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A Few Words About Green Tea

September 11, 2008

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For a very long time I believed that I did not like green tea, so I avoided it. To me the taste was reminiscent of three-week-old grass clippings swept up off of a dusty garage floor. I still hold this as an accurate description of the taste of teabags of poor quality green tea steeped in boiling water. Green tea had always struck me as one of those things that people drank because they were told that it was good for them, not because they actually enjoyed it. But with added knowledge and experience I determined that my dislike had been formed through encounters with poor quality teas, brewed improperly. After choosing to give green teas more of a chance, and arming myself with better information about proper preparation methods, I have found that even reasonably inexpensive loose-leaf green tea, when fresh and made properly, can be quite a pleasant drink.

In general, green teas are more sensitive and unforgiving compared to black teas and oolongs. It is very easy to brew really awful green tea even if the tea is very high quality. Some very delicate teas have a steep learning curve, resulting in a few miserably brewed failures before the proper methodology can be identified and followed.

One of the most important factors in brewing good green tea is water temperature. The hardier of the greens, like Chinese Yunnan green brew nicely at 170-180 degrees. Really delicate Japanese teas like Gyokuro are best brewed with water at about 140 degrees.

There are a number of methods used to produce water at the correct temperature, varying in their levels of ritual and science. The most convenient tool for lower temperature water is Adagio’s variable temperature UtiliTEA kettle. It works very well and is convenient and fast. The more traditonal method is to use cooling vessels. The Japanese yuzamashi, pictured below, is used for this purpose. This particular yuzamashi holds only 4 oz. of water and is intended to be used in the preparation of Matcha.

used for cooling water for matcha

The general rule is to cool boiling water for two minutes, but naturally factors other than time affect this: volume of water, material the cooling vessel is made of, temperature of the environment. If you have the patience and a good thermometer, you can do some experiments to figure out what works. If you are less patient, just knowing that the water used to steep green tea must always be cooler than boiling can get you a lot closer to brewing better green teas.

I am frequently amused by green tea apologists who hail green tea as the solution to all the world’s ills, from the personal to the global, from athsma to the Federal deficit. But actual green teas themselves don’t need these evangelists and their hyperbole. The teas are perfectly respectable and enjoyable when given proper care and preparation, bringing out their best attributes. They require more attention and care to produce good results, but it is worth the effort.

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