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How green is my tea?

  • Green teas carry pleasant vegetal notes and the aftertaste that lingers makes it memorable
  • Indian tea makers have adopted both these styles to produce top-notch teas

Green tea’s rise in popularity has been phenomenal but off-the-shelf green teas are just punishing. They are bitter, lacking any appreciable flavour, and with high astringency—a tea trait that is unattractive if dominant—seem to imply that to enjoy green tea’s benefits, one must suffer its taste. The corollary then is that if something tastes this bad, it must indeed have medicinal properties.

When made well, it is light, with sublime flavours, and a sweetness that makes it a pleasure to drink. The traditions of green tea emerge from Chinese and Japanese cultures. The taste is influenced by the terroir, but even more by the process—the broad distinction is that Chinese greens are pan-fired while Japanese are steamed. This arrests oxidation in the leaves, creating a “green" tea.

The Chinese style exhibits craftsmanship, in the care taken in hand rolling and shaping the tea leaves. In contrast, Japanese teas enjoy a greater degree of mechanization, which translates to consistency in the end product. Steaming the leaves allows for the rich green colour to be retained. However, Japanese green teas can also be pan-roasted (like the hojicha) or powdered (like the matcha).

The best part is we no longer need to pay prohibitive import duties to source these from China or Japan. Indian tea makers have adopted both these styles to produce top-notch teas.

If you are beginning your exploration of green tea, choose whole leaf (in place of tea bags or off-the-shelf teas). They are significantly more palatable. Green teas need short steeping times, as quick as 1 minute, no longer than 2 minutes. Water is recommended at 80-90 degrees Celsius. With whole leaf, use for at least two-three steeps before discarding the leaves.

Green teas carry pleasant vegetal notes and the aftertaste that lingers makes it memorable. In selecting the Chinese style of pan-fired green teas, look for a green or pale yellow colour in the liquor or infusion. A tinge of pink or red could mean that fermentation has set in, and that’s going to affect the taste. In the Japanese green teas, explore the range from the steamed sencha to a pan-fired guricha, a roasted hojicha and a powdered matcha.

Another route to take with green tea is to blend it. The Chinese-style greens lend themselves especially well to blending. You can make a Sulaimani with green tea and lime. Or try this easy home blending: Take 200g of green tea in a jar. To this, add a tablespoon of any one of these: dried ginger, dried lime peels, dried orange peels, dried mint leaves, or jasmine flowers. Leave it for about two weeks to allow the flavours to infuse. You will then have your own naturally flavoured green tea.

Tea Takes

Pascoe’s Woodlands from the Craigmore Plantations in the Nilgiris for their Chinese-style green teas and Midori from the Chota Tingrai estate, Assam, for Japanese-style green teas.

Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.

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