The Ultimate Guide to Green Tea: Health Benefits and The Best Types
Green tea has been popular among tea drinkers in Asia for centuries. It's a key component of traditional medicine in China and has been revered for its health benefits. Today, it's one of the most widely consumed beverages from India and China to the United States and South America.
This ultimate guide will show you everything you need to know about green tea. Discover how green tea is made, learn about its health benefits, and unearth new flavors and varieties.
Green Tea Basics
Green tea is made using the leaves of the Camellia sinensis tea plant. Leaves from this tea plant are also used to make white tea, oolong tea, pu-erh tea, and black tea. These teas are known as true teas since they are the only types of tea made using the leaves of the actual tea plant. All other types of tea are made using the leaves, stems, flowers, and roots of other plants—these are known as herbal teas.
Green tea is generally light yellow to pale green in color. Matcha green tea is the exception, boasting a vibrant, rich green hue. Green teas may taste vegetal or earthy depending on their production process and origin. In general, green tea is considered herbaceous and mild compared to stronger teas such as black tea.
Green Tea Health Benefits
Supports Heart Health
Green tea is packed with antioxidants known as polyphenols and catechins that can protect heart health. These antioxidants work to improve blood circulation to lower the risk of blood clots and heart attack. Tea polyphenols may also help lower high blood pressure and regulate blood sugar levels. Green tea also helps lower cholesterol known as LDL cholesterol, which has been linked to heart disease.
One of the most significant bits of evidence for green tea's heart health powers is the conclusion of a large study of 40,530 people in Japan. The Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who drank at least one cup of green tea a day had far lower risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease (1).
Speeds Up Weight Loss
Green tea extract is famous in the weight loss industry. These highly concentrated forms of green tea are sold as weight loss aids that help people shed pounds faster.
Green tea catechins increase energy levels, speed up metabolism, and improve liver function. By speeding up metabolic rate, your body burns fat stores faster, meaning you lose weight faster. Essentially, green tea accelerates fat oxidation. These tea catechins also support the liver in breaking down fats into energy, which may help boost athletic performance and endurance (2).
It's important to note that research shows that green tea tends to work better for some ethnicities. People of Asian descent have demonstrated better results when it comes to green tea and weight loss acceleration.
The impact of green tea on metabolism can also be weakened when it is combined with caffeine. Researchers recommend consuming less than 300 milligrams of caffeine to preserve the weight loss effects of green tea. Green tea is an excellent weight loss aid when used as a replacement for sugary sodas, regardless of ethnic background.
May Prevent Cancer
In recent years, green tea has emerged as a potential cancer-fighting agent. The National Cancer Institute has posted a fact sheet on the effects of green tea on cancer. The fact sheet details a meta-analysis of numerous animal and laboratory studies showing green tea helps prevent the spread of tumors (3).
Research shows that drinking at least three cups of green tea can help prevent mutations in cells that cause cancer. These cancer preventative properties are mainly attributable to powerful antioxidants in the tea leaves.
Green tea contains an antioxidant known as EGCG or epigallocatechin gallate. This tea catechin fights free radicals, which can cause oxidative stress and certain types of cancer. Oxidative damage is essentially the body's form of rust where cell damage occurs and body processes are broken. Research is still ongoing, but studies have shown green tea may help prevent the growth or occurrence of cancers such as prostate cancer, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer.
Green tea may help lower the risk of cancer, but it is not an actual cancer treatment. Most research demonstrates that results are dependent on moderate to high doses of green tea. Green tea must also be consumed regularly to achieve these results.
Protects Brain Health
Green tea may help protect the brain from neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Some studies have shown that green tea slows memory regression and can even improve memory recall. Green tea may also improve spatial cognition and increase the brain's ability to process new information at an older age.
May Regulate Blood Sugar
Green tea has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce swelling in arteries and improve circulation through blood vessels. A study published by the Diabetes and Metabolism Journal found that people who drank six cups of tea per day had a 33 percent lower risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Other studies showed positive diabetic effects with just two cups of green tea per day (4).
Researchers believe green tea helps to regulate blood sugar levels and improve the body's insulin sensitivity. For people with diabetes, drinking green tea may help them produce insulin more effectively.
Caffeine Content of Green Tea
Green tea contains between 25 to 35 milligrams of caffeine. Matcha green tea contains higher amounts of caffeine—between 40 and 60 milligrams. Green tea leaves also contain an amino acid known as l-theanine. L-theanine boosts awareness and mental acuity without the jittery side effects of caffeine. This amino acid slows the absorption of caffeine, resulting in a longer-lasting energy boost.
Green Tea Side Effects
Green tea is safe when consumed in moderation. Experts recommend limiting green tea consumption to five or six cups per day. Most negative side effects are caused by the caffeine present in green tea.
Green tea may increase acid in the stomach thanks to compounds known as tannins. Too much acid in your stomach can cause digestive problems, cramps, and acid reflux.
This typically occurs when green tea is consumed in excessive amounts or when it is brewed with water that is too hot. To avoid this side effect, brew green tea with water between 150 and 180 F. It's also recommended to drink green tea with food and not on an empty stomach.
Since green tea contains caffeine it has a mild laxative effect. Consuming too much green tea can cause diarrhea. People with irritable bowel syndrome should avoid green tea.
The caffeine in green tea may cause headaches if you are sensitive to caffeine. Avoid drinking green tea every day if you suffer from chronic headaches or migraines.
Green tea contains l-theanine and caffeine—two compounds that are great for boosting energy, but not so great for sleep. The mild amount of caffeine in green tea may keep you awake if you drink it right before bed. We recommend drinking green tea no later than 5 hours before bedtime to avoid altering sleep patterns.
Green tea contains compounds such as tannins and caffeine that have been linked to increased risks during pregnancy. Caffeine can be passed through breast milk so consumption should be monitored. Experts recommend drinking no more than two cups of green tea per day when pregnant or nursing.
Green Tea Production Process
Green tea leaves are harvested by hand and transported immediately to an on-site processing facility. Here, the leaves are withered in sunlight to reduce moisture content. The leaves are then pan fired or steamed at high temperatures to induce drying. During the drying process, tea masters roll the leaves into pearls or long twigs depending on the green tea varietal.
Types of Green Tea
There are two main types of green tea—those that come from China and those that come from Japan. Among these green teas, there are various types, which can be characterized by differences in flavor and production.
Chinese Green Teas
China is the largest producer of green tea. Chinese green teas are dried using pan firing, sun exposure, or roasting. This gives Chinese green teas a toasted, earthy flavor that is distinct from Japanese green teas.
There are several varieties of Chinese green tea, but we'll go over a few of them here briefly.
The most popular type of Chinese green tea is Longjing, also known as Dragonwell. Long Jing green teas are considered premium quality and tend to be pricier than other green teas. The tea leaves for Long Jing are harvested only once per year.
This green tea features a jade green color when brewed. It offers a nutty and vegetal flavor with a smooth finish. When the loose leaf tea is infused in hot water, it emits a bold, slightly minty flavor.
Gunpowder green tea is gently shaped into small pellets by tea artisans. These pellets resemble the look of gunpowder grains. The tea was first produced under the Tang dynasty. Gunpowder green tea is one of the few Chinese green teas that are steamed.
Japanese Green Tea
In Japan, a process of steaming rather than roasting or pan firing is used to dry green tea leaves. In Japan, some green teas are shade grown for the last few weeks before harvest. This helps preserve chlorophyll that gives these teas a vibrant green hue.
Japanese green teas contain high concentrations of amino acids that lend an umami flavor to the tea. Here are some of the most popular Japanese green teas.
Matcha is created when green tea leaves are stone ground into a fine powder. Matcha green tea is considered one of the healthiest green tea because the entire leaf is consumed by tea drinkers. The beverage is commonly brewed as a matcha latte or traditionally according to principles of the Japanese tea ceremony.
Sencha green tea is cultivated in the Shizuoka province of Japan. It is the most popular Japanese green tea and is often the beverage you'll find in restaurants and cafes. Sencha leaves are usually needle shaped and feature a nutty, fruity flavor.
There are several different types of sencha including gyokuro, asamushi, chumushi, fukamushi, and uji sencha. Gyokuro is the most exported green tea from Japan and features an emerald green color. It has a rich body and satiny feel with savory and sweet flavors.
Another popular Japanese green tea is genmaicha. This green tea blends tea leaves with roasted rice kernels. The result is a roasted flavor that is full-bodied and hearty. Genmaicha green tea is beloved by people who enjoy robust flavors and can be used as a replacement for coffee.
Go Green With Tea
It's no accident that green tea is one of the most popular beverages in the world. The wide range of flavors with hints of grass and seaweed to fruity and floral notes makes the beverage suitable for all tastes. Its health benefits are astounding and drinking just one cup a day can help boost overall health. Unearth new flavors and discover the joy of drinking tea with green tea.
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