Sunday, 8 May 2011

why does green tea taste like dirt?

Green courtyard to go with the green tea

One of my intentions is to write this blog not just for those initiated to tea, but for people curious about tea, as well. Maybe they've had teabags and don't really get what all the fuss is about. Or they only drink tea when they're ill. Or they bought a box of teabags three years ago and periodically pull it out to brew a dusty old bag. With terrible results.

So, a good acquaintance on twitter (look how far we've come with all of this) complained about green tea today, and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to give a few simple tips for brewing this stuff.

First of all, here's @CherylAnneNY and if you roll back through her tweets, you'll see that she's less than impressed with the green leaf.

I'm sure we could find a really pedantic site that explains brewing green tea in a really intricate and obsessive way. We're going to avoid that route entirely. I found a clearly written, short article about it (How to brew green tea), but I can already here you kvetching about each of the little things mentioned.

Here is a direct quote of the four main points:

1. Use loose tea

2. Heat fresh cold water to 165-170 degrees F in a non-reactive teakettle.

3. Let the tea expand while steeping

4. To adjust the taste, change the amount of tea, not the brew time

'Loose tea?', you ask. Is that really necessary? You want as little mess as possible. I know where you're coming from, but it really makes a huge difference. Quality and temperature of water are also crucial, but if you're using tea of questionable quality, then you'll get tea of the same questionable quality.

We want to keep this simple. Although filtered water is best, the most important thing, in my experience, is how hot the water is. For a long time, I let the water boil and added cold water to it. I've since learned that the water's properties change when you let it get to a rolling boil.

If you don't have a thermometer to check that the water isn't hotter than 170°F, then simply let it almost boil. I know that's not at all scientific and there are tea obsessives out there who'll insist that this is leading you down the wrong path. We're going to ignore them for the time being.

We just want to make it more comfortable for you in here with us tea drinkers. Once you taste how much better the tea is brewed with cooler water, you're more likely to ease in a bit deeper and start juggling thermometers and the teapots that're more ideal for green tea.

Until then, play with it. Use more leaves or less. Brew it for shorter than you think you should. It doesn't matter if the water is such a light shade of green that it looks like yellow water. How it looks is far less important than how it tastes.

I'm going to end this post by begging for responses. Cheryl agreed to let me mention her here by name, and then she pleaded, 'Hopefully you will suggest brands that don't taste like dirt.' Help me out here my loyal readership. I don't know American tea brands very well at all. What should she start with? If she has to go with teabags to start out, what's a brand of teabag that's not that bad?

Come on people...jump in here and help us out.

'Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope.' -Princess Leia


  1. Sorry. Dirt is as dirt does.

  2. Erik Kennedy, who goes by @thetearooms on twitter, had this to say about my plea:

    'I'm virtually certain that Steven Smith Teamaker's (@Smithteamaker) teas are available at, e.g., Fairway. Geoffrey F. Norman (@lazy_literatus) swears by them.'

    Here's his website:

    Wish I'd known about this when I was in the US.

  3. Well.... I love green tea in all shapes, sizes, varieties - you name it. And I drink a lot of it. So, if you drink, oooh, say 12 cups of green tea a day, not every single cup can be brewed to prefection with loose leaves. (I couldn't get any work or anything else done if I did). So: I can thoroughly recommend this brand: PG Tips (oh yes it is!) Pure Green Tea, Pyramid Teag Bags. It advertises as "hand picked" and "fresh crisp taste". The latter I can vouch for. It's an ideal stand-in for when you can't brew a delightful Gyokuro, say. Even in Britain, not all supermarket chains stock it (Waitrose, Sainsbury's don't, and only some Tesco's do) in Germany you can get it from some British expat shops, it doesn't retail in German shops at all) in the US, I haven't a clue I'm afraid. Still, try it if you can, it may not be "the best green tea" but it is perfectly nice and certainly doesn't "taste of dirt" :)

  4. Margit,

    Have only had PG Tips black tea blend, but I'm curious what the green tea blend is like. The black tea is nothing if not consistent.

    Thanks for the tip, as it were.

  5. I think this is good advice.

    I think one piece of advice I'd throw in the mix is to buy green tea from a company that knows green tea. In general, I've had better experience with companies that sell a larger selection of green teas (meaning pure, unflavored ones), than with companies that sell only a single generic green tea blend. Green tea does not have a long history of being part of the tea culture in the U.S., U.K., or other western countries. In these regions, it largely took off as a health fad, so the companies that carry the highest-quality green teas tend to be a little outside the mainstream.

    Along this theme, if you're going to buy green tea from a tea bag, some supermarkets carry Japanese brands, such as Yamamotoyama, which I think do a better job of the Japanese green teas than any of the brands (such as Twinings) that focus on British tea culture. I've found it's harder to find decent Chinese green tea in tea bags, outside of Asian stores. The best bang-for-your-buck in that arena, in my opinion, is Foojoy, which is dirt cheap but...hopefully does not taste like dirt. =)


  6. I like your suggestions they are really helpful. Thank you so much for sharing this post.

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