Help me upgrade my green tea experience.
February 4, 2013 7:36 AM   Subscribe

In the last month, I've become a tea drinker. I'm new to this, but I'm ready to do it right. A few questions inside.

My standard cup has been some (cheap) green tea, a little almond milk and a little sugar. I'd like some advice on upgrading my tea experience. I work from home and have a stove, microwave, fridge, etc.


1. Kettle? I used to have a cheap one from Target, but it rusted very quickly (even with proper care), so I'm looking for one that will last a while. I've been boiling water on the stove in a pan.

2. Best green tea? This is my first foray into green tea. I've been drinking an old box of Bigelow I had in the back of the cupboard. I know there's better out there.

3. Brewing methods? I'll probably use bagged tea for now until I see if this tea thing really sticks for me. The internet has different opinions on how long to leave the bag, whether to dunk or not, etc. What works for you?

posted by Zosia Blue to Food & Drink (32 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I love Genmaicha. I try to buy it from small tea shops (loose) so I unfortunately do not have a recommendation for where to buy it from. I have had the Eden version, which was good but I prefer loose teas when possible.
posted by anya32 at 7:42 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have the Oxo kettle; it's great. Mine is red.

I tend to use Yamamotoyama tea, loose. Typically, genmai-cha, which is green tea with roasted rice in it. I also like their hoji-cha, which is roasted green tea.

Primer on green tea here.

But tastes, brewing times, temps, kettles, all are a matter of personal preference.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:43 AM on February 4, 2013

1. I LOVE this kettle. It has a graded setting for different types of teas (ie. it's recommended to use lower-temperature water for green teas, not boiling).

2. Go loose leaf, for sure. There's a lot of chains that sell good quality loose leaf, depending on where you're located. You'll find there's a myriad of flavours to try. My favourites are sencha (kind of grassy), genmaicha (which has toasted rice and tastes a bit nutty) and jasmine flavoured teas. I've never found any bagged green teas that compare, really.

3. Often when you buy loose leaf, they come with recommendations. Personally I don't brew for very long with green (2-4 minutes) because it tastes too bitter for me with longer time.

But this is all personal; if you prefer the taste after the bag is in for 20 minutes or tea made with boiling water, rock it! It's your cup of tea!
posted by Paper rabies at 7:43 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm with Admiral Haddock on this one - gemai-cha is awesome and oddly thirst quenching in a way other teas are not. Roasted buckwheat tea is similar (but not green tea, and thus not an answer to your question).
posted by LN at 7:44 AM on February 4, 2013

Regarding 1: I have a glass stovetop tea kettle like this one and I'm happy with it. It's sturdy, heats up quickly, you can see the water inside, and it requires very little cleaning.

Regarding 3: Your options will open up significantly if you go with bulk (loose leaf) tea. To brew loose leaf tea, you will need an infuser. Many teapots have a removable metal mesh infuser. You can also buy a tea ball, but it would be tougher to measure tea accurately and harder to clean.
posted by Nomyte at 7:45 AM on February 4, 2013

Argo Tea is the promised land for tea-lovers. (I'm sitting in an Argo Tea cafe as I type this.) Your profile says that you're based in Minnesota and Argo Tea doesn't appear to have a location there, but they have an online store where you can buy their loose-leaf tea and other tea-related products. (For the record, my favorite of their teas is the green tea ginger twist. Clears up a sore throat and head cold like nothing you've ever tasted before.) There's also a "Tea 101 Guide To Perfect Brewing."
posted by The Girl Who Ate Boston at 7:45 AM on February 4, 2013

You want control over temperature. Buy this.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:45 AM on February 4, 2013

Yes on roasted buckwheat--also called soba-cha--a friend brought me a bag of, I think, Ito-En soba-cha, and it was really amazing. To me, it almost tasted like peanuts--it was so lovely and mellow. I've looked hard to replace it, but other makers don't taste as good to me.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:46 AM on February 4, 2013

My favorite green teas come from Lupicia. Everything they sell is always very high-quality / delicious.

Studies show that dunking is irrelevant.

I personally like my tea underbrewed - brewing time really is highly personal and variable.

Microwaving water for tea always ends up with the tea tasting weirdly flat to me.

I use disposable tea bags for my loose leaf tea - it makes it super easy, no cleanup.
posted by 168 at 7:47 AM on February 4, 2013

Nthing genmai tea. (It's tea that smells like popcorn! That will never stop being cool!)

About the almond milk, though - usually green tea isn't supposed to be drunk with any milk or cream. Of course, if you utlimately prefer it that way, it's not like there's Tea Police that are going to come in and stop you - but try some of these green teas without any milk (or sugar, actually) and see what you think. You can always go back on the next cup.

If you live near any kind of Asian food market, poke your nose in there - you will find more kinds of green tea than you ever thought possible. And if you really get into green tea, you can get huge packages of loose green tea for hella cheap.

I brew my loose green tea in the same French Press I use for my coffee. It makes dealing with loose tea leaves really easy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:49 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

The proper temperature for brewing green tea is 180°F. Therefore, you should not wait for the water to start boiling before you pour it, or if it is boiling, give some time to let the water cool down first. Ideally, you should find a kettle that has temperature settings. Some kettles helpfully come with settings that are labelled "Green Tea" (180°F), "Oolong Tea" (200°F) and "Black Tea" (212°F).
posted by 1970s Antihero at 7:50 AM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Take all guidelines as just that. A friend was given this high-tech tea machine by a grateful client, but after a few experiments we both concluded its temperature for green tea was too low and produced a flavourless pot. Now she makes green at oolong temps and it's fine.

Check Asian groceries for green teas. I've found really good value in Vietnamese green teas, although they haven't the names and cachet of Japanese ones.

Gunpowder green is also a good deal if you treat it the way a Moroccan man showed me: you pour water on, wait about thirty seconds till the leaves open, then pour off the first water. Then you brew the tea. This removes the bitterness you often find in that kind of tea.

Oh, and try drinking green tea with nothing added. At least some of the time.
posted by zadcat at 8:17 AM on February 4, 2013

I'll chime in with very decent bagged tea, if you're not ready for loose leaf tea, or if you want to have both out of convenince. Costco Kirkland brand green tea is very decent for bagged store tea. And the tea bag comes with a small hitch so it rests on the rim of the cup without falling in. It's great to have on hand for time, and I take a case to work as well.
posted by tatiana131 at 8:42 AM on February 4, 2013

Here's what I do to make my favorite Japanese green tea, which tastes like what I was served at a tiny ryokan in Japan a few years ago and I loved it: Yamamotoyama brand sencha, which is cheap for the amount of tea you get and is available at Japanese grocers as well as the internet. It's a loose tea, and I brew it in a little Japanese teapot that came with a strainer in it. If you want to try brewing loose teas but don't want a whole teapot for it, they sell boxes of empty tea bags that you can fill with whatever tea you want.

Brewing temperature and time are crucial for getting the right flavor, and green tea is unforgiving in this respect. If the tea lacks any kind of flavor character aside from a general bitterness and astringency, it's been brewed either too hot or for too long. The water temperature should be hot but not boiling - I never actually measure the temperature for 180-degrees exactly; I just pour it when it is "hot" - and it only needs to be brewed for about 45 seconds to get the flavor right.

Other kinds of green teas might require a longer brewing time, but this is what works for this sencha to get a nice tea flavor that's a bit grassy. I never add milk or sugar to it because it takes away too much from the flavor of the tea.
posted by wondermouse at 8:48 AM on February 4, 2013

If you want to move up in your grade of tea but like the convenience of bagged tea, Harney and Sons packages their teas in high-quality sachets that are basically fancy tea bags. This is not going to be your cheapest option, but if you want to check out some really nummy tea, it's a good one.
posted by KathrynT at 8:48 AM on February 4, 2013

I need to tell you a very important thing about green tea.

I bolded that so you read this cause I'm afraid it's going to look like a bit of a TL;DR block of text.

My SO and I are both big tea-drinkers, but were never much into green tea. Then one day we went to an amazing little tea shop in Spitalfields Market, London (TeaSmiths for tea-loving Londoners). It is run by a gruff scotsman, who comes across as if he is doing community service working there, until you ask him about the tea. We did this because as he was brewing our tea in front of us, we observed what was to us a simple and familiar ritual become a precise, delicate process - pouring and straining and pouring a little away and other dark magicks which resulted in the most incredibly smooth and fragrant and divine cup of green tea.

His one tip? whatever you do, don't overbrew it. He told us, in a tone which indicated that he was deeply and personally insulted by this fact, that most people who claim they don't like green tea are simply brewing it for too long, at which point it becomes bitter and undrinkable by his standards.

Anyway that's it - totally absolved my "but the tea must be strong or it's not proper" guilt - and now every cup of green tea is an AWESOME cup of green tea!
posted by greenish at 8:55 AM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

Missed my edit window, but wanted to drop back in and say the above applies also to white and oolong teas as well, as far as I'm aware :)
posted by greenish at 9:18 AM on February 4, 2013

Agreed with greenish, if you brew with water at temps greater than 180°F, or steep for longer than 2 minutes, the green tea will be bitter.

If you like bitter green tea, then by all means, brew the living bejeebers out of your tea.

If you don't overbrew your tea, you'll enjoy the many and varied flavors of different green tea varieties. Some have a more vegetal or grassy flavor (Senchas tend that way). Some have kind of a flinty flavor. I personally prefer the greens that have what is called a buttery or creamy flavor, like Dragonwell or Pi Lo Chun (named after WEE SNAILS because it's curled in teeny spirals... isn't that squeedorable???)
posted by BrashTech at 9:21 AM on February 4, 2013

Forgot to add, if you don't do a fancy variable-temperature kettle you'll want a thermometer. (Even if you do get a fancy kettle you might want at thermometer, for calibration purposes) The simplest instant-read cooking thermometer works just fine.
posted by BrashTech at 9:26 AM on February 4, 2013

You're in the Twin Cities area? Get thee to TeaSource! They're very friendly and helpful; I'm sure if you told them what you like they'd have lots of suggestions. They've also got lots of tea accessories -- pots, strainers, etc., etc.
posted by Janta at 9:30 AM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding TeaSource, they're great! I also love their selection of oolongs, which are deep and delicious.
posted by mlo at 9:34 AM on February 4, 2013

I'm not a tea snob by any means, but the Bigelow Jasmine Green is my favorite tea ever. I've tried the fancier loose-leaf Jasmine Greens (organic, etc), and the Bigelow wins for me every time. I don't put anything in it, and just leave the bag in my cup until I've downed the last drop of tea--still good, not bitter!

It might be hard to find. It's gone from the stores around me (Tampa, FL), so I have my mom mail it to me from PA.
posted by dearwassily at 9:51 AM on February 4, 2013

The most unkillable green tea, I've found, is Buddha Tears. They are a tea leaf wrapped around a jasmin flower, and it's basically impossible to overbrew. Two or three in a cup and you're good to go, basically. Once it's cool enough to drink you know it's brewed enough to be good, and if you decide you want it stronger you just add more of the tears. You can even just leave the tea in the cup as you drink. It's a mild sort of taste, with a floral scent, and I can't recommend it more highly to anyone starting out on their tea journey.
posted by Jilder at 9:54 AM on February 4, 2013

Harney Teas are pretty awesome and they have a very informative website.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 10:28 AM on February 4, 2013

Adagio Tea sells sampler packs of all their teas. When I first started drinking tea, it was a great way to figure out what I liked and didn't like. I also bought this electric kettle, and it's so easy to use.
posted by raisingsand at 11:11 AM on February 4, 2013

Response by poster: Excellent suggestions. Loose leaf sounds the way to go. I'm going to try several of these suggestions, then report back. Thanks for the local Tea Source suggestions, too -- I pass by that store often, and always mean to go inside.
posted by Zosia Blue at 11:27 AM on February 4, 2013

This may not apply to you at all, but I just learned that something in green tea blocks folic acid absorption. So if you are pregnant or trying to conceive keep that in mind. My pregnant friend used to drink decaf green but stopped because of that.
posted by chela at 3:48 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh my goodness gracious, yes, you must go to TeaSource. Tell them what you're interested in and they will set. you. up.

(Once when I made the rare visit to the Twin Cities and got to TeaSource, they, uh, recognized my name off my credit card 'cause I order online from them so much.)
posted by BrashTech at 4:04 PM on February 4, 2013

There's also a good selection of teas in the bulk section at the area coops (the Wedge and Linden Hills for sure), which is good if you want to try out a bunch of teas but don't want to commit to a large package. Plus it's super affordable. I take photos of the bulk bin labels with my phone since sometimes the brewing instructions and other info don't print on the little weight labels.

TeaSource is great, but sometimes the big bags of tea are intimidating and expensive for general experimentation.
posted by Maarika at 9:10 PM on February 4, 2013

Although a kettle with temperature controls would be great, if you're just starting out, don't sweat it. The ancient Japanese didn't have all that gear. That's what the yuzamashi/samashi (water cooling vessel) was for. Just assume that every time you pour tea into a room temperature cup (a cup that has not been pre-warmed), the temperature drops by about 10 degrees C. Do get yourself an electric kettle though (how do people manage without one?), and when it boils, pour the water into your empty teapot (Vessel 1). Then pour that water into another empty mug or cup (Vessel 2). Pop your tea into the pot, then pour the water from the extra mug back into the teapot (Vessel 1). Ta-daa. Water cooled to the right temperature. Physics.

I did get a cheap thermometer from DealExtreme to test the above though. Not necessary, but it sure was fun.

Yeeeah I'm also that girl who measures the capacity of each of her tea cups and gaiwan, and owns a small digital weighing scale for loose tea. You'll get there soon enough.

My suggestions for basic green teas to try out (based on the Tea Source site): Japanese Sencha, Chinese Pi Lo Chun, and Jasmine Pearl.
posted by pimli at 11:28 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think Chinese green teas are less bitter than Japanese.

I've been drinking my green teas as some of my Chinese friends do. Put the loose tea in a cup and pour boiling water over it. The tea leaves will fall to the bottom. Just drink the liquid. No need for filters. When you are done, add more hot water. Many good green teas are considered even better on the second steeping. (This doesn't work well with British style black teas in my experience.)

If you really want tea bags, I had some from Yamamotoyama, mentioned up thread, which were pretty good.
posted by SandiBeech at 10:57 AM on February 6, 2013

Since you're beginning to explore your tea habit, I'm with BrashTech on investing in an instant read thermometer rather than a variable temperature teapot that runs $100+.

You simply must try some loose leaf teas from China as well as Japan. You might also enjoy oolong teas which taste decidedly different and which you can steep several times throughout the day.

General rule of thumb for steeping green tea is two teaspoons of tea per 6oz of water steeped for 2 minutes. The proper temperature for green tea is not necessarily locked down at 180F: depending on the tea, it often ranges anywhere between 150 and 180. Your best bet is to look up steeping instructions for each tea as well as experiment because there's no one right way to brew tea, and the best way is one that suits your palate. Green teas are good for up to 3 brews while Oolongs can go up to 8 or more.

As for tea steeping supplies, a 16+oz teapot with a metal basket works well, you can also get a handy device from Adagio Teas, which conveniently dispenses into a mug. You could also use a teapot with a strainer built into the pot itself then pour it into another teapot after it's done steeping. Teapots that come with a ceramic strainer inside the tea pot often tend to have holes that are too big so the tea go loose in your teapot and you can't control the length of the steep, and worse it probably doesn't have the capacity to deal with the bulk of any teas aside from Blacks during/after steeping, leading to overflow. Basically, you have a lot of options! Also, don't boil water in a teapot meant for steeping; stick with your pan or a non-rusty kettle.

So I've talked about two types of teas but there's also Black tea, White tea, Pu-Erh tea, and matcha (a variant on green used in Japanese tea ceremony which you whisk in a bowl). Herbals teas are technically not actually teas because they don't come from the camellia sinensis family of plants.

Hope you enjoy your tea venture!
posted by maykasahara at 12:37 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

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