Why is my green tea brown is a thing that people ask us quite often, and in this article, we’re going to tackle why that might be. You may see pictures and videos online of bright green teas, and you might be discouraged when you brew your own tea and notice this orange or brown color.
So why is my green tea brown?
First, it's important to say that the teas that are green in color are not necessarily higher quality than those that are yellow in color. There are plenty of great green teas that produce a golden yellow color like Kamairicha for example. Kamairicha is a roasted tea in a large hot pan, making it more similar to a Chinese green tea. Chinese green teas all tend to produce a yellowish color, and most Japanese green teas produce a yellow color as well, but quite a few have these beautiful jade green color, so what is happening here?
The answer comes down to the color of the leaf and how much leaf material ends up in the cup of tea. The extreme case of this can be found with High quality ceremonial matcha. Premium matcha is made from incredibly high quality leaves. They have been shaded for 3 weeks before the tea harvest, which increases the content of chlorophyll which makes the leaves greener. Then the leaves have their stems removed, before being ground into a fine green powder. Here, you have an incredibly green powder being mixed directly into water, so it’s no wonder that the tea turns out green. But why is a tea like fukamushi sencha green?
If you want to learn more about the different tea colors, we strongly advice you to read our article 👉 Your Guide to Tea Colors Explained by Experts. In this article, we're covering in details the 6 different tea types and their different color pallets.
Why is it called green tea
There are 6 different types of tea, and for the most part they are categorized by color. White tea, yellow tea, green tea, oolong tea, red tea and dark tea. All of these come from the same plant, camelia sinensis, but they get their unique colors and flavor from specific steps in the production process. Red tea, also known as black tea, is fully oxidized. When the leaves are picked, the enzyme oxidase will convert the catechins into theaflavins and thearubigans. This process is known as oxidation and it’s what changes these grassy or vegetable flavors into warmer notes of caramel and chocolate.
To make a green tea, heat must be applied to the leaves almost directly after the harvest, which deactivates the enzymes. This allows the tea to retain more of its fresher, citrusy characteristics and it’s green color. The name green tea is a reference to the green leaves, not the color of the liquid itself. Compared to the leaves of white tea, oolong tea, red tea and dark tea, the leaves of green tea are the most consistently green in color. Some oolong teas are green, but these are the ones that are the least oxidized.
But there are still green teas out there that have a bright green tea color so why is my green tea brown? We’ll cover that in the next section.
Chinese vs Japanese Green Teas
As we mentioned before, most Chinese green teas are pan-fired, and they tend to produce a yellow color. Japanese green teas actually go through a steaming process to deactivate the enzymes. When you steam a leaf for a few seconds, like spinach for example, it will actually become greener in color. The same thing happens with tea leaves as they are put through a short steam bath of between 40-80 seconds.
What makes Fukamushi sencha interesting is that it is actually steamed for a longer time, between 80-200 seconds. During this longer steaming process, the tea leaf gets broken down, allowing more of it to flow into the cup. You’ll notice that fukamushi sencha is more brittle, which means that you will find a larger amount of small leaf particles in the tea. Because these leaves have so much surface area, you only need 45 seconds to extract a lot of flavor, and of course a bright green color. The lesson here is that to create a super green tea, you need the leaves to be very green in color and you need more leaf particles into the final cup of tea.
Other types of Green Teas that are Green
There is another type of Japanese tea that makes a green color and it is called matcha iri sencha or just matcha iri. This is made with a combination of sencha tea leaves and matcha powder. The shizuku sencha is an example of this, and when you brew the tea for the first time, all of the matcha powder is released into the water to create a cloudy green infusion. The flavor is then balanced out by the sencha leaves, which give more sweetness to the tea. This was designed to cold brew green tea, producing a powerful, sweet and fruity flavor.
With regular sencha teas that do not go through the steaming process, you will see some begin to go into the green direction like the Nuruki Shincha, and the Henta Saemidori sencha, but they will still be more of a yellowish green, at least in the first brewing.
There is nothing wrong with yellow green teas, but a green tea should never be orange or brown, except if it has been roasted. These brown or orange teas are usually coming from incredibly low quality tea leaves, like those used in teabags or bottled tea. These tend to produce an extremely bitter and flat flavor, with none of the more complex tasting notes you get from premium teas.
It is possible to turn decent quality tea leaves into orange or brown tea if they are brewed or stored incorrectly. We’ll explain how in the next section.
If you brew a sencha tea too hot, it is possible for it to go more into the brown or orange direction. Not only will the color of the tea become more off putting, but the flavor will as well.
When you use hot water, you extract more of the catechins which are the components within tea that are responsible for those bitter flavors. Some bitterness or astringency can be nice in a tea, but it can quickly overpower the taste if you have too much. If you use a lower temperature water, you get to experience all aspects of the tea. The natural sweetness, the subtle bitterness, the slightly astringent finish and even more depending on the type of tea that you are drinking. Do you want to learn the 11 technics to sweeten you green tea properly? We advice you to read the article 👉 How to Sweeten Green Tea?
We recommend to brew at a temperature of between 60-70 degrees Celsius for Japanese green tea, which is between 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit. When it comes to hardier teas like hojicha, bancha and genmaicha, you can go up to 80 degrees celsius or 175 degrees fahrenheit.
Make sure you don’t throw your tea leaves out after just one brewing. When you brew your tea leaves multiple times, you’ll get a completely different flavor, but also a different color. The second brewing of teas like Fukamushi sencha are actually greener in color, and they can often have a more powerful flavor. You will not get as sweet of a tea with the second brewing, but you will notice more of these strong steamed vegetable notes.
Do you want to discover all the reasons behind the bitterness and unpleasant taste of your tea? And do you want to improve the quality of your tea brew after brew? Then, checkout our article 👉 Why Green Tea is Bitter & How to Reduce the Bitterness
In addition to the tea color being affected by how you brew the tea it can often be affected by how you store loose leaf tea. Green tea leaves are incredibly sensitive to light, heat and humidity, and you need to store them properly to prevent the tea from going brown.
Sunlight can destroy the color and flavor of a green tea quicker than you might think. If you leave a dish of bright green matcha out in the sun for just a short period of time, it will soon turn dull green, then yellow, then brown. This is why you should not store matcha in a glass jar, but rather a metal tin, to prevent the light from getting through.
If you’ve ever baked with matcha powder, you’ll know that the end product never turns out as green as you want it. This has to do with a few different factors, but one of them is the heat of the oven itself. An intense heat like this will quickly cause the color of the matcha to change. This is why tea producers will keep their tea in cold storage, and you may even want to keep your tea in the fridge or in the freezer.
Even if you store your green tea well, after a few years it will just begin to turn brown. The tea leaves will eventually oxidize, and turn brown in color. This is why it is important to not buy tea in too big of a quantity, and really try to finish what you have rather than saving it for some point in the future.
One exception to why is my green tea brown?
The one tea type that seems to defy a lot of these concepts is hojicha. It’s made from green tea leaves, it’s unoxidized and it’s steamed after harvest and yet it’s still brown. The reason for this has to do with the roasting process. Once the leaves are dried, they are put into a large pan or a rolling machine and turned over a high heat. This causes the color of the leaves to turn from green to brown and the flavor trades these fresh, steamed vegetable tasting notes for flavors of coffee and caramel. Instead of the yellow or green color you see with unroasted teas, hojicha takes on a reddish brown color. This is the one case where it’s not a problem to have a green tea that is brown, as the flavor of a good hojicha can be delicious, particularly during the colder months.
If your green tea is brown, and it is not a hojicha, it might be time to get some new tea.
Final thoughts on why is my green tea brown
We’ve explored a few different factors that make green tea brown, and I think it is important to do a quick review of the lessons we learned.
First, the shading process can produce greener teas because it forces the plant to produce more chlorophyll.
Also, matcha has the most extreme green color because it is a green powder that is mixed directly into water. Fukamushi sencha also has a green color because of the intense steaming process, and the fact that a lot of the smaller leaf particles are able to pass through the filter of the teapot and make it into the cup. Finally, it is important to store and brew your tea properly if you want to maintain the green tea taste and color.
Where to find good green teas
It doesn’t really matter what color your tea is, as long as you like the taste. We think it is important to try a lot of different teas so you really get an understanding of which flavors you prefer. That’s why we created our green tea samplers, which include some of the best teas we’ve found from all over Japan.
After traveling around Japan for the past few years, we’ve met with dozens of different farmers and sampled hundreds of different teas. We’ve compiled our 21 favorite matcha teas into different matcha samplers, and our 51 favorite green teas into a wide range of Japanese tea samplers. These teas come from different regions, different farmers and different tea plant varieties.