How is Green Tea Made?

Have you ever wondered how green tea is made? In this article, we’re going to walk through the production process of Japanese green tea from leaf to cup, to see how much goes into producing this world famous drink. 

For this article, we’re going to head down to the small town of Shibushi in the south of Japan, to meet a legendary tea farmer named Mr. Sakamoto. Mr. Sakamoto has been growing organic green tea on this family farm since 1985, and he has become quite famous in the area of Kagoshima, Japan’s second largest tea growing region. Here he specializes in the production of Gyokuro, considered to be the highest quality type of green tea in Japan. This tea is sought after for its strong rich and savory flavor, and it used to be the tea of choice for the emperor himself. 

During the fall and winter, the tea plants on this field are storing up nutrients from the soil. In the springtime, they will begin growing these light green sprouts which are perfect for Japanese green teas like Sencha and Gyokuro. To develop its intense savory and sweet flavor profile, the tea plants used to make Gyokuro are covered with a special type of netting for 3 weeks before the harvest. When the leaf is exposed to sunlight, it begins to convert the sweeter tasting l-theanine into more bitter catechins, in order to protect itself from the sun. If the farmer is producing a sweeter tea, they will cover it to maintain more of the l-theanine. After the plant has been covered under shade for 3 weeks, the harvest can begin.

This particular tea is picked by hand, so one day a year friends and family are invited from the nearby town to help harvest the tea leaves. The top 3 leaves are selected to be used in premium Gyokuro, as they tend have the smoothest and sweetest flavor. After the leaves have been picked, they need to be brought rather quickly to production facility to be processed. The reason for this is that leaves will begin to oxidize after being picked, and this would actually create a black tea. To produce a green tea or unoxidized tea, heat needs to be applied to the leaves to stop the oxidation process. First the leaves are added to a conveyor belt and sorted out by hand. While most of the production process is done by machine, the facility is carefully monitored by Mr. Sakamoto and his brother, to make sure the batch of leaves is produced just the right way.

Once the leaves have made it through the first conveyor belt, they are steamed for just under a minute. This is perhaps the most important step in the production of Japanese green tea, and is one of the main reasons for its unique flavor profile. Japanese teas are celebrated for their vibrant green colors and flavor profiles of steamed vegetables. In order to lock these flavors in the leaves, they need to be heated within hours after harvesting. Chinese green teas are more commonly pan-fired, giving them slightly warmer and nuttier tasting notes, but because Japanese green teas are steamed, they maintain more of these vegetable flavor profiles like edamame, sweet corn and baby spinach. 

Once the leaves have been steamed, they need to be dried and shaped. The freshly picked leaves have a moisture content of around 70% and that needs to be dropped down to between 4-7% so that they can infuse properly. This is done in not just one machine, but several. The first machine spins the mass of leaves around at a low heat. The inside of this machine can be lined with wood so when the leaves are pressed against it lightly, they transfer some of their moisture into the wood. 

Next the leaves are transferred to a different type of drying machine. This brush rolls over the leaves with a slight amount of pressure to brush out some of the moisture. This also helps to roll the leaves slightly, but their final shaping will be done by a different machine.

The leaves will then be transferred into another dryer where the humidity will be brought down even further. Before the final drying phase takes place, the leaves need to be shaped while they are still a little bit pliable. This is done by these metal machines that move back and forth to give the Gyokuro its trademark “pine-needle” shape. After the leaves have been shaped, they go into these low-temperature ovens for their final baking process. The ovens heat the leaves at quite a low temperature as to not interfere with the flavor and give it a roasted flavor. The ovens have multiple levels and by the time the tea gets all the way to the end, it will be at the perfect humidity for infusion. 

The finished product will look something like this, tightly rolled dried leaves that almost look like pine needles. Because Gyokuro is so tightly rolled, you will want to brew it for about 2 minutes to make sure the leaves fully open up and release their flavor. Gyokuro is typically prepared with less water and more leaves, to make an incredibly thick tea that feels heavy on the palate. You also want to prepare the tea with lower temperature water, around 140 degrees Fahrenheit or 60 degrees Celsius. A good Gyokuro will have a strong, sweet and savory flavor that lingers on the tongue. 

If you want to try some of the Gyokuro from Mr. Sakamoto, you can visit our website and look for the Cha Musume, the Sasa Hime or the Gyokuro Cha Meijin. The difference between these teas comes down to the varietal of tea plant used in the production, with the Cha Musume being made from the stronger Yabukita Cultivar, the Cha Meijin being made from the sweeter, more refined Saemidori cultivar and the Sasa Hime being made from a blend of multiple cultivars, giving it a well balanced taste profile. 

I hope you have all enjoyed thisarticle! If you have any questions about how green tea is made, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. Until then, we’ll see you next time.