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Smoky versus grassy: The battle of the greens

Green tea

Green tea is the holy-grail of antioxidants but it can be daunting to find the right one to suit your taste.

If you’re new to the green tea scene, or you have enjoyed/hated some at random, keep reading. We’re going to simplify your quest by looking at green tea from two countries only: China and Japan.

Why? Because while green tea is produced in several other countries, both China and Japan are main producers and each country has its own style that imparts a set of unique flavour characteristics onto the tea. Distinguishing between these flavours is the first step toward finding a green tea that pleases your palate.


How each country stops oxidation during the production process is what creates these two distinct flavour profiles. Oxidation is the chemical reaction of the tea leaves and their components (polyphenols) with air, humidity, and heat. To oversimplify, oxidation is responsible for turning things brown (like sliced apples – and tea leaves!). In the production of green tea, heat is used to stop this process.

Chinese green teas

In China, tea leaves are pan-fired to stop oxidation. The leaves are dried at a higher temperature and then they are pan-fired/fried for 10-15 minutes at 250-300°C. The result is a style of green tea that is characteristically smoky and roasty. Chinese green teas are often full-bodied and rich or strong tasting. While the grassy notes are still present, they are subdued by the firing process. If these flavours sound appealing to you, give Gunpowder a try.

Japanese green teas

While pan-firing is the preferred method to stop oxidation during green tea production in China, in Japan they use steam. Freshly plucked leaves are quickly steamed for only 45-60 seconds. Steaming the leaves brings out the grassy and vegetal flavours of the tea leaves and also adds a marine or seaweed aroma. Compared to the Chinese green teas, these teas are more medium-bodied with delicate flavours. If these flavours are more aligned with your palate, start with Sencha.

The production methods and the flavours can be compared to cooking any type of vegetable (e.g. pan frying versus steaming broccoli). Both result in cooked broccoli but the flavour profiles are quite different!

Once you zero in on a style/flavour profile that you enjoy, start exploring the myriad of green teas until you find your favourite!