By Lia Blanchard
Green tea is the “original tea,” and has been consumed in China for thousands of years, for both medicinal and recreational purposes.
What makes it “green tea”?
As we learned in the first article in this series, all tea comes from the same plant – so what makes green tea green tea?
The single feature that makes a tea “green” is the complete lack of oxidation (also called “fermentation”) during the processing of the leaves. Only the youngest, most tender leaves are harvested for green tea, usually in the early morning before the sun has a chance to warm the plant. They are then allowed a few hours to soften before the introduction of heat which removes moisture and prevents them from oxidizing. The methods of softening and heat removal vary greatly, and produce slightly different flavors.
Isn’t green tea very good for you?
The health benefits from green tea have been touted for centuries, finally being written down in 1211 in Zen Master Eisai’s book How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea. Part of the book describes the plant and how to process it, and the rest discusses the administration of green tea for specific ailments, including heart problems, beriberi, urinary and brain issues, and more.
Modern medicine is just beginning to seriously study the health benefits of tea, but in many parts of Asia serving someone green tea is still considered the gift of a wish for their long life.
Worth more than gold
Prior to the Ming dynasty, all green tea was compressed and sold in cakes. It was too expensive for all but the highest class of citizen, and eventually became used as currency, since the cakes were worth more than their weight in gold.
The corruption surrounding the tea trade was broken when the Ming came to power at the end of the 14th century and ordered all tea cakes destroyed. Only loose-leaf tea was legal, and is the preferred way of producing tea even today.
Ironically, it was this change from caked to loose-leaf green tea that is believed by some to have led to the discovery of black tea.
Next: Black/red tea