What is Green Tea and Why is it so Popular?

Loose leaf green tea in a cupIf you search the web on green tea, you may find yourself inundated with websites professing weight loss pills made of green tea extract; green tea being a miracle slimming tea; websites encouraging you to detox with green tea and other far reaching claims.  Before we start to set the record straight on the health benefits of green tea, I’d like to just explain in this blog post what is green tea and why it is so popular.

Green tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant.  All categories of tea (i.e. white, yellow, green, oolong, black and pu’erh and for argument’s sake, we’ll leave out herbal infusions/teas for now) can be broadly split into two further groupings: Teas that are unoxidized and those that are oxidized.  Green tea fits into the category of being an unoxidized tea.

If you imagine an apple that is cut open and left on the side, over time the air reacts with the flesh of the apple and this is the process of oxidation.  The longer you leave the apple, the browner it becomes.  This process of oxidation has an impact on the flavor profile and look of the tea.  White, yellow and green teas are unoxidized.  Going back to the analogy of the apple, it is like the apple is cut open and then a process is applied to stop the apple from oxidizing.  This is what happens to the tea leaf – oxidation is prevented by a firing and drying process.  The rest of the tea categories are oxidized at varying percentages.

Green tea is plucked, and the leaves are left to wither for a specified period (the process of withering is an important step that enables the leaf to be manipulated for further processing); the leaves are then rolled to give the tea leaf a definitive shape (different green teas come in a variety of different shapes) and then the tea is dried.  That’s it.  There is more processing involved with green tea than white tea but less that other categories.

Due to green teas being unoxidized it means that they will always have a certain taste as a result.  Flavor profiles can include descriptions such as buttery, nutty, sea-like, fruity, and woody. Grassy is a common descriptor too, although I prefer the term vegetal.  Some green teas have also been described to be like some of our favorite vegetables such as green beans, brussels sprouts, broccoli and spinach.  Flavor profiles are a personal experience so it’s likely that you’ll come up with your own descriptors.  A common descriptor among people new to tea is that green tea is bitter.  In fact, the majority of green teas on the market are not bitter and for those that have experienced this, it is more likely to do with the fact that they’re buying (unknowingly) bad quality tea or brewing it incorrectly.

Going back to the question of why green tea is so popular?  There have been many studies that have been conducted on green tea to suggest its ability to protect against everything from cancer to high cholesterol to heart disease.  This is due to the presence of catechins (also known as polyphenols) which are a type of antioxidant.  A specific type of catechin found in green tea is known as Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). EGCG is also reputed to be able to boost the metabolism, suppress appetite and even burn fat.  Green tea has received widespread coverage across the world due to these potential health benefits, and has been recommended by many health experts.

It should be noted that other types of teas can have these benefits as well.  While catechins are present in green or white teas, what many studies don’t tell you is that the EGCG are converted into different types of antioxidants which are present in other teas such as black teas, for example.  That means your good old English Breakfast or Earl Grey can be just as good for you (although with or without milk is another matter of debate).  While less studies have been conducted on black teas, this does not mean it is less healthier than green teas. Well, I hope you now have a better understanding of what is green tea and the reasons for its popularity.

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  • Thank you for your wealth of knowledge. I thoroughly enjoy reading your articles. Your passion for tea really comes out in your writing which makes them such pleasurable reading!

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