Contrary to popular belief, green teas are not bitter (unless they’re burned with boiling water—but we’ll cross that bridge in a moment). The nuances that linger within green tea can leave your palate with endless taste memories: from rich chestnut aromas, luscious floral flavors, buttery and brothy sips, clean and crisp grassiness that brightens the taste buds, to toasted notes that warm you to the core better than a favorite sweater.
Most green tea that is sipped in the U.S. is often thought of as bitter and lackluster. The majority of green tea found on supermarket shelves is packaged in tiny, bleached paper bags that are filled with low-grade fannings, otherwise known as the tea dust at the bottom of the barrel. And let’s not forget that the green tea is often over-steeped in boiling water. It’s time to flip that cup conundrum on its head and start from scratch with green tea sips that will leave you longing for more.
So if you’re ready to leap outside of the box and far away from the bag, I’d like to introduce you to three loose, whole leaf teas that have found a way into my heart and onto my teaspoon almost every week: Genmaicha, Sencha and Jin Shan Shi Yu. Let’s consider this trio one of many green tea starter collections. Unlike the tea dust that’s often bitter and bland, these whole leaf green teas are waiting to be gently awakened and carefully coaxed to release fresh flavors with just a few simple steeping rules.
It’s true that you only need water to make tea, but to give the subtle and often delicate green tea flavors their chance to shine, opt for filtered or fresh spring water.
Hot (and definitely bothered)
Now we’re back to the myth that green tea always tastes bitter. Green teas are more delicate than your hearty black tea breakfast blend, so you’ll have to treat them with care. Japanese green teas are gently steamed, so the slightest drop of boiling water will turn them into the equivalence of burnt toast. Every green tea that has crossed my path has called for water well under a boil (ranging from approximately 185 to 120 degrees). Now you can finally use your culinary thermometer for something beyond caramel.
“T” is for Timing
Some green teas only need to be steeped for seconds. For example, one tea in the trio below calls for 60 seconds while another calls for 2 minutes. Pay close attention to the suggested brew time noted on the packaging. If it’s not listed, try your trusty online search engine. And if all else fails, please tweet me (@teaandpetals).
You’ve traded in your convenient tea bag for loose leaves. Now what? Try a Finum paper tea filter that’s infinitely larger than your average tea bag. It will allow the loose leaf leaves to properly expand and move about for the perfect brew. If you’re ready to trade paper for porcelain, pick up a cup with a removable tea infuser or splurge for a whole pot. Opt for a glass pot so that you can peer at the vivid green and golden yellow shades of the brewed green tea liquor. And whatever you do, stay away from the terribly tiny stainless steel tea balls that suffocate the loose leaf tea and prevent a full-flavored brew.
Consider keeping a tea journal to track your favorite finds, a preferred water temperature, tasting notes or any other tidbits that thread themselves throughout your steeped adventures. Above all, experiment beyond my suggested starter steeps and find a green tea that excites your taste buds (tea shops often offer small sample sizes). And if just for my satisfaction, promise that you’ll take the time to watch the tea leaves sway in the water as they steep. It’s called the “dance of the leaves” for a reason.
Without further ado, here are three of my favorite green teas that are sure to please and intrigue a variety of palates.
Green Tea Starter Steeps
Steamed Japanese sencha green tea. This particular style of sencha (shizuoka) offers a smooth, clean, vegetal taste with a sweet finish that’s slightly astringent. Keep in mind that there are many sencha grades with varying prices and steeping guidelines (some only need 10 seconds to brew). This particular sencha (shizuoka) is one of the most approachable both in flavor and price. Try pairing with a piece of chocolate, and take note of the brewed tea’s vivid green color.
Brew 1 teaspoon for 8oz of water at 180 degrees for 60 seconds.
Steamed Japanese bancha green tea (leaves and stems of autumn/winter harvest) blended with toasted and popped brown rice. Medium-bodied and smooth, the toasty, nutty aromas and flavors are savory and warming. Genmaicha is often served at Japanese restaurants in the U.S., so try pairing it with sashimi or other fresh seafood dishes.
Brew 1 teaspoon for 8 oz of water at 185 degrees for 2 minutes.
Jin Shan Shi Yu
(Huang shan Di Sui Xiang)
Pan-fried Chinese green tea. Mellow and fresh, this green tea is the most approachable and mild when compared to both Japanese green teas noted above. The chestnut aroma makes way for a smooth, clean flavor with delicate vegetal, nutty and sweet notes. Take note of how the dark green, curled and wiry leaves open up after the first steep.
Brew 1 teaspoon for 8oz of water at 185 degrees for 2 minutes.