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.
Thanks for the reminder that green tea is so much more than its health benefits. I tend to ring that bell a lot myself because that is how my tea discovery began. Add to that the fact that I’d been in the health care field for over 25 years, it’s easy to see why green tea was so appealing. I was searching for something “healthy” to replace my 4 cans of coke addiction- and I don’t use that term lightly. I suspect I also argued that if we’re to reach the masses, those who buy wine in a box or with a twist off cap, we had to give them a strong reason to try this quirky brew. We needed to prove it was worth their time and effort. For the connoisseur however, tea provides more than enough for them to sink their teeth into.
I do have to disagree with one comment. For me, green tea isn’t “second” to anything……including oolong! (although I realize you’re in good company with your preferences:))
Ha, yes, I am an oolong addict but it’s personal. I usually drink 2 oolongs, either a Wuyi or a Dancong paired with either a Minnan oolong or a Taiwanese oolong & 1 green tea or a white tea daily.
Sometimes Pu-er or black or yellow sneaks its way in.
My main grouse against promoting green tea as a health beverage is that it is a good way of pushing out low grade awful beverages that sully its good name but I know where you are coming from. I used to chug coke as well so its definitely a healthier alternative!
I think blends are easy ways to disguise the lower grades of green tea. It also helps when using water that is too hot and is often served at cafes, so the burned, bitter taste is disguised with fruity flavors. My concern is that people will not learn to brew green tea properly or learn to appreciate the subtle flavors of good green tea.