Green tea is widely known as the healthiest drink on the face of the Earth. Here, we take a look at where green tea came from, how it’s made, and what it can do for your body (spoiler alert: good stuff!).
Legend has it that Chinese Emperor Shennong accidentally discovered tea around 2737 BC when leaves from a tea tree fell into his boiling water. Around this time, green tea became a staple in the upper class Chinese diet. Centuries later, around 1190, Japanese Zen priest Esai visited China and adopted the ritual of drinking green tea. He brought it back to Japan, where it became a popular drink among his fellow monks and then throughout the entire country. Green tea became and still remains an important part of Japanese culture, especially in the country’s highly choreographed tea ceremonies. Tea became an important export for both China and Japan, linking the East with the West in trade, especially England. When Great Britain fell in love with tea, they didn’t love the fact that China had a monopoly on the tea trade. They fixed this fiscal problem by introducing tea to India, then a victim of British colonization. Now Great Britain could control its own tea production, a move that Sarah Rose, author of All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History, called “the greatest single act of corporate espionage in history.” After British rule ended in 1947, tea production continued to be a big industry in India. Today, China continues to lead the world in tea production and exportation, with India coming in second.
Like all tea, green tea comes from the plant species Camellia sinensis, specifically the Camellia sinensis sinensis variety. This plant is native to China’s Yunnan province, but is grown in other countries as well, such as Japan, India, and New Zealand. It’s also grown in some parts of the United States, most notably South Carolina. To make green tea, producers start by picking the tea leaves, and then spreading them out on bamboo trays. They are exposed to heat for a short while, but not too long. To retain its green color and specific flavor, green tea cannot exposed to too much oxygen. After this brief exposure, the leaves are rolled into shapes—like long and lean strips or rotund balls—which releases some of the plant’s natural oils and flavor. Lastly, the leaves are dried, letting go of any remaining moisture. While this process is the same for all green tea production, many factors can affect the way a specific brand of green tea tastes, mainly the environment in which it’s grown and the nuances of production.
Green tea is one of the smartest choices you can make when it comes to nutrition. The antioxidants found in green tea, called catechins, are to credit for its superpowers. WebMD reports that green tea can improve blood flow, lower “bad” cholesterol, prevent the formation of Alzheimer’s-inducing plaques in the brain, stabilize blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, and, thanks to the chemical theanine found in green tea, promote feelings of calmness and peace. Harvard Health Publications even rates the antioxidants in green tea as “more powerful than Vitamins C and E in halting oxidative damage to cells and appear to have other disease-fighting properties.”