The Softer Side of Green Tea

“I ruined my tea!” An exclamation I’ve heard several times since becoming a dealer. Tea dealer, that is.  

Upon inquiry, I found out that she had used boiling water and done a rather lengthy steeping. But alas, she had not ruined her tea, she merely got an experience she was not aiming for and had made a rather bitter brew. 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the five element theory has a corresponding five flavor theory. Each flavor - bitter, sweet, salty, pungent and sour tonify a different system in the body and the goal is to balance each of these five flavors. The bitter flavor, one that Americans get precious little of, helps to tonify the energy of the heart. 

So my first response to the young woman was “you didn’t ruin your tea, you created a heart tonic.” I then went on to explain the above.  

The good news for your heart (and your tongue) is that you don’t have to “ruin” your green tea in order to have better cardiac health. Green tea (and white, yellow, oolong, black and pu’er as well) are already considered to be in the bitter category and will aid in a healthier heart.

Green tea, among many Americans, has a reputation for being a bitter brew and I’d like to talk about the potential for a smoother cup of green tea and share with you how you can accomplish this. Consider that most folks have only had low quality green tea, usually in tea bags, brewed at temps that are much too high and steeping times that are too long.  

Good loose leaf green tea can be gentle, sweet and smooth by paying attention to just a few variables. First, good water is a must. Please don’t use reverse osmosis or distilled water as those will lead to a flat tasting cup. Use fresh filtered tap or spring water. Chlorine is not your friend in flavor or aroma so get that out by filtering if you are using tap. Please see our water filtration page for easy solutions for home water filtration. 

Secondly, the temperature of the water is of utmost importance if you are wanting to check out the softer side of green tea. You may brew green tea at temperatures of 150º to 175ºF. Using water hotter than that and you are sure to bring out more of the astringent, tongue drying notes of green tea. If you don’t have a thermometer handy, just watch your water heat up. When the bottom of the pan or kettle is covered in tiny bubbles and a bit of steam is rising from the surface, you’ve got the right temp for green, white and yellow tea. “Shrimp eyes” is the term used in China for those tiny bubbles at the bottom of the kettle and is also what they call the right water temp for green tea. The more processed teas, oolong, black and pu’er use higher temps respectively for brewing.

Thirdly, play with your steeping times. When first getting to know a new tea, try very short steeping times, 20 or 30 seconds perhaps. The lower water temperature and shorter steeping times will help you learn about the sweeter flavors that green tea is perfectly capable of offering. If you’re one to not pay attention while brewing tea, consider using a timer to prevent over steeping.

Tea, like life, is an experiment - tweak variables, check outcomes and see what works for you. And remember, the experiment never goes bad, you just get a new experience and if you happen to steep too long with water that it hotter than usual, just remember, you’ve created a stronger heart tonic and all is well. Relax, enjoy and have fun in the world of tea!