like, won’t taste as good as a high-quality tea. Shopping online for tea can be a little tricky, but you should still take a little time to research whether the tea and tea company are reliable and high quality.
- The aroma is fresh, distinct and instantly detectable
- The tea leaves are all uniform in shape and size
- The leaves feel smooth and don’t easily crumble in your hand (a sign that they’re too dry or old)
- The tea leaves are very green (dark, almost brown, green tea leaves are a sign that they’re old or have been poorly stored)
- The tea seller provides plenty of information and is happy to provide more when contacted
- Tea leaves are mixed with stalks, twigs and broken leaves
- Taste is overly astringent, chemical-like or just too bland
- The tea has a famous name but is sold cheaply
Best Green Tea for Beginners
The best green teas for beginners are subtle and gentle. From Japan, a light Sencha is a good choice. Our favourite, however, is Chinese jasmine green tea!
The comforting floral aroma works so well with the green tea and adds a gentle sweetness to the flavour. It’s a popular choice in Chinese restaurants but really you can drink it any time of day. It’s relatively inexpensive, but you can certainly find high-quality, specialty jasmine green teas if you want.
Start here and you’ll be able to enjoy the delicate flavour of green tea without feeling overwhelmed. It’s a great stepping stone to enjoying fine green teas or different flavoured green tea blends.
Best Green Tea for a Sweet Tooth
If we had to pick just one sweet green tea from China for you to try, we would recommend this.
Anji Baicha, which translates as Anji white tea (even though it really is green tea, trust us), is sweet, smooth and mellow with high levels of amino acids. It’s made from pale, new buds formed in early spring. They’re fairly small leaves that roll into pine needle-shaped dried tea leaves. You won’t need to add any sugar, stevia or honey to enjoy this tea. Delicious!
Best Green Tea for the Adventurous
Taiping Hou Kui, also known as Peaceful Monkey Leader tea, is a Chinese variety that’s high-quality and world-famous. It’s our top choice for the adventurous green tea taster as it has quite noticeable creamy notes that you wouldn’t normally expect from a green tea. It also has a lovely orchid aroma that typically you’d only find in oolong teas. It’s unusual and not something you can find in the supermarket!back to menu ↑
Where to Buy Green Tea
Buying green tea online is the way forward – it gives you access to innumerable green tea brands and types that can be delivered quickly to your home. Always buy your green tea from reputable websites, like official tea brand websites. Tea Famille, Lipton, Twinings etc. all have official websites for you to buy from.
Generally, you’ll only find the most popular green teas on sites like Amazon and eBay. For premium, hard-to-get green teas, you’ll need to do a little searching online to find a supplier.
Here are a few tips for buying green tea online:
- Start by ordering small samples – compared to buying green tea in-store, you can’t assess the aroma and flavour of a green tea online as well. It’s best to order a small amount (20g is a usual sample size) before ordering a large amount for daily consumption.
- Don’t worry about flavour reviews – flavour and opinions on that flavour are very personal and subjective. What one person finds delicious in a tea, another may despise. So, don’t pay attention to poor reviews because of personal taste.
- Do worry about company reviews – when you see poor reviews because of the tea quality (arrived stale, packet split open, 3 months late, etc.) or the company policies, that’s a bad sign. It’s the same with buying anything online – these bad reviews are the signs that the tea company is not to be relied upon for a great experience. If they take such poor care of their customers and processes, will they be taking good care of their tea? It seems unlikely.
- Be wary of large tea collections – we’ve found that in general, the more tea a tea supplier has to offer the less likely that they’ve assessed the quality of the tea they’re selling. A small tea website with just a handful of premium teas available will probably feature teas that have been carefully selected, thus buying from a smaller website ensures higher quality and care. Of course, not all tea websites follow the rule but it’s something to keep in mind! Like the English saying goes, “Jack of all trades, master of none.”
What Does Green Tea Taste Like?
Most green teas have a light, refreshing flavour. Common flavour notes you’ll detect are grassy or vegetal. Usually, green teas will have a light sweetness from the gentle brew, but if you over-steep the green tea they can begin to taste very bitter and lose that sweetness.
Specialty green teas will have all sorts of different flavour notes, from honey, muskatel and nutty flavours to fruity, bright and sharp flavours.
What unites them all is a flavour and aroma that’s invigorating, gentle and a lot lighter than other tea types, with the exception of white tea.
How to Brew Green Tea for The Best Flavour
Use 1 teaspoon (1 teabag or 2g of loose leaf) per cup. Heat your water or boil it in a kettle, add the green tea to the water in your cup or mug, then let it steep. Once the tea has infused, remove the tea and discard. Now all that’s left to do is sip slowly and savour the flavour!
Brewing green tea is simple, but there are a few things you can do to make sure that the tea you brew tastes the best it possibly can.
- Make sure your tea is fresh and keep it sealed airtight.
- Use fresh water rather than re-boiling water left in your kettle.
- Use water that’s at 80°C (176°F) for green tea.
- Stir but don’t crush the leaves with your teaspoon, let them unfurl naturally.
2-3 minutes is the average brew time, but as you brew green tea more often, you’ll know how long to brew for your personal tastes.back to menu ↑
More About Green Tea
Do you have a burning green tea question in your mind? If our comprehensive guide to the best green teas hasn’t already answered it, you’ll find the answer here.
What Are the Benefits and Side Effects of Drinking Green Tea?
As we discovered when we did some in-depth research, green tea has far more health benefits than side effects! Drinking a moderate amount of green tea daily can:
- Boost your metabolism
- Aid your digestive enzymes to ease digestive problems
- Reduce inflammation
- Revive your skin
- Neutralise free-radicals, helping prevent cancer
- Promote healthy hair roots and follicles
- Reduce high blood pressure
- Prevent atherosclerosis
For a full explanation of the health benefits of green tea (and exactly how green tea does these miraculous things) can be found in our guide to the health benefits and side effects of tea.
How Much Caffeine Is in Green Tea?
In 1 cup (8oz) of brewed green tea, there is approximately 30mg of caffeine. That’s the average for green tea, but it varies drastically from one tea to the next. It also depends on how long you brew your green tea – the longer it steeps, the more caffeine will be in your cup.