The Secret Life of Green Tea
By Jessica Girdwain
If the only time you’ve tried green tea is after being served a scalding-hot cup (no handle!) at a local Japanese restaurant, you’re missing out on its many flavors and forms. “All green tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, but the final aromas and tastes differ depending on where the leaves are grown and how they’re produced,” says Mary Lou Heiss, coauthor of The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook: A Guide to the World’s Best Teas.
More surprising? In Asia, green tea is a common recipe ingredient, which is a great–and sneaky!–way to incorporate this nutritional powerhouse into your diet. Here’s a quick primer on six different varieties, plus ideas for how to cook with each.
Leaves are ground into a fine powder, which you can whisk into water for tea. Since you consume the actual leaves, you get more antioxidants than from other green teas.
FLAVOR: Strong and grassy
CREATIVE USE: Stir one teaspoon into a smoothie or dust it over vanilla ice cream or a bar of dark chocolate. The tea’s earthiness is a pleasant contrast to the food’s sweetness.
This yellowish-green flat leaf tea is one of the most popular drinking teas in China.
FLAVOR: Soft chestnut notes, toasty
CREATIVE USE: Chop the tea leaves, combine with spices, and use them to coat chicken or steak before cooking.
This Chinese tea is pan-fired before being tightly rolled into small pellet shapes.
FLAVOR: Robust with a sweet finish
CREATIVE USE: Substitute a cup of gunpowder tea for a cup of broth in vegetable-based soups. Throw steeped chopped leaves into soup while it simmers to add extra greens.
The most popular green tea in Japan, sencha leaves are steamed, producing a bright green color, then rolled into needle form.
FLAVOR: Mild and slightly sweet
CREATIVE USE: After mixing the dough or batter for cookies, muffins, or scones, fold two tablespoons of dried sencha tea leaves directly into it, then bake as usual.
Called “twig tea,” kukicha is derived from thinly cut stalks of sencha and gyokuro leaves.
FLAVOR: Light and smooth with roasted, woody notes
CREATIVE USE: Add a few tablespoons to a marinade for fish or shellfish. Kukicha balances out sweeter varieties, like halibut or scallops.
It’s made from leaves that are roasted until they’re dark brown. Because it’s picked at the end of the season and roasted at a higher heat than other teas, hojicha contains lower levels of caffeine.
FLAVOR: Roasted and nutty
CREATIVE USE: Ladle a cup of steeped hojicha tea over a mixture of brown rice and roasted fall veggies, like squash. Garnish with a sprinkle of chestnuts.