Green Tea is the oldest form of tea.
The tea remains green because the fermentation process is stopped before it can begin. Heat destroys the natural enzymes and prevents the oxidation of polyphenols while preserving the flavanols that give tea its particular flavour or taste.
Chinese and Japanese Green Teas are processed differently giving each their distinctive characteristics.
Chinese Green Tea: The fermentation process is stopped by either exposing the leaves to sunlight or applying warm air to the leaves. Next the leaves are pan fired which stabilizes the flavour and the fragrance of the leaves but will often change the colour of the leaves to some degree. The Chinese have different methods of pan firing. The leaves are moved and turned or tossed in the pan or large wok. The way the leaves are handled or moved is distinctive to each region and processor, and affects the outcome of the tea. Generally the processing is still done by hand in China.
Japanese Green Tea: The Japanese destroy the oxidase enzymes by the application of steam which stops the fermentation process. Then, for higher quality "every day" Green Tea or Sencha the leaves are rolled and twisted and then dried. Hojicha is then roasted giving it a nutty flavour. For the highest quality Japanese green tea - Gyokuro - the leaves are dried after steaming and then rolled and twisted. The bushes used to grow the tea for Gyokuro are covered for three weeks to help the plant make more chlorophyll resulting in a very green colour. These leaves are plucked only once a year.
More so than for Black or Green Teas, the soil and the climate play a big part in determining the final product. So, look for the best of Oolong Tea coming from Taiwan, formerly Formosa . Known for the beautiful bouquet and attractive flavour, this tea used to account for 1/5th of the tea consumed in America.
Oolong teas go through several steps in their process. After plucking they are withered in the sun for up to an hour and then further withered inside at room temperature. As this takes some time, the natural fermentation gets started turning the leaves red and developing the characteristic fragrance, almost peach-like, before it is stopped in pan firing.
After the first firing, the leaves are rolled, fired a second time. Once again they are rolled and fired for a final time. This partial fermentation results in the development of some essential oil but not in the high concentration seen in Black Teas where full fermentation occurs.
Similar to Oolong, but not quite the same, is Pouchong. Also a partially fermented tea. With even less fermentation time, the leaves are greener and are particularly good in combination with flowers to give scented teas. Look for Osmanthus in our catalogue.