Updated: Jun 13, 2021
As we head into Summer, drink green tea to keep cool and energized.
When it comes to green tea, the first thing that comes to mind is Japanese matcha—so common that it shows up everywhere, from bubble tea to cake, nowadays. Other famous green teas that you may be familiar with are sencha and gyokuro. Delicate, the water temperature for steeping these would be 75 to 85°C (167°F to 185°F). These young leaves produce a viscous liquid, often with a seaweed-like flavor, a taste that will increase salivation. Gyokuro is also a tea that I love to ice-steep. Add some tea leaves in a gaiwan and top it with ice cubes. Set aside to melt entirely, strain the infusion, and enjoy the chilled lime green "soup"—a perfect beverage on a hot summer day.
Different and delicious, Korean teas are also some of my favorite leaves to steep, their complex sweet and savory flavors and aromas reminiscent of wheatgrass. So rich, the taste lingers for some time with a velvety mouthfeel that is silky smooth on the tongue. Some of the most sought-after leaves are picked within a week of each other and known as ujeon(1st pick), saejak (2nd pick), and jungjak (3d pick), respectively.
The world of green tea is vast, and China has some of the most delicious, complex leaves from which one often experiences a cooling effect. Chinese green tea from the mainland, I have found, can absorb excessive moisture. Sweat be gone!
Generally, the taste and aroma more or less reminiscent of fresh-cut grass can describe many green teas at the base. From there, the soil and weather conditions under which the leaves are grown and harvested along with processing techniques define a specific green tea. I have tested dozens upon dozens of green teas, each unique and some boasting hints of herbs, wheatgrass, seaweed, and floral notes. Some might have a subtle smokiness as well, like the Szechuan mao feng (pictured above). So unique, I quickly added it to my private stash, its smoky character, rendering an otherwise cool green into a curiously warming one that I might just enjoy beyond summer.
Other flavor characteristics that come to mind are citrusy and white fruity notes of pear and green plum. Each steep starts light and gets increasingly more pronounced as it reaches peak flavor. From there, the infusions, following the natural arc of the tea, mellow until the last infusion turns to water again; from water to tea and back to water, coming full circle. It's a lovely journey.
Some Chinese green teas leave a dry feeling on the tongue, while some induce salivation, with lots of variations in between. Expect a whole sensory experience, each steep refreshing with a vibrant and energizing rawness while at the same time calming. A lot of the characteristics will influence how tea is steeped.
Each green tea is similar in that the processing is minimal, but each delivers a different experience based on terroir, processing, and steeping methods. Some are incredibly soft and elegant, while others can be pungent and in your face. Some can be forgiving, while others require precise steeping. Green tea can get bitter and unpleasant very quickly if you are not careful.
Additionally, while many styles of tea (oolong and black, for example) require an initial rinse or two before steeping, green teas do not, the leaves too delicate and tender, having undergone minimal processing. Therefore, a rinse would be unnecessary.
The best way to prepare green tea is using the gong fu method, steeping the leaves for seconds, not minutes. That is true for all premium loose-leaf teas. Honestly, it would be a shame to steep delicate leaves for minutes, resulting in a "soup" lacking any subtlety; far too acrid to enjoy.
Steep green leaves for 10 seconds at 75°C to 90°C (167°F to 194°F); the higher the temperature, the shorter the infusion in general. The temperature I choose largely depends on how hearty the leaves are, the weather, and how I feel. For instance, I might just go with a higher temperature during the winter to shake the chill off my bones, for example. After the 3d steep, increase the steeping time to 15 seconds, infusing the 5th for 20 seconds, and so on. When the tea has just about turned back to water, pour water into the vessel and "push" the leaves overnight, drinking the very last bit of flavor the following day.
The steeping times are merely suggestions, as they will vary from tea to tea. However, quality leaves should give you at least five steeps and often quite a few more.
Generally, green teas are best enjoyed from the current harvest. Older green teas can still be good, though they are past their prime. Simply put, they have lost their edge—that initial refreshing burst you get from a newly harvested and processed green tea.
Quality is important. Look for whole, uniform tea leaves that have a sheen. If dull and broken, chances are the leaves have been sitting on the shelf for far too long.
Some Chinese Green teas I find exceptional are:
Long Jing (Dragon Well)
Lu’An Gua Pian (melon seed)
Szechuan Mao Feng
Xing Yang Mao Jian (aka Yu Mao Feng; hairy tips)