May 10, 2021
Believe it or not, in the Chinese Medicine conception of the seasons, we’re already in the beginning of summer! Spring’s bright yellow-green shoots have matured into full leaves and the era of flowers is giving way to a season of lush green (and yellow grasses, as is the case in California summers).
As the days get longer and hotter, and we full an internal pull toward more social and playtime and less sleep, it’s appropriate to make some changes that will protect our yin and body fluids so we can fully enjoy the warmth, abundant energy, and yang of summer. We can consider making seasonal changes to our habits & routines, diets, and even our morning beverages. No, we’re not talking about switching to Iced Coffee for summer… consider making the jump to green tea for your morning boost! Given that our climate stays cool in the mornings for most of the year, green tea is a great way to have your warm caffeine boost without feeding any internal fires that summer may be stirring up.
Health Benefits of Green Tea
When we study green tea on a micro-level, we find a wide variety of molecular constituents in the polyphenol group: flavanols, flavandiols, flavonoids, phenolic acids, and more2. Through clinical research, scientists are verifying that green tea’s unique blend of constituents have immuno-regulating, hypolipidemic, neuroprotective, antioxidant, and anti-carcinogenic effects. Green tea catechins (a particular type of polyphenol that green tea is known for), have also been proven to be antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial in lab settings and in clinic trials3.
In East Asian Medicine, green tea is said to bring “clear yang to the mind”, promote body fluid production, clear heat & phlegm, and promote digestion and elimination4. Practically, this means it can help with symptoms like headaches, indigestion, dizziness & difficulty concentrating, and inflammation.
In moderation, caffeine from any source can have beneficial effects on the circulation of qi, liver qi stagnation, digestion, and respiration; different people, climates, and constitutions are better suited to “warmer” or “cooler” sources of caffeine for these purposes. As a broad rule, green tea is appropriate for most people; green tea is unique in its “cooling” nature while still raising “yang”– or warm energy– up to the mind.
Coffee, on the other hand, is hot by nature; while it does effectively circulate qi and raise yang, it is less sustainable for the body than green tea. Its heat can burn through the body’s yin and fluids. Interestingly, green coffee beans (like green tea) would be a more well-balanced medicinal herb before roasting; the roasting process adds extra warmth to them and creates the propensity towards heat/yang excess5.
The Tea on Green Tea
If you’ve never enjoyed green tea before, keep in mind that if you haven’t had it brewed at the right temperature, for the right length of time, or from a high-quality source, you’ve barely scratched the surface of the flavors and possibilities of green tea.
You may not realize that all true “teas” (white, green, black, and oolong) are made from the same plant: Camellia Sinensis. There are a wide variety of flavors possible for this plant-based on cultivar, growing location, when the leaves were harvested from the plant, and how the leaves were processed after harvest6. In Japan, there are even varieties of green tea that have been grown in partial or full shade for specific amounts of time to produce certain flavors and effects. Green tea differs from oolong and black teas in that the tea leaves have not oxidized after harvest, and generally have a lower amount of caffeine. White tea, on the other hand, is even less processed than green and has the least amount of caffeine.
Both China and Japan have rich histories of reverence and love for tea, and each country has a wide variety of teas it produces and consumes. As you explore the world of tea for yourself, taste test a wide variety of well-brewed green teas and investigate if you prefer the delicate flavors of the spring-harvested Japanese Sencha teas, the toasty sweetness of China’s pan-fried Dragon Well8 teas, or the savory flavors of the toasted rice in Genmaicha.
As a place to get started on your tea journey, and true to our roots as a Japanese Medicine college, we’ve broken down some of the flavors and varieties of that come out of Japan:
Types of Japanese Green Tea
- Sencha: young green tea leaves, wide variety of fresh, bright, & grassy notes
- Shincha: sub-type of sencha, earliest harvest of spring leaves, rare
- Gyokuro & Kabusecha: young green tea leaves harvested from plants that were shaded with cloth for up to a month before harvesting, umami flavors9
- Bancha: mature green tea leaves, commonly found in tea bags, bold flavors
- Matcha: powdered green tea leaves, wide variety of quality & flavor notes, ceremonial grade is the highest quality
- Genmaicha: green tea leaves (usually sencha) mixed with toasted brown rice, nutty & rich flavor notes
- Hojicha: roasted (not steamed) green tea leaves and twigs, roasted, cacao flavors
Different varieties of green tea have different flavor profiles–and then beyond the variations to the leaves and preparations themselves, there’s the world of flavoring and herbal combinations. In East Asian medicine, these tweaks can affect the medicinal properties of the tea. You can ask your acupuncturist if goji berries, jasmine, chrysanthemum, or another delicious, medicinal herb might be a good pairing for your new tea practice!
One of the most important things about enjoying any kind of tea is to keep in mind it’s ideal brewing time & temperature. Most high quality green teas will specify ideal temperatures and steep times, and usually those temperatures are below boiling, so be sure to let your kettle cool a bit after boiling if you want to get the best flavors possible. Water that’s too hot = bitter tea…
Aside from temperature, brew time is another key factor in drawing out the best flavors: too long = bitter! If you brew loose leaf leaf in a brew basket, many green tea leaves can be steeped multiple times to expose an arc of flavors– some even say 9 times is the ideal number! To accomplish this, you’ll have to keep an eye on the clock; if you leave your tea leaves steeping too long, you’ll never get 9 rich steeps out of it! (Most people stick with 2-3 steeps before reaching for fresh leaves).
Our Favorite Tea Connections:
- AIMC Alum Erin Wilkins: Herb Folk Shop
- Our Berkeley neighbors: Far Leaves Tea
- Local provider of bulk Herbs & Teas: Lhasa Karnak