Green tea has been one of the fastest growing segments of the tea industry in the west over the past decade, a phenomenon no doubt at least partially attributable to population studies tracing the link between green tea and longevity. If you did a search on the Internet, odds are you would come away with the impression that any description of green tea is inseparable from health benefits, so much so that some companies have even come up with a “green tea capsule” that allows the consumer to reap the full benefits of green tea without brewing and consuming it.
This post does not seek to debate the health benefits of green tea – that is best left to medical professionals and even they can’t seem to agree. Every other day, you could likely read a new medical report touting the benefits of green tea or tea in general, while other days you could find another report stating that the evidence is not unequivocal or irrefutable. Of course, clear, unequivocal language is hardly ever commonplace in medical research. But I digress.
Even if drinking green tea is an end in itself, what an immensely pleasurable end it is! Lost in the shuffle in the debate over polyphenols and antioxidants, among other mouthfuls, is the simple, unchanging fact that green tea is a hedonistic delight. It is not surprising that some might look at that last sentence, recall that grassy, astringent liquid called green tea, and snigger. Indeed, with the marketing and hype about the health benefits of green tea, many retailers simply offer uninspiring variants of green tea or lower grades of famed types of green tea that hardly deserve its name. Even more damning, some manufacturers simply label green tea as “green tea,” which probably tells you all you need to know about its quality. If you ever open a bottle that is simply labeled “red wine,” you can be sure Chateau Lafite is not inside.
Perhaps marketing it as a health drink is a great way of offloading lower grades of tea at a huge margin. Freshness, tender shoots, whole unbroken leaves, processing techniques, and geographical region? Not an issue as long as I get my antioxidants! It seems to bring to mind the old Listerine advertisement: “Listerine tastes bad, but it kills germs.”
It is a shame really, considering how delightful quality green tea is. A decent quality green tea, brewed properly, should have only a hint of astringency that is quickly replaced by a sweet aftertaste that wells up in the throats, refreshing the drinker. Just like honey, only it lingers much longer.
Another dampener is that brewing green tea is a tad trickier than brewing black tea. Instead of boiling or near boiling, the ideal water temperature for most green teas is 75-85 C, which can be rather troublesome for people who do not have a variable temperature kettle or a water thermometer on hand. Water that is overheated will scald delicate green tea leaves and the teas might therefore taste bitter.
There is also the issue of storing green tea, which may have been on hand for many months before being brewed. Moisture, heat, and oxidization may have combined to cause severe degradation of the tea’s taste.
Brewing and storage could easily be the a topic for another post, but the bottom line is this: though green tea may require a little more care than other types of tea, it is worth it – not because of its antioxidants, but because it is an enjoyable drink. In the sweltering summer, green tea helps your body dispel natural heat and the refreshing aftertaste can invigorate the most jaded of souls. It goes beyond mere taste to offer a holistic delight of the senses.
Do yourself a favor and do not settle for lower-quality green tea nor delude yourself that reaping the health benefits of green tea is all there is. Green tea can deliver epicurean satisfaction that is second only to oolong tea – it’s just a matter of finding a representative quality. Once you do, you will be hooked.