Green tea is the least processed and thus provides the most antioxidant polyphenols, notably 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.
In black tea production, the leaves are first spread on withering racks and air-blown, which removes about one-third of their moisture and renders them soft and pliable. Next, they are rolled to break their cell walls, releasing the juices essential to fermentation. Once again, they are spread out and kept under high humidity to promote fermentation, which turns the leaves a dark coppery color and develops black tea’s authoritative flavor. Finally, the leaves are “fired,” producing a brownish black tea whose immersion in hot water gives a reddish-brown brew with a stronger flavor than green or oolong teas.
Oolong tea, which is made from leaves that are partially fermented before being fired, falls midway between green and black teas. Oolong is a greenish-brown tea whose flavor, color and aroma are richer than that of green tea, but more delicate than that of black.
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.