What Is Green Tea? Benefits, Uses, & Recipes

Pot of green tea

Trinette Reed / Getty Images

Green tea is a type of "true tea" made from the leaves of the tea plant. It's cultivated in China and Japan, where it is also the most popular. Green tea is gaining global acclaim, mostly due to its potential health benefits. There are different types of green tea, including dragonwell, gunpowder, matcha, and sencha. Though they vary in taste, green teas tend to have a mellow flavor. It's also used in tea-flavored food recipes and other drinks, such as smoothies.

Fast Facts

  • Origin: China, Japan
  • Temperature: 150–180°F
  • Caffeine: 12–75 mg per cup

What Is Green Tea?

Green tea is a type of tea made from the leaves of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis). It's an evergreen shrub that originated in the southwest forest region of China. Specifically, green tea comes from the Chinese tea plant (Camellia sinensis sinensis). It thrives in high elevations with cool temperatures and has a sweeter, softer taste than the other tea plant varietal (Camellia sinensis assamica), which is used primarily for black teas. Japan and China dominate green tea production.

All tea leaves are harvested by hand. With green tea, the leaves are preserved with heat immediately after harvest, whereas black tea leaves are left to oxidize before they're dried. In Japan, green tea is dried with steam, while Chinese green teas are processed with dry heat using an ovenlike drum or woklike vessel. Most green tea is comprised of the tea leaves alone. Some Japanese types use only stems or combine them with the leaves.

There are several types of green tea available, varying in the way the tea is processed. The taste differs with the specific type, though it's generally softer and sweeter than black tea. Japanese green teas are notable for a strong vegetal flavor that's grassy and reminiscent of seaweed, with citrus notes. Chinese green teas tend to have a mellow vegetal flavor, a little more sweetness, and nutty, floral, woody, and vanilla notes.

6 Health Benefits of Green Tea

Since green tea goes through less processing than black tea, many of the potential health benefits attributed to tea leaves remain intact. Many studies link green tea specifically to these benefits, and it's often thought of as one of the healthiest beverages available. As in all things, moderation is recommended.

Brain Function and Aging

Green tea's moderate caffeine level is a stimulant that may improve focus, concentration, and quick thinking, as well as provide a mood boost. It also contains the amino acid L-theanine, which may reduce anxiety and caffeine jitters. Studies have associated drinking green tea regularly to a longer life and hint that it may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease.

Metabolism and Body Weight

Tea is a calorie-free beverage, so it may help maintain a healthy weight. Replacing high-calorie drinks with green tea may aid in weight loss. Additionally, studies have noted that green tea may boost the body's metabolic rate and help burn fat.

Cancer

Green tea is at the center of hundreds of cancer prevention and treatment studies. Many point to tea's catechins (flavonoids), which are natural antioxidants and may affect tumor formation in some types of cancer.

Cholesterol and Blood Pressure

Heart health is another common area of study for all teas. It's believed that regularly drinking tea may lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and reduce the risks of heart disease or stroke.

Diabetes

As long as you don't add it, green tea is naturally sugar free, so it's a good beverage for people with diabetes. Some studies point to the possibility that green tea may improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels.

Skin and Tooth Health

Green tea's catechins may help with tooth health by killing bacteria. Its antioxidants are thought to be good for maintaining healthy skin and particularly signs of aging.

Uses

Since it contains caffeine, it's best to drink green tea during the daytime. It's enjoyable before, during, or after a meal, and it may even help with digestion.

How to Drink Green Tea

Unlike black tea, green tea does not need cream, sugar, and other additives, which may even reduce its health benefits. A squeeze of lemon juice is a nice boost of flavor for some types of green tea.

Most green tea is brewed with simmering water between 150 F and 180 F. The brewing times vary by the type, though they're generally short. Steamed Japanese green teas require just 30 seconds, and others may go as long as four minutes. Brewing green tea too long will make it bitter. Always follow the recommendation for time and temperature provided with the specific tea you're brewing.

Caffeine Content in Green Tea

In general, green tea has less caffeine than most other teas and coffee. However, some types of green tea, such as matcha, can have more caffeine than black tea or even espresso. If you're sensitive to caffeine, try decaf green tea, brewing it weaker, or switching from tea bags to loose-leaf tea.

8 oz. Beverage Average Caffeine
Herbal Tea 0 mg
Decaf Tea 2–20 mg
Green Tea 12–75 mg
Black Tea 40–120 mg
Coffee 80–200 mg

Buying and Storing

There are many green teas on the market, and they're easy to find at grocery stores, tea shops, and online. It's worth exploring different brands and types to find which you enjoy most. Spending a little more money on high-quality green tea is also a good idea if you want the best-tasting cup of tea.

Storing tea properly is important to preserving its flavor and extending its shelf life. Keep tea away from heat, humidity, direct light, and anything with a strong odor. It's often best to store green tea in a well-sealed, opaque container. Once a package is open, drink the tea within a few months.

Recipes

Green tea makes an excellent cup of tea, whether hot or cold. It's also a great base for extra flavors like herbs and spices. Matcha is a powdered tea and a favorite ingredient in green tea smoothies and tea-flavored food recipes.

Types of Green Tea

There are several different types of green tea, and each has its own flavor characteristics.

  • Bi Luo Chun: A Chinese favorite, this tea has a sweet, vegetal taste.
  • Dragonwell: A Chinese tea that's popular in the U.S., it has a mild, sweet, chestnut flavor.
  • Genmaicha: A Japanese tea blend with puffed rice, this type has a sweet, roasted, vegetal taste.
  • Gunpowder: A Chinese tea that compresses dried leaves into pellets, it often has a light, grassy flavor.
  • Gyokuro: A Japanese shade-grown green tea, it perfectly displays the taste of umami.
  • Hōjicha: A roasted Japanese tea of leaves and stems, this type is low in caffeine and has a woody flavor that appeals to coffee drinkers.
  • Jasmine: A favorite among flavored tea blends, the soft sweetness of jasmine flowers adds a delicate flavor to green tea.
  • Kukicha: A steamed tea made from Japanese tea stems, it has a sweet and vegetal flavor with little caffeine.
  • Matcha: A Japanese powdered tea, this type has a bittersweet flavor.
  • Sencha: A popular green tea in Japan, it has a vegetal and grassy flavor.

Side Effects

Green tea's side effects are very rare. They're usually only experienced by people who drink very large amounts or those with certain medical conditions. Green tea can interfere with certain medications, so consult your doctor about drinking green tea.

People with caffeine sensitivity are more susceptible to the side effects of excessive caffeine consumption. These include restlessness, heart palpitations, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, irritability, increased heart rate, and elevated blood pressure. It may also increase the amount of calcium flushed out of the body with urine.

Though far less than coffee, green tea contains tannins, which stimulate the stomach to secrete more acid. This can cause an upset stomach or nausea for people with a peptic ulcer or acid reflux, and worsen diarrhea. Tannins may also prevent the blood from absorbing certain nutrients, particularly nonheme iron. Drinking green tea on a full stomach can lessen these effects.