Green tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant found predominantly in China, Japan, Indonesia, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. It’s so popular, around three million tons are harvested every year.
The single point of difference between green tea and black tea is that green tea leaves are prevented from fermenting whereas black tea leaves aren’t.
In this article, we’ll answer the question of how do they make green tea?
A Short History of Green Tea
After water, tea is the world’s most consumed beverage. Not only is it delicious in all its many forms, it also holds a cultural significance in many societies around the world.
Perhaps the most popular – albeit apocryphal – tale about the creation of green tea goes way back to mythological Chinese Emperor Shennong – who is also credited with introducing agriculture to China. Legend has it that in 2737 BC he was served a cup of boiling water which mistakenly contained a dead tea leaf and enjoyed the flavour.
While there’s no comprehensive explanation as to how green tea was first created, it had likely become a popular drink for the masses by the third century AD. By the eighth century AD, green tea found its way to Japan and for 700 years it was used mainly in powdered form. You’ll know powdered green tea by another name – matcha.
It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that the modern methods of cultivation, harvesting and production were created and green tea eventually arrived in Europe and the USA in the 1800s.
Green tea is famed for its versatility of flavours and its high levels of antioxidants, but above all, it’s refreshing and delicious! Here’s how green tea is manufactured today.
How Green Tea is Produced
Tea plants go through a number of harvests every year (known as flushes) and the first flush is around the start of May. The leaves used to make green tea are the terminal bud (the topmost section of the plant) and then the next two leaves below it. This is the start of the process of how green tea is made but there’s more to it before it ends up in your cup.
First the leaves are sorted and cleaned. Then we move to the most important element of the process of how green tea is manufactured – the drying. This must happen very quickly after they are harvested to prevent fermentation – how green tea turns into black tea. There are three main ways in which this happens depending on whether the tea is being produced in China or Japan.
In China, pan-frying or wok-roasting over an intense flame is a very popular method of drying the leaves and they are constantly stirred for consistent drying. Another popular method used in China is known as withering. This is where the leaves are spread out on bamboo racks or straw mats and left to dry in the sun or under artificial warm air blowers.
In Japan, the leaves are usually steamed. They are placed in bamboo trays over hot water and the steam times are very specific to the type of tea being produced. For example Sencha tea is steamed for 30 – 90 seconds whereas Fukamushi tea is steamed for 90 – 150 seconds. Once they have been steamed they then pass through a cooling machine that blows the remaining water droplets from the leaves.
The type of heat used to dry the leaves in the process of how green tea is made divides the purists. Dry heat produces green tea with more floral, sweet and nutty notes whereas wet heat results in a more vegetal, almost oceanic flavour profile.
The Rolling & Shaping
As with all methods of food and drink production, there are a number of different ways of doing the same thing, depending on who’s doing the manufacturing. Green tea is no exception.
After the leaves are dry, they are rolled. This is important as it breaks open the cells that release the essential oils that coat the leaf and give it its wonderful flavour. For extra taste and a touch of panache, some of the more expensive green teas are hand-shaped, leaf by leaf.
The Final Dry
Before the tea is packed for processing by the wholesalers, it’s dried for a final time on a caterpillar-style moving belt to around 5% moisture. The answer to the question ‘how is green tea made’ is almost complete, there’s just a few more stages to go.
It’s Almost Ready…
At the wholesaler, the green tea is sieved to remove any stems or dust, it’s graded and cut as well as being kept constantly cool since the leaves actually generate very small amounts of heat.
It is subjected to a final drying process before it is quality controlled and then packed up and shipped all over the world.
So now you know how green tea is manufactured. Fancy a cuppa?