Why Green Tea is Bitter & How to Reduce the Bitterness
Some green tea is bitter, but it doesn’t have to be this way! There are many techniques you can use to make your green tea taste less bitter, and still enjoy its many health benefits. In this article, we are going to take a look at why green tea is bitter, how to fix it and where you can find some sweeter tasting green teas. Without further ado, let’s get started. 🍃🍵
Reasons why your green tea is bitter
To understand why green tea is bitter, we have to take a look at the chemical components of the leaf, as well as how the tea is produced. Let’s take a look at a few different factors that can affect the bitterness of a green tea.
Catechins are the primary antioxidants found in green tea. These can produce both a bitter or astringent taste, and they can also attribute to the drying or puckering sensation you get on the palate when you drink a cup of tea. Catechins are soluble in water, but they are not quite as soluble in cooler water.
The date and area of harvest
The date a tea was harvested can impact how bitter it is. The first harvest of the tea plant in the early spring usually produces the smoothest and the sweetest tasting green tea.
Tea made from later harvests tends to be more earthy or bitter. One of the reasons why people think green tea is bitter is because the tea in teabags is usually made from later harvests and lower quality leaves.
A higher Polyphenols content
Polyphenols are another component within green tea that can make it bitter. Polyphenols are found in many different plant species and they can have beneficial impacts on human health. They act as antioxidants in the body and can help protect it against free radical damage. They also can contribute to a bitter or astringent flavor in the tea.
Type of Green Tea
Some green teas are meant to have some bitterness to them. Many tea drinkers like to challenge their palate with these more dry, astringent or bitter flavors. This gives the tea more structure and a crisper flavor. An unshaded sencha for example is meant to have a little bit of bitterness, which will round out its flavor. If you don’t like this bitter taste in tea, you can simply avoid some of the more bitter types of tea.
Another reason why green tea is bitter has to do with its production. Most green tea is designed for convenience rather than taste. During this mass production, lower quality leaves are used and they are treated poorly. This leads to a flat or bitter flavor in the green tea, and can be the reason why many people find the taste to be bitter.
Quality of water used for brewing
If you use lower quality water to brew the tea, it may lead to a bitter flavor. For green tea, we recommend to use lower temperature filtered water for the best results. In a later section, we will give you everything you need ot prepare a cup of green tea that is not bitter.
The caffeine content
Caffeine itself actually has a bitter flavor to it and thats one of the reasons it is used as a defense mechanism against insects. Ironically, the caffeine content is one of the reasons tea has become so popular for human consumption. Caffeine exists in very small amounts within the tea leaf, but it still does contribute to the bitterness in the tea.
Brew time increases the bitterness
The longer you brew the tea, the more components you will extract from the leaf. This also applies to the bitter components such as the catechins, polyphenols and caffeine. If you want to prepare tea that doesn’t taste super bitter, you will also need to get the brewing time right.
6 Ways to change a Green Tea that is Bitter
One of the reasons why people think green tea is bitter actually comes down to the type of tea they’ve selected and how they prepare it. In this section, we are going to talk about how to avoid this by selecting the right tea and preparing it the right way.
Select a tea from a sweet cultivar
While most Japanese green teas come from the Yabukita cultivar, this is actually one of the more bitter varieties of plants used for making Japanese green tea. One of the reasons why people think green tea is bitter may actually be because most people drink the more bitter cultivars. If you are looking for a sweeter green tea, go for one from the Saemidori cultivar or the Asatsuyu cultivar.
Go For a Shaded Tea
If a farmer wants to create a sweeter green tea, he will cover the tea plant with a special type of netting called a kabuse. When the tea plant is exposed to sunlight, it will begin to convert the sweet and savory theanine into more bitter catechins.
In order to maintain a higher theanine content, the tea plant needs to be cut off from sunlight with these nets. The longer the plant is shaded, the sweeter it can become.
Brew with cooler water
Once you have your tea, you are going to want to make sure you are brewing it properly. A lot of people that think green tea is bitter are actually just brewing it too hot! Luckily for people who like sweet teas, the bitter components of the green tea (the catechins) are harder to extract. What you want to do is use lower temperature water to extract less of these bitter components.
How can I tell what temperature to use?
To brew a warm Gyokuro, we recommend you use 60 degrees Celsius or 140 degrees Fahrenheit water. This will produce a tea with less bitterness. For a tea like sencha, you can go up to 160 degrees fahrenheit and for tougher teas like hojicha, genmaicha, bancha and even kukicha you can go up to 175 degrees Fahrenheit. After preparing these teas at lower temperatures, you may soon consider whether or not you believe green tea is bitter.
If you really want to extract less bitterness from the leaves, you can cold brew the tea. This method is used by some tea drinkers to create sweeter and smoother teas.
Just add in 5 grams of tea leaves to the bottom of a pitcher, pour in some cool or room temperature water and let the tea sit for a few hours.
After the time is up, you can then pour the pitcher out into a glass and then enjoy a nice cool refreshing cup of sweeter green tea.
Brew for a shorter time
In addition to brewing at a lower temperature, you also want to make sure you don’t brew the tea for too long. While this may not apply as much when you are cold brewing, even 60 degrees Celsius is enough to extract the bitterness if left for a few minutes too long. As a result, many people that brew tea too long will think that all green tea is bitter.
How long should I brew my tea?
We recommend brewing for 2 minutes for Gyokuro and 1 minute when it comes to other types of Japanese green tea like sencha. The reason Gyokuro a little bit more time to brew is because it is more tightly rolled. In order for the leaves to open up and release their flavor into the water, it needs the extra minute. There are also less catechins in the Gyokuro because of the long shading process, so there is less bitterness to extract.
Use loose leaf tea and not tea bags
Unfortunately, most people that think green tea is bitter are drinking out of teabags. Teabags tend to contain much lower quality leaves when compared to loose leaf tea.
Teabags are made with the casual tea drinker in mind, and for this reason they are mass produced using the cheapest tea leaves. Teabags are often made from the leftover leaves from the tea production process.
They can be made from later harvests which contain less nutrients or they can be made from older leaves, stems or other plant material. The flavor of loose leaf tea couldn’t be further from teabags, with the teabags having a flat and bitter flavor and loose leaf green tea having a sweet and complex assortment of flavor profiles.
You're using too much or too little tea
If you’re using too much tea, this could also be a reason why you think green tea is bitter. There is a very precise ratio of tea leaves to water you can use to get the best cup of tea. In the case of Japanese green tea, it’s best to use 5 grams of leaves and 150ml of water. This will make sure that you get a complex array of flavor profiles, without being overwhelmed by the flavor.
Use a precise scale
While it’s best to use a scale to measure out your tea leaves, we understand this may be too much to ask for most tea drinkers. Instead what you can do is use a tablespoon. One heaping tablespoon of leaves should work for most types of Japanese green tea. After using the tablespoon measure for a few times, you should have tea right idea and you can just “eyeball it” from here on out.
Sweeten your tea the right way
Make sure that if you are going to sweeten your green tea, make sure you do it the right way. In Japan, it is almost unheard of to add sugar to green tea. The taste of the green tea is everything, and if you’re not able to fully experience it in its pure form you are really missing out.
When you add sweetener to tea, it’s almost like you are looking at it with blinders on.The subtle sweetness that takes so much work to create is completely lost. The pleasant bitterness that many tea drinkers enjoy is almost completely unrecognizable. There is something special about experiencing the drink just as the farmer intended that brings a deeper connection between the tea drinker and the field the tea was produced on. If you must sweeten your tea, we recommend you actually eat a sweet or “wagashi” alongside it. This will help to smooth out the bitterness, but you will still be able to enjoy the unadulterated flavor of each treat individually.
Most people believe Green Tea is bitter... And they're wrong: you can make it better
Not all green tea is bitter, but it is easy to see how people think that given the most popular types of green teas come in bags. If you really want to experience smooth, sweet and complex green teas, you will have to go for premium loose leaf tea. It may seem intimidating at first, but it is easy to find these teas online. Once you have the tea, you just need to follow a few basic steps to prepare it the proper way. We are here to help you with both of these. With free worldwide shipping and daily tea education videos on youtube, tiktok and instagram, we like to think that we are making great tea more accessible to people all around the world. We would absolutely love to be a part of your tea journey!
Final words on the fact that Green Tea is bitter
A quote often brought up is that it is possible to turn good leaves into bad tea but it is impossible to turn bad leaves into good tea. This is a good reminder when it comes to not only the selection of the tea, but also the preparation of it. If you think green tea is bitter, it is possible you choose the wrong one or you are brewing it the wrong way (or some combination of both). Don’t miss out on the wonderful world of tea just because of a few bad experiences!
If you are looking to try some good loose leaf tea, we have tons of options for you. Over the past few years, we have traveled all around Japan meeting with dozens of different farmers and sampling hundreds of different teas. We have selected 30 of our favorites to share with everyone in a collection of teas we called the mega sampler. In this sampler, you’ll get to try 30 different kinds of ceremonial matcha, sencha, gyokuro, hojicha, genmaicha, bancha, kukicha and kamairicha all in one place. Try them out and let us know which ones you like most!