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Green goddess

(article, Matthew Amster-Burton)

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Green tea! It's loaded with antioxidants and polyphenols and stuff!

Not that I care; I drink green tea for its taste, not its health benefits. 

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h1.Mail-order tea

Remedy Teas carries organic Japanese teas and does traditional mail order at 206-323-4TEA.

You can order excellent tea directly from Japan at O-Cha.com, which also offers detailed brewing tips and a forum for tea geeks.

I'm also a fan of MyGreenTea brand, especially their teabags, available at YuzuMura.com.

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Tea isn't medicine that requires added sugar and fruit flavorings to make it palatable. Hot or iced, it's one of the most delicious parts of my day. 

The health news about green tea, however, has ended up doing consumers a disservice by flooding the market with mediocre tea products and blurring the distinction between Chinese and Japanese teas.

Take a trip to your local supermarket, and you might find Lipton 100% Green, Mighty Leaf Green Tea Tropical, Stash Premium Green, or Bigelow Naturally Decaffeinated. All will assure you that they are loaded with antioxidants. Some, such as Yogi Tea Slim Life, claim to help you lose weight.

But few will tell you — on the front of the box at least — whether they contain Chinese or Japanese tea. This is a major omission, because to my palate, Chinese and Japanese green teas are as distinct as green and black tea. They're grown and processed differently, and the difference in the cup is huge.

Chinese green tea has its fans — more than a billion of them — but Japanese is my personal favorite. "The Chinese like an astringency, a bitterness, that’s appealing,” says Anthony Arnold, owner of the Seattle café Remedy Teas. “Japanese, you’ve got more of a greenness, more of a light sweetness to them.” The difference comes from how the tea is processed: shortly after picking, Chinese green tea is pan-fired, while Japanese green tea is steamed.

[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="A glass of iced Sencha tea may look beige, but it's genuine green tea."]

To underscore the point, Arnold poured us each six cups of tea, three Chinese and three Japanese. (Another customer glanced over at our table and said, “Tough life.”) I enjoyed all the teas, but to me the Japanese are cleaner, smoother, more like drinking a plant, which I find curiously appealing.

So if you drink supermarket green tea (which is largely low-quality tea from China), I'd like you to give Japanese a try. And because this is August and a hot cup of tea sounds about as appealing as a big pot of oxtail stew, you should try it iced.

Here's some good news. Compared to the huge diversity of Indian and Chinese tea, Japanese tea is a snap. If tea were wine, India and China would be France and Italy. Japan, on the other hand, would be New Zealand: an island nation with a small number of farms, making a high-quality product in a handful of styles.

Japanese tea tends to scare people off for several reasons, and I have solutions to all of them.

# Availability. "Japan is actually one of the smallest tea regions in the world," says Arnold. You're unlikely to find good Japanese tea in a supermarket, but any tea shop will carry it. (Find a tea shop near you at Teamap.com.) If you visit Peet's Coffee & Tea, they carry several varieties. Otherwise, your best bet is mail order. See the sidebar for details.
# Price. Japanese tea is a premium product and costs a lot more than Lipton. Per cup, however, even the most expensive Japanese tea costs less than a bag of Tazo at Starbucks.
# Brewing. Green tea in general, and Japanese tea especially, is finicky about brewing time and temperature. How do you tell when your water hits 170 degrees? You could pull out the thermometer or invest in an electronic teakettle. Or forget all that and just brew it cold (see the iced gyokuro recipe, for example).

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So forget overpriced bottled tea and join me for a tall glass of home-brewed Japanese green. It's probably good for you. It's definitely good.

p(bio). [matthew.reviews@gmail.com "Matthew Amster-Burton"] writes about cooking and culture from his home in Seattle. He keeps a blog titled Roots and Grubs.


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