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.

Fertility Acupuncture: When should you try it?

I’m often asked by patients why they might consider using acupuncture to support fertility rather than go to their doctor.

The answer is very simple – do both. Going to your GP or consultant is the starting point for trying to understand why you are yet to get pregnant or having other pregnancy related problems. Your doctor knows your medical history and can perform all relevant tests and scans to help reach a clear diagnosis.

So you have a diagnosis – what next?

And especially, what next if the diagnosis is that nothing’s ‘wrong’?

What’s next is to consult your acupuncturist about your diagnosis and see what can be done to naturally improve your reproductive health.

One of the great strengths of acupuncture is that it helps to return the body to a state of equilibrium using the body’s own resources. In other words, unlike, say taking medication, acupuncture puts nothing ‘into’ the body – it works with the resources already inside the body to bring about change naturally. You might ask – why is this better than taking medication? The answer again is simple – it’s not. Sometimes you need medication to heal and sometimes with the support of acupuncture your body will heal itself. Let me explain with a simple scenario courtesy of Jane Lyttleton’s Treatment of Infertility with Chinese Medicine

Imagine that you are a round table and in a state of disease you have developed square corners.

You go to see a specialist in corners and he says, “That’s no problem – we can have those off in no time” and true enough you have an operation the next day where he removes the corners with a saw. The operation is a little painful, you have rather rough edges and one of your legs is a bit shorter but you are more or less round again. Job done.

Now imagine that you went to see another specialist in corners who said “I see…how has this come about?” He asks a lot of questions and takes time to examine all aspects of your corners. After a while he says, “I can help to make you round again” and brings out a small file which he uses to gently round down the square edges. It takes some time, effort and patience but when he has finished you have perfectly smooth, round corners – like your old self again.

The side effects of Western medicine – the rough edges and shortened leg – can be a high price to pay for treatment with an immediate effect.

Yet this is often the choice we make when we opt for surgery or medication without considering other options. Clearly when ‘having corners’ means being in a life-threatening emergency then fast, effective intervention is exactly what we want – we can worry about side effects later.

But when ‘corners’ only affect the quality of life rather than threaten life itself, it can be better to use a slower, subtler and more gradual approach to restore health i.e. working slowly and deliberately to create change without side effects. This is the approach that fertility acupuncture takes to move you towards a state of health that can support conception and pregnancy.

And it is the knowledge and experience to know when to use each approach that should be the hallmark of any acupuncturist – or doctor – that you consult.


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