Tea tasting 101: green tea.

Green tea leaves and tasting cup. Photo: Kevin Connor, http://www.MorgueFile.com

Green tea, like all other types of true tea, is made from the leaves of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. Mature fresh leaves are plucked from the tea bushes, crushed and allowed to wither, then fired, roasted, blasted with hot air, or steamed before oxidation takes place, and dried. There are two main styles of making green tea: the Chinese and the Japanese.

Chinese green tea – and green tea processed in the Chinese style – is crushed and withered, then fired or roasted with hot air or a dry, heated metal pan, to prevent oxidation, before drying.

Japanese green teas – and green teas processed in the Japanese style — are withered and then steamed to prevent oxidation, and end up being partially cooked by the moist heat, before being dried. This results in a very different appearance, aroma and flavor between Chinese and Japanese green teas. The Japanese and Chinese cultures each also have their own ceremonies and methods for infusing and drinking tea, which have become deeply embedded in the traditions connected with holidays and other special occasions.

Japan and China are the largest producers of green teas, but Vietnam, other Asian countries, and Bolivia and some other South American nations also grow and process green tea. The green tea from each country has its own distinct flavor and aroma qualities but, as with the other types of tea, green teas all share certain characteristics, especially a green color in the leaf and the infused liquor, a fresh, grassy aroma and vegetal flavor when infused. Here are some terms associated with green tea:

Character – When tasting teas, a desirable liquor quality that permits identification of country of origin and district within that country.

Basket Fired – Japanese tea which has been dried by firing in a basket.

Gunpowder – A make of green tea, each leaf of which has been rolled into a pellet. The pellets resemble old fashioned gunpowder cartridges.

Ichiban-cha – Japanese phrase meaning “first tea” or “first plucking,” referring to Japanese green tea.

Jasmine – A mild, delicately flavoured China tea that is scented after firing with white jasmine flowers.

Matcha – Japanese green tea that has been ground to a powder, and is prepared differently from other types of green tea, in that the powdered leaves are ingested and not removed from the tea cup.

Niban-cha – Japanese phrase, meaning “second tea,” or “second plucking,” referring to Japanese green tea.

Pan Fired – A kind of green tea that is dried in iron pans over charcoal fires.

Pingsuey – Chinese phrase, meaning “ice water,” referring to a kind of Chinese green tea.

Pinheads – Green tea leaves rolled into tiny balls the size of gun shot, a kind of gunpowder green tea.

Sambancha – Japanese phrase for “third tea,” or “third plucking,” referring to Japanese green tea.

Sencha – name given to the ordinary everyday teas of Japan.

As far as we know, the first tea enjoyed by humans was green tea. There are two main legends that tell about the discovery of tea. One legend involves a Chinese emperor, who sat down to rest under a wild Camellia tree, while walking in the mountains on a summer day. His servants built a fire nearby, to boil and sterilize water for him to drink, and some dried leaves from the tree happened to fall into the container of boiling water. When the emperor drank the water, he enjoyed the flavor and found that it restored his energy more than plain water would have done, so he ordered his servants to take cuttings from the tree and plant them near his court. After the new drink was introduced at court, the tea plants were planted throughout the empire and became the common drink for everyone.

The other legend involves a Buddhist saint who was so devoted to religious meditation that he vowed to pray and meditate for many years without sleeping. After nine years had gone by, and he had avoided sleepiness and distraction through prayer and force of will, he accidentally fell asleep. When he woke up, he was so angry with himself for breaking his vow, that he tore off his own eyelids – so that they couldn’t close on him ever again – and threw them to the ground. A plant miraculously sprouted from the place where they fell – the tea plant – whose eyelid-shaped leaves produced a beverage, when infused, that helped keep the saint and his followers awake during prayers and periods of meditation.

Now, while green tea is not considered “miraculous” these days, it does contain a number of antioxidants, including Vitamin C, that contribute to good health, so why not enjoy a nice cup of green tea soon?

Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach.

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For more info: “Tea History and Legend”
“Tea Legends”

Glossary of Tea Terms
from the Nothing But Tea website 
“Tea Dictionary” from Bigelow Teas

Tea tasting: a man’s art”, by Doug Spiers
“Dictionary of Tea Terms” from Upton Tea Imports

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Filed under Glossary & Terminology, History, Tea, Tea Tasting, Tips

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