Green tea is a longtime treasure of China and Japan that is gaining popularity in America. It’s easy to understand why: the best green tea leaves are heated or steamed right after harvest, preserving their all-natural flavor and resulting in a nourishing beverage containing antioxidants. With about half the caffeine of black tea, you get the health benefits of green tea in every gentle cup. You can buy green teas in either loose-leaf or green tea bags.
To make green tea, the leaves are quickly steamed or heated to stop oxidation, the chemical process that causes browning. To make black tea, the leaves are crushed, torn, curled, or rolled and allowed to oxidize before being dried. This additional processing step degrades some of the flavonoids. As a result, black tea has slightly lower amounts of flavonoids than green tea.
On this episode of Consumed, host and Eater Drinks editor Kat Odell looks into the matcha production process — how it differs from that of more traditional steeped green tea, and how two of New York's noted matcha purveyors (Ippodo Tea Company and Matchabar) are working with the product today. Watch the video above for a lesson in powdered green tea; if your interest is piqued, check this map for the best places to drink matcha across the country, and these recipes for making iced matcha drinks at home, perfect for the summer.
Green tea leaves are initially processed by soaking in an alcohol solution, which may be further concentrated to various levels; byproducts of the process are also packaged and used. Extracts may be sold in liquid, powder, capsule, or tablet form. Decaffeinated versions are also available. Green tea extract supplements are accessible over the counter in various forms.
Polyphenols found in green tea include epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), epicatechin gallate, epicatechins and flavanols, which are under laboratory research for their potential effects in vivo. Other components include three kinds of flavonoids, known as kaempferol, quercetin, and myricetin. Although the mean content of flavonoids and catechins in a cup of green tea is higher than that in the same volume of other food and drink items that are traditionally considered to promote health, flavonoids and catechins have no proven biological effect in humans.
Shade grown: All matcha is made from shade-grown tea leaves—a labor-intensive process where tea bushes are protected from the sun and light is filtered to the bushes in a very controlled manor. Shading boosts the chlorophyll production in the plant, giving the leaves a rich green color. The lack of sun reduces the plant’s photosynthesis of the leaves, which in turn alters the naturally occurring levels of caffeine, flavanols, sugars, antioxidants, and theanine. By controlling the sun exposure, tea producers can significantly alter the chemical make-up and flavor of the final tea leaves.