Green Tea: Learn to love it by making it properly

Why does green tea taste so awful?

I’m a huge advocate of the health benefits of drinking green tea but when I recommend green tea to patients most of them tell me that it tastes bitter and awful. And you’re right . 90% of green tea sold in the UK is truly, mouth strippingly awful.

Let me explain why and – more importantly – how you can find and make green tea that you will want to drink time and again.

What’s in your tea bag?

There are only two ingredients in tea. Tea and water. Both are equally important and both should be of a high quality. Let’s start with your tea.

You wouldn’t make a salad using limp brown lettuce – freshness is the key to a delicious salad. The same is true for tea. When you make green tea from a tea bag you are essentially drinking tea that has gone off due to ‘oxidation’.

To use a lettuce as an example – after a few hours in contact with the air the cut surface of a lettuce turns brown – a process called oxidation. Some types of tea, such as oolong or puerh benefit from this process and are deliberately bruised or rolled to encourage oxidation to enhance their flavour. Green tea, however, is dried and processed before oxidation occurs in order to retain its nutrients and fresh flavour.

So for good quality green tea go for whole leaves or ‘loose leaves’, light or dark green in colour. Even dried they will retain a fresh grassy aroma. Rip open that tea bag and you’re likely to find dusty brown fragments of oxidized leaves and stems that give off little or no aroma.

And now for the water….

Good quality green tea needs good quality water. You probably don’t live near a pristine mountain spring but if you can use water from a filter jug your tea will be better for it.

As for water temperature the hotter the water you use the more bitter your green tea will taste. Green tea leaves contain a type of polyphenol called catechins (a bit like tannins in wine). Catechins taste bitter and the higher the water temperature the more catechins are extracted from the leaf.

Cooler water (75-80°C) extracts less catehcins and brings out the sweet, fresh, grassy taste that makes green tea so refreshing and addictive. Think garlic. Softened over a gentle heat garlic gently releases its unmistakable sweetness that embraces and enhances other flavours. Burnt garlic, on the other hand, is such a bitter, acrid bully that even a little bit will ruin the taste of your entire meal.

It’s true to say that every green tea is different but you won’t go far wrong with a water temperature of 75-80°C. No need for a thermometer, just boil your kettle and let it stand with the lid open for a couple of minutes before pouring on your leaves Or put the leaves in your pot , cover with a little cold water then add some boiling water.

How to make green tea properly

You’ve got your tea and your water. Now what? There are as many ways to make tea as there are teas and just as many teapots to do it in. Here is one way of many:

You’ll need a vessel to brew the tea (your pot), a cup to drink it from and something to strain the leaves. Green tea is brewed in small quantities so forget your standard teapot – it’s too big and will be stained with tannin. A Chinese gaiwan, Japanese tea pot or simply two small cups of a similar size and a tea strainer are ideal. At a push you could even use a cafetiere.

For a small cup of tea (200 ml) a tablespoon of tea is a good amount to use. Pour your hot water into your brewing vessel to warm it briefly, then into your drinking cup to warm it as well before pouring away. Add tea leaves to your vessel and pour on hot water. Leave for about 30 seconds then pour into your cup, catching tea leaves in the strainer. Rest your strainer back on top of your vessel while you enjoy your lovely green tea. Use the same leaves for subsequent cups of tea, brewing for slightly longer each time until the flavour diminishes. To make it stronger use more leaves or leave to brew for longer.

Where to buy good quality green tea

There are plenty of online teashops selling high quality green tea. I don’t recommend one shop or tea in particular but suggest you order a taster or sample pack that lets you try a small range to find one you like.

Finally … a note on Organic Tea

Happily, organic tea is a growing trend and one that I endorse. That said, unlike organic food which tastes demonstrably better, organic tea can’t claim the same status. Like grapes in a vineyard, the taste of tea depends on climate, soil, varietal and growing conditions of the tea plantation. Complex tea flavour can take years to develop so you will generally find that ‘non-organic’ teas taste better and more interesting than organic ones. This is not a nod to tea snobbery – just a cautionary note to warn against high expectations for expensive organic tea.