What is Green Tea, you ask? Not so simple of a question to be honest. All true teas - as distinct from herbal and flower infusions, which tea lovers call tisanes - are made from the leaves of a magnolia-related evergreen tree with the botanical name of Camellia sinensis. These can grow up to 30 feet in height in the wild, but on tea plantations, the plant is kept as a shrub, and cut to a height of about 3 feet to encourage new growth and for convenient picking.
Generally, tea plants grow only in warm climates but flourish at altitudes ranging from sea level to 7,000 feet. The better teas a while longer to develop which adds to the richness in flavor. A new tea plant might take around 2 1/2 to 5 years to mature for actual production and consumption in store bought teas, but they will last longer.
All tea plants belong to the same species-Camellia sinensis-, but local growing conditions (altitude, climate, soils, etc.) vary, resulting in a multitude of distinctive leaves. The way the leaves are processed, however, is even more important in developing the individual characteristics of the three predominant types of tea: green, black and oolong.
Green tea is the least processed and provides the most antioxidant polyphenols, a catechin called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which is believed to be responsible for most of the health benefits linked to green tea.
Green tea is made by briefly steaming the just harvested leaves, rendering them soft and pliable and preventing them from fermenting or changing color. After steaming, the leaves are rolled, then spread out and "fired" (dried with hot air or pan-fried in a wok) until they are crisp. The resulting greenish-yellow tea has a green, slightly astringent flavor close to the taste of the fresh leaf.
Green tea has always been, and remains today, the most popular type of tea from China where most historians and botanists believe the tea plant originated throughout all of Asia. Why is this so? Perhaps because green tea not only captures the taste, aroma and color of spring, but delivers this delightful bouquet along with the highest concentration of beneficial phytonutrients and the least caffeine of all the teas.
The key to the amazing health benefits that are derived from consuming green tea is that the leaves are steamed which preserves the EGCG compound from being oxidized. Other teas are fermented which breaks down the natural EGCG and takes away from its healing properties.
In fact, green tea has very long and storied history dating back thousands and thousands of years. It can be quite fascinating to know what the Chinese have known for centuries.