The method of growing and harvesting green tea can have a significant effect on its overall aroma and taste profile. Generally speaking, each tea-producing region of the world has its own unique climate, as well as a specific approach to growing, processing and harvesting. This combination accounts for the differences in taste you experience.
The best tea-growing conditions are in Asia, which is why China has become such a dominant player in the green tea industry. China actually accounts for over 80 percent of all green tea produced in the world, with Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam accounting for much of the rest. There are only two places in Europe where green tea is produced – in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and in Portugal’s Azores Islands.
Generally speaking, the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) is very adaptable to different climates and soil conditions. However, it typically grows best in hilly or mountainous areas, and that’s why many of the most famous teas are grown at higher altitudes. The best climate for growing green tea, according to experts, is a subtropical climate that experiences very distinct seasonality – such as the regions in Asia that experience the monsoon season and the dry season.
In many ways, the basic method of green tea production is the same, no matter where in the world it is produced. Tea plants (Camellia sinensis) are grown in rows, and then harvested three times a year. There are three key harvesting times of the year, which usually are April-May, June-July, and July-August. Generally speaking, the earliest spring harvests are the best for creating the most popular green teas.
Within this basic green tea production model, there are some subtle differences. For example, there is a difference between growing tea in the sun and the shade. And the process of drying and producing the tea leaves can differ, depending on country.
For example, the Chinese typically prefer a process of sun drying, and then a process of charcoal- or pan-firing. That’s what gives Chinese tea its distinctive earthy taste. This approach is generally referred to as the “artisanal approach.”
In contrast, the Japanese prefer a process of oven drying, and then a process of tumbling or steaming. That’s what gives Japanese green tea its unique “leafy” or “vegetative” taste. This approach is generally referred to as the “modern approach.”
The process of how a tea is prepared will also change its taste. That’s why, in many Asian cultures, there is a very formal tea ceremony. By changing the length and heat of the steeping process, which is the process of letting the tea infuse hot water, you can change the taste. It’s generally considered that green tea should only be poured into a hot teacup, so as to preserve the taste.
While the nutritional content of green tea may be limited – it is 99.9% water, after all – the search is on for new ways to capture the nutritional benefits of green tea in the form of the antioxidants in the other 0.1% of the tea. After all, for more than four millennia, it’s been known that there is a link between drinking green tea and better health, including improved cardiovascular health.
One way to capture these nutritional benefits is via a green tea extract. This is an herbal derived from green tea leaves. It’s thought to be rich in antioxidants, which makes green tea extract popular as a dietary supplement and in various forms of alternative medicine.
Knowing a little about how green tea is produced can help to make you a better consumer of tea. You will be better able to pinpoint specific geographical areas that are known for their tea production, and understand how subtle differences in tea production can lead to very distinct flavors and aromas.