Tea Primer Part 2 : Green, White and Herbal Teas

In Part 1 of Tea Primer, I discussed black and oolong teas, which are both well known for their typically robust, rich flavors. In comparison, green and white teas, the topic of today’s post, shed all suggestions of darkness, showcasing lightness and freshness. The reason for this marked difference is that black and oolong tea leaves are given a chance to oxidize (basically, to wilt and turn brown) during processing, whereas green and white teas are not. As a result, while black and oolong teas are the equivalent to earthy vetiver and patchouli in perfumery, green and white teas call to mind the vibrancy of violet leaf and citrus. The difference is very marked, which is part of the reason why it never ceases to amaze me that so many diverse teas can come from the same Camellia sinensis plant.

Part 1 : Black and Oolong Teas

Part 3 : Tea Brewing Basics

Part 4 : How to Brew a Perfect Cup of Tea

Part 5 : A Guide to Buying Quality Tea

Green Tea

Though green teas have gained popularity in the West only in recent decades, both the Chinese and Japanese have been producing these teas for thousands of years. With such a long history, today’s methods for producing green tea are, understandably, highly variable, differing from region to region. It is most common for the freshly picked tea leaves to be quickly steamed (so as to allow no time to wither or oxidize) and then rolled or pressed in a hot pan before being dried.  Because the leaves are not given any time to wilt or oxidize before steaming, green tea leaves retain their green color, as well as many of their antioxidants.

Most noteworthy green teas come from China or Japan, but high quality green teas are also produced in Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia. More recently, green tea has also been produced in tea-producing regions of India and Sri Lanka as well. Chinese green teas tend to be more variable than Japanese green teas in flavor and available varieties, as production methods, harvesting time, and climate tends to vary more from region to region in China than in Japan. Thus, Chinese green teas vary in flavor from very fresh and mild to earthy and toasty, while most Japanese green teas have the vegetal, grassy notes typical of traditional Japanese Sencha or Gyokuro.

Perfumers have been inspired by green teas in fragrances  like Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé VertL’Artisan Thé pour un Été, Mäurer & Wirtz 4711 Acqua Colonia Lemon & Ginger, Elizabeth Arden Green Tea, Lancôme AromaTonic, and finally, Calvin Klein CkOne and Tommy Girl. The green tea effects are produced by a combination of notes, which often include sheer jasmine (hedione) and woody violet (ionones).

Some of my favorite green teas: Gyokuro, Sencha, Hojicha, Matcha, and Genmaicha from Aiya, Art of Tea Lotus Green and White Tip Jasmine.

White Tea

White teas are the most minimally processed of all teas. Typically grown and produced in China’s Fujian province, white teas are made by plucking the new leaf buds on the tea plant when they first emerge in spring. After plucking, the buds are allowed to wither a few days in the sun before being dried. Though this process is much simpler than for other types of tea, it is tricky; the new spring leaf buds last only a few days on the plants before unfurling into regular leaves (which are unusable for white tea), and much care must be taken through the entire process to ensure that the plucked tea buds are never blemished, broken, or exposed to extremes of heat or humidity.  As a result, white teas are some of the finest available, with a delicate, beguiling flavor and high antioxidant content.

White teas are traditionally served plain, in order to fully appreciate the gentle flavors. Some white teas are gently scented with jasmine, but nonetheless it is uncommon for a traditional white tea to be flavored. Silver Needle, also known as Baihao Yinzhen, is the quintessential white tea, serving as a good starting point and a standard of comparison against other white teas. For more information about selecting and tasting white tea, see my recent article, White Teas : Perfume in Your Cup.

Herbal Tea

Of course, no discussion of tea would be complete without mentioning herbal teas. It is important to note, however, that unlike the teas mentioned above, herbal teas are not made from Camellia sinensis leaves. Herbal teas are created from the flowers, leaves, stems, and roots of various plants. Rooibos, also known as honey bush or “red tea” is created from the leaves of a South African shrub and has been increasing in popularity as an herbal tea. Many newer herbal blends are rooibos based, with other herbs added to form the main flavor. You can even try dabbing rooibos on your wrist–Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Rouge was inspired by the lush woody sweetness of red tea.

In the next installment, I’ll discuss selecting and brewing all of these types of tea. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what are your favorite green teas to drink and whether you have any favorite green tea perfumes?

Tea shopping links: Art of Tea, Aiya.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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55 Comments

  • Matt: When tasting teas, I am always amazed, as you are, about how many different tastes and smells one simple bush, of one single species can give. Maple, soil, seaweed, flowers, nuts, tropical fruit… WOW

    My favorite green teas are the vegetal-grassy Japanese. Sencha and Kabusecha (with it’s special aroma produced by the screening of the sun before their harvest) in particular.

    I like those posts about tea :)

    Matt December 5, 2012 at 7:24am Reply

    • Andy: In the springtime, I always gravitate towards the kinds of grassy green teas you’ve mentioned. The flavor seems to match the smells and sights outside—fresh, green, and crisp. Even this time of year, though, Kukicha and Sencha are so refreshing, they always help lift me out of a dreary mood. December 5, 2012 at 8:18am Reply

  • Debbie: I drink many cups of tea per day and just recently had to give up the black tea for green and white. It’s been difficult; it seems that too many greens taste vegetal to me, and I don’t like that. However, I discovered that brewing can make a large difference. Sometimes one minute is the difference between a nice cuppa and trash. My favorite greens are (anything) jasmine and Pi Lo Chun (from Adagio or Harneys…can’t recall). What I love are sweetish, perfumey cups of tea. No lawn clippings, please. December 5, 2012 at 9:19am Reply

    • Andy: I agree, proper brewing makes a huge difference! Whenever I get a new tea, I usually have to prepare it once or twice until I’ve determined the perfect amount of time for it to brew. And if you don’t like that grassy flavor that you find in a lot of green teas, I recommend you try Hojicha, which is a roasted Japanese green tea. The roasting process browns the leaves, and gives them a very toasty aroma. The brew tastes more like a very mild black tea than a green tea, and contains less caffeine than standard green tea. No grass clippings there! And some green teas, like gunpowder green tea, tend to be a little stronger in flavor and lack a lot of the “green” flavors you’ll find in more delicate green teas. December 5, 2012 at 5:02pm Reply

      • Debbie: Thanks, Andy! I’ve jotted down both of them and will definitely sample. December 6, 2012 at 8:15am Reply

  • Barbara: I had a hard time with green tea because it tasted too bitter. After reading your article about white teas, I bought a couple of your recommendations and loved them. I just placed an order for Art of Tea’s Lotus Green and White Tip Jasmine. Can’t wait to taste them. December 5, 2012 at 9:45am Reply

    • Andy: I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the lotus green or white tip jasmine! The lotus green tea has such a haunting aroma from the lotus flowers they use to scent the tea. It smells spicy, sweet, and floral, almost a little like anise. And the white tip jasmine is just a really nice jasmine scented green tea, heady but refreshing. December 5, 2012 at 5:08pm Reply

    • L.: Hi Barbara – green tea can go from sweet and vegetal to bitter very easily if brewed too long or if the water’s too hot – try shorter brew times and cooler temp, don’t give up on green yet! Also, some greens can even be steeped in the fridge overnight where the tea is extracted in the cool water. December 5, 2012 at 10:18pm Reply

  • Euphrosyne: After wine, tea is my favorite thing to drink. My first cuppa is always an Earl Grey (Twinnings or Stash usually – I am always hunting for the perfect Earl Grey but go back to these stand-bys), but the for the rest of the day, I switch to green or oolong. My two current preferred teas are both from Le Palais Des Thes – their The du Hamman (green tea flavored with orange blossom, rose and red fruit) and Fleur de Geisha (green tea with a cherry blossom flavor). Jasmine (either green or oolong – again always looking for the perfect one) is another standby, which makes sense given my love for perfume. December 5, 2012 at 9:59am Reply

    • Barbara: I want to try The du Hamman and Fleur de Geisha. I think that I would like something floral with my green tea. December 5, 2012 at 10:19am Reply

      • Euphrosyne: I think you are on the right track, Barbara. I had a hard time getting into green tea myself (originally only enjoyed it with sushi or other Asian meals) and found a high quality flavored green tea a good introduction and enhanced my appreciation for non-flavored green teas. December 5, 2012 at 6:19pm Reply

    • Andy: A love for tea and perfume is so natural, I am beginning to find so many connections between the two! I really want to try some of these flavored blends from Le Palais de Thés, because you and so many others are smitten. I am not typically into flavored teas, but your descriptions make them sound delicious! Any other Le Palais de Thés teas you can recommend? I really haven’t explored this brand as much as I’d like to. December 5, 2012 at 5:17pm Reply

      • Euphrosyne: Unfortunately, my local distributor has stopped carrying Le Palais teas, so I have not been able to explore the line further. I am considering ordering online, as there are still teas in the line I want to try. December 5, 2012 at 6:15pm Reply

        • Andy: My local shop doesn’t carry them either, so I’ve been eying up a discovery set on their website of several of their flavored teas. I think I’m going to have to splurge on it sometime soon! December 5, 2012 at 7:08pm Reply

          • Austenfan: I like their Thé des Moines which is a perfumed tea. It’s a mixture of black and green tea that is perfumed with secret ingredients. It works wonderfully well as iced tea.
            I also like their Wu Long 7 agrumes, Wu Long Fleurs d’Orange, Thé des Lords and Blue of Londen. I suspect I may like the perfumed teas of MF a little better though. December 6, 2012 at 1:41pm Reply

            • Andy: Austenfan, thank you for the recommendations! I will keep them in mind when I order! December 7, 2012 at 4:33pm Reply

    • Debbie: They have an incredible sampler of their scented teas available for the holidays. I must try these at some point. ! December 6, 2012 at 8:16am Reply

  • Margo: I’m really enjoying these posts about teas, thank you.
    I love tea – I drink a lot of Rooibos, which is so bright and refreshing. I like Sencha green tea and various oolongs and jasmine.
    Sometimes, though one simply needs a good, strong ‘builder’s tea’ – with a biccie! December 5, 2012 at 11:24am Reply

    • Andy: Glad you’re enjoying these posts, Margo. I was drinking some Rooibos earlier and realized that I need to drink it more often, it is really tasty! Sencha is also one of my favorites–on a dreary morning, it wakes me right up, with that bright green, grassy flavor! December 5, 2012 at 6:05pm Reply

  • Cynthia: What a great primer, Andy! I’m a coffee drinker and I have never even drank any white tea, but this post inspires me to give tea another try. December 5, 2012 at 12:37pm Reply

    • Andy: Definitely try white tea! It is delicate and understated, very different from coffee, but is delicious nonetheless. A lot of sources say that Pu-erh tea (which tends to be especially dark, earthy, and rich) is a “coffee drinker’s tea,” but there really is no reason not to try other types. I even know some coffee drinkers who like lighter teas like white tea but didn’t like Pu-erh when I had them try it, so I find this classification of Pu-erh to be very misleading. December 5, 2012 at 6:13pm Reply

  • Daisy: What a wonderful series! Each post really makes me think more and be more aware of the tea in my cup. I guess that I knew, but didn’t really consider how labor intensive gathering tea leaves and buds was until this. It really makes you appreciate it more! December 5, 2012 at 12:54pm Reply

    • Andy: I feel the same way. Until I started writing these posts, I hadn’t fully considered all the labor that went into making the tea in my cup either. When I find a tea that I really like, it makes me want to thank all of the people who worked to grow, harvest, and process the tea, for bringing me so much enjoyment. December 5, 2012 at 6:18pm Reply

  • Andrea: I like Chinese Ti Kuan Yin (Iron Kannon) teas and am lusting after having a chance to brew the leaves with water from Chrysanthemum well, which is the mineral water from that exact region.
    It is not only the water temperature but also the kind of water you use for brewing that makes a huge difference in taste. Try it. Also I learned that you should not overboil the water (kill it) or reboil water again (dead).
    The most fabulous green teas I ever tried were Japanese spring teas fresh from this year’s crop. They have an incredible neon green color which is delightful in itself. Spring in a cup. December 5, 2012 at 1:35pm Reply

    • Andy: Your dream sounds similar to mine, to try Dragonwell green tea prepared with water from Tiger Run Creek, which is near to the plantations that produce this tea. I read a book in which the author described this very experience, and it sounded heavenly. I didn’t know that Ti Kuan Yin had a special water with which it is best brewed, so thank you for bringing that to my attention.

      And water quality definitely makes a difference, in my experience also. When I first started out drinking tea, I used plain tap water, but once I started using better (bottled or filtered) water, the experience really improved for me too. Your comments on the Japanese green tea make me want to try the tea from next year’s spring crop, once it comes out, as I’m not sure I’ve ever tried any green tea that was quite as fresh as that! I would love to know where you were able to find this very fresh, high quality green tea, it sounds phenomenal! December 5, 2012 at 6:27pm Reply

      • Andrea: Andy,
        yes! I remember! I read about this, too.
        Spring tea: that was in Japan. It was so easy to get. Any Mom and Pop shop stocked it at the right time of the year.
        One of the best tea selections in Europe would be http://www.teehaus.com Cologne, Germany.
        Have not been able to find really really good stuff here in California yet. December 5, 2012 at 8:31pm Reply

        • Andrea: PS:
          You’ll be wanting to look for anything ‘Shincha’! December 5, 2012 at 8:34pm Reply

          • Andy: Thank you so much for the recommendation! I don’t know how the quality compares to the Sencha you’ve experienced, but I’ve been very impressed with the Japanese green teas offered by Aiya. Their signature product is Matcha, but they also sell a small line of high quality varieties of loose leaf Japanese green teas. They are a company that seems very dedicated to transparency, to ensure that customers really trust that they are getting a handmade, high quality product. December 5, 2012 at 10:01pm Reply

  • smellslikeroses: I love these series, and I can’t wait to read more. My favorite green tea perfume is L’Occitane The Vert Jasmin. December 5, 2012 at 2:57pm Reply

    • Andy: Glad you’ve been enjoying the series! That L’Occitane fragrance sounds like something I’d really love, and I’ve never heard it mentioned before. Does it smell a lot like real jasmine green tea? December 5, 2012 at 6:30pm Reply

  • Rachel: I’ve read that you remove some caffeine from tea if you pour hot water over it and then discard it. Is it true? I try to avoid too much caffeine, and I’m interested to know more about this technique. December 5, 2012 at 4:10pm Reply

    • Andy: Yes, this technique can be used to remove a lot of the caffeine from your favorite tea, because during the first 30 seconds to 1 minute of brewing, most of what infuses into the water from the leaves is caffeine and the components that give the tea its color. In other words, this technique should remove some caffeine but should not affect the overall flavor of the tea too drastically. Though I haven’t tried this myself, I would recommend letting the tea sit in the water for about 30 seconds before discarding and adding more hot water to re-brew for the proper amount of time. And white teas and herbal teas are great if you are trying to avoid caffeine, because they generally contain very little to none (with the exception of teas made with the Mate herb from South America, which contains a lot of caffeine!). December 5, 2012 at 6:41pm Reply

  • Merete: Thank you, Andy, for an inspiring article.
    I have enjoyed green and white teas for many years, but I can”t pick one favourite. I certainly enjoy Silver Needles as well as Darjeeling Silver Tip, Yinfeng, Gyukuro, Yunnan White Wings, Jasmin Jade Pearls, Pai Mu Tan (sometimes with ginger and lemon) and many more.
    Sometimes I also like a mixted tea, such as Kusmi Tea’s Imperial Label (especially in the evening). That seems to be a tea, that also non-tea drinkers like. December 5, 2012 at 4:18pm Reply

    • Merete: Sorry, I think I somehow misplaced my comment as it should have been under Tea Primer Part 2, I guess. December 5, 2012 at 4:18pm Reply

      • Merete: Oh, and now it is the right place. Thank you.. December 5, 2012 at 4:26pm Reply

        • Victoria: No worries, Merete! I’ve moved it. December 5, 2012 at 4:27pm Reply

          • Merete: :-) thank you, Victoria December 5, 2012 at 4:41pm Reply

    • Andy: I can’t really pick a favorite either! As I was writing down personal favorites for this post, I had a lot of trouble, because I rarely come across a tea I truly detest. And I love that idea of adding a bit of ginger and lemon to Pai Mu Tan. I’ll have to try that, since I have some Pai Mu Tan on hand right now. It’s also very useful to have a good non-tea drinker kind of tea on hand, because I am always trying to convert visitors with a cup! Right now, my go to non-tea drinker tea has been a nice Keemun black tea that is satisfying but not too astringent or bitter, which seems to suit most. December 5, 2012 at 6:47pm Reply

  • Austenfan: I enjoy my blacks and oolongs strait but prefer my green teas flavoured. I love high quality jasmin tea and have a soft spot for rose flavoured tea as well. A “green” tea I enjoy straight is Hojicha, but as it is roasted it doesn’t have a real green tea taste. I am not overly familiar with white tea but your wonderful post has inspired me to try it a bit more. I should also venture a bit more in trying the other Japanese green teas. December 5, 2012 at 4:54pm Reply

    • Andy: Austenfan, it seems like we both gravitate to a lot of similar habits with our tea choices and tea-drinking! When I do drink a flavored tea, it is usually green tea, and I especially love rose flavored Sencha. I am also a big fan of Hojicha, being that it is kind of an oddball among green teas. I like to drink it before bedtime a lot, as it doesn’t contain a lot of caffeine and has such a pleasant flavor. Generally, I like Japanese green teas a lot, they are definitely worth trying. December 5, 2012 at 6:59pm Reply

  • Joyti: I cannot find a scent that really captures tea for me. Perhaps because the style of tea I drink most often is asamushi-style sencha – very vegetal and marine but light – hard to capture the scent of, perhaps… December 5, 2012 at 6:55pm Reply

    • Andy: Joyti, I couldn’t agree more. I think it must have something to do with the fact that teas have light, yet complex scents. It seems like it might be technically difficult to compose a fragrance that wears like a light, delicate veil yet still captures the complexity of tea leaves. And I really like your description of Sencha as being “marine” because I too find there to be an element to Sencha that reminds me very strongly of seaweed and salty air. Especially if you steep Sencha for multiple brews, I find that, by the time I reach a third or fourth infusion, I have to stop, because the taste begins to remind me of fish! December 5, 2012 at 7:07pm Reply

  • Liz K: Not a huge green tea fan unless it has my little crunchy rice bits. Genmaicha has been the only green tea I drink regularly. I have no idea what brand I get but even when it gets old (huuuuge package and my husband won’t touch it), it keeps its flavor nicely. First tried it when I went to meet my wedding photographer and asked her what the interesting stuff she served was. She said “I have no idea. I am Korean and my husband is Chinese but we buy Japanese tea and I just know the package by sight. I’ll give you some to take home.” She gave me a photo of the package and a little baggie to take home with me and I decided anyone that nice should be hired on the spot. December 5, 2012 at 9:09pm Reply

    • Andy: What a great story, Liz! I think in that situation, I too would have known that photographer was the right one to choose. Not to mention that I would be immediately impressed by anyone who would serve me tea as a potential client. Serving tea is a social custom one rarely sees anymore, but one of the best ways to welcome a visitor and put them at ease, as far as I’m concerned December 5, 2012 at 11:14pm Reply

  • L.: Andy do you have a favorite Houjicha? I like that type of tea too, especially in the late afternoon since it’s so low in caffeine. Good flavor! December 5, 2012 at 10:20pm Reply

    • Andy: I haven’t tried more than one Hojicha at this point (I was first introduced to it earlier this year), but the one I have been drinking, from Aiya brand, is excellent. I also like to enjoy it in the late afternoon, or right before bedtime. December 5, 2012 at 11:17pm Reply

  • Katherine: Valuable post and very well written. thanks for sharing with us. December 6, 2012 at 1:03am Reply

    • Andy: Thanks Katherine! December 6, 2012 at 4:37am Reply

  • Nancy A: Andy, thanks for these informative reviews. A discovery of tea is in the offing for me! It’s always fun to explore & you never know I may turn over a new leaf (no pun intended) from coffee. December 6, 2012 at 2:19pm Reply

    • Andy: Definitely take some time to discover tea if you have a chance! It is well worth it! December 7, 2012 at 4:35pm Reply

  • Claire: I agree with you, Andy, that tea never ceases to amaze me that so many flavors and fragrances can come from the leaves of the same plant! I love a variety of green teas, but my favorite is sencha. For white tea, I enjoy Silver Needle on its own, but if I were to serve it with some small food, I enjoy Bai Mudan since it has more body than the Silver Needle. December 7, 2012 at 1:51am Reply

    • Andy: I love all of these same teas you mention. And that is a good point, Bai Mudan does have more body than Silver Needle—what a perfect description! December 7, 2012 at 4:38pm Reply

  • mucuna: I just bought the new white tea called White Desire from TWG tea. The tea leaves are the silver needles with fur and the aroma is a mix of equatorial custard apple and star fruit. The liquid is light lemon yellow and tastes wonderful. January 13, 2013 at 12:23am Reply

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