Green tea is processed using either artisanal or modern methods. Sun-drying, basket or charcoal firing, or pan-firing are common artisanal methods. Oven-drying, tumbling, or steaming are common modern methods. Processed green teas, known as aracha, are stored under low humidity refrigeration in 30- or 60-kg paper bags at 0–5 °C (32–41 °F). This aracha has yet to be refined at this stage, with a final firing taking place before blending, selection and packaging take place. The leaves in this state will be re-fired throughout the year as they are needed, giving the green teas a longer shelf-life and better flavor. The first flush tea of May will readily store in this fashion until the next year's harvest. After this re-drying process, each crude tea will be sifted and graded according to size. Finally, each lot will be blended according to the blending order by the tasters and packed for sale.
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.
Rooibos is being heavily hyped by producers and distributors as a new health beverage. Unlike true “tea,” it is caffeine-free and low in tannins. It contains minimal amounts of calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium and much less fluoride than found in real teas. Studies have shown that Rooibos does contain antioxidants and therefore might have some of the health benefits of green tea, but very little research has confirmed this. I found only 17 scientific studies of Rooibos compared to more than 1,000 on green tea. So far, none suggest that Rooibos is the health equivalent of green tea.
Koicha, or thick tea, requires significantly more matcha (usually about doubling the powder and halving the water): approximately 3.75 grams (amounting to 3 heaping chashaku scoops, or about one teaspoon) of matcha and approximately 40 ml (1.3 oz) of hot water per serving, or as many as six teaspoons to 3/4 cup of water. Because the resulting mixture is significantly thicker (with a similar consistency to liquid honey), blending it requires a slower, stirring motion that does not produce foam. Koicha is normally made with more expensive matcha from older tea trees (exceeding thirty years) and, thus, produces a milder and sweeter tea than usucha; it is served almost exclusively as part of Japanese tea ceremonies.
The use of matcha in modern drinks has also spread to North American cafés, such as Starbucks, which introduced "Green Tea Lattes" and other matcha-flavoured drinks after matcha became successful in their Japanese store locations. As in Japan, it has become integrated into lattes, iced drinks, milkshakes, and smoothies. A number of cafes have introduced lattes and iced drinks using matcha powder. It has also been incorporated into alcoholic beverages such as liqueurs and matcha green tea beers.
Cardiovascular diseases, which lump heart disease, stroke, and other diseases of the heart and blood vessels caused by atherosclerosis and hypertension (high blood pressure) into one category, are the most prevalent causes of death in the world. Studies show that green tea can improve some of the main risk factors for these diseases, which includes helping regulate total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. One method by which green tea might help: it significantly increases the antioxidant levels of your blood, protecting LDL cholesterol particles from oxidation—one of the causes of heart disease.
Certain studies indicate that intake of flavan-3-ols and/or anthocyanidins found in green tea may improve glycemic control and help normalize blood sugar levels. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, green tea is believed to be beneficial for those who are at-risk or diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Green tea’s catechins, especially EGCG, appear to have anti-obesity and antidiabetic effects.
If you’re not sure if matcha will become a daily ritual, editor at large Christine Muhlke recommends buying a tin within the $14 to $18 range (save the under $10 matcha for baking and the over $30 for when you’re ready to commit). Some of Muhlke’s favorite brands are Chalait, Panatea, Matchaful, Kettl, and CAP Beauty, and Ippodo (seasonal releases are available at their Manhattan storefront on East 39th Street).
Some of the antioxidants and healing compounds found in green tea include polyphenols, catechins and various other types of flavonoids — the same anti-aging compounds found in things like red wine, blueberries and dark chocolate. Despite that it does contain small amounts of caffeine, green tea consumption has been associated with more health benefits than even many of the healthiest foods available to us. Studies have found that the benefits of green tea are due to the fact green tea contains more healing compounds than many other herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables, truly making it a powerful “superfood.”
Unlike traditional green tea, matcha preparation involves covering the tea plants with shade cloths before they’re harvested. This triggers the growth of leaves with better flavor and texture, which are hand selected, steamed briefly to stop fermentation, then dried and aged in cold storage, which deepens the flavor. The dried leaves are then stone-ground into a fine powder.
According to a study published in the journal Chinese Medicine, many of the beneficial biological effects of flavonoids on heart health seem to be due to cell-signaling effects that lower inflammation. (6) Not only do flavonoids have anti-inflammatory capabilities, but they’re also antithrombogenic, antidiabetic, anticancer and neuroprotective compounds.
Red tea is also known as Black tea in Asia. White, green, oolong, and black teas all come from the same plant, the Camellia sinensis. The difference in their flavor lays on the drying processes of their leaves, which determine how oxidized the final product is. Red tea is made of completely oxidized tea leaves, resulting in a darker and aromatic tea drink.
Green tea has many health benefits. “It contains many nutrients, including antioxidants and anti-cancer and brain-healthy compounds,” Smith reminds us. One thing is for sure: regardless of whether or not you’ll shed pounds with green tea, drink it anyway. “All teas contain many healthful nutrients; it’s one of the healthier choices for a beverage!” Smith says.
The Japanese tea ceremony, still called The Way of Tea, is a revered practice in Japan and is centered around the art of preparing and presenting matcha in an almost meditative fashion. It was originally developed as a spiritual practice and the principals of the practice—harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility—are still central to tea ceremony today.
Rooibos tea is anti-inflammatory in nature, which means that it reduces blood pressure and scavenges free radicals like other antioxidants. Quercetin, another powerful antioxidant found in rooibos tea, has been linked to preventing a wide variety of heart conditions. It promotes an increase in HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) and inhibits the LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) from binding to the walls of arteries and blood vessels.