Green tea has been in existence for centuries and it has several health benefits. Green tea is made from a plant called Camellia Sinensis, the same plant that gives us black teas, oolong teas, and Pu-erh tea, which also gives us green tea. If they all come from the same plant, why are some teas not bitter and why is green tea bitter from time to time?
What makes all of these teas different from one another is how the leaves from the plant are treated. Green tea is produced from these leaves because compared to the other teas, the tea leaves are exposed to very little oxidation—the process that occurs when the enzymes in a plant are exposed to oxygen in the air. The less oxidation that can occur, the greener the leaves will remain, and the lower levels of caffeine and tannins they have than other types of tea.
Caffeine and phenolic compounds like tannins give all teas a bitter taste. Green tea and white tea should not have much tannin content compared to black tea. They should be the least bitter of all teas. In fact, green tea of high quality should not taste bitter at all if brewed correctly.
So why is green tea bitter? Though drinking one cup of bitter green tea may be harmless and nothing to worry about, if your green tea tastes bitter, there are a number of reasons. We will explore them below.
Types of Green Tea
It originated in China and is later produced and manufactured in other East Asian countries. Since then, the world saw two major types of green teas, Chinese green teas, and Japanese green teas. It was not until the 1970s that green tea was also commercially produced in South Korea.
Compared with Japanese green teas, Chinese green teas are more delicate and mellow. Japanese tea tastes strong and slightly astringent, while Chinese green tea is transparent and elegant. Both have their own flavor characteristics due to the difference in how the tea leaves are processed.
Chinese green tea is produced by having the tea leaves pan-fired in a dry wok. Other processes employed in China today include oven-firing, basket-firing, tumble-drying, and sun-drying.
Unlike Chinese teas, most Japanese teas are produced by steaming rather than pan-firing. This produces their characteristic colour, and creates a sweeter, more grassy flavour https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_tea.
If green tea leaves are harvested too late in the year, this may lead to green tea of low quality. As spring turns into summer, the chlorophyll levels drop in the leaves, and the enzymes that make bitter compounds increase. This can produce a very bitter unimpressive cup of tea.
Ichibancha, which is the spring harvest season, produces the most prized teas in Japanese tea production, including Gyokuro and the higher grades of Sencha and Matcha.
Ichibancha is also when shincha is harvested. Shincha comes from the beginning of the first harvest of the year. It has a limited production window, which is one of the reasons why it’s one of the more expensive Japanese teas on the market https://www.sugimotousa.com/blog/what-are-the-harvest-seasons-of-japanese-teas-and-how-do-they-affect-quality.
April is one of the most productive times for most tea farms across China. Some of the most premium Chinese green teas are harvested in early April.
Blend and Variety
Not all green tea is the same. Different types of green teas can bring about different tastes. For instance, in the case of Japanese green tea, the premium green tea or gyokuro tends to taste sweeter than hojicha because gyokuro has higher levels of amino acids that contribute to the sweet taste of this particular variety of green tea https://www.umamiinfo.com/richfood/foodstuff/greentea.html.
Not all green tea come from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant. For example, a Japanese green tea, the Kukicha green tea comes from the twigs and stems from the tea plant. If brewed correctly, Kukicha will give off a mild nutty and slightly sweet creamy flavor. It has very little bitterness because the stems and twigs of the tea plant has less complex catechins which are compounds responsible for the bitter taste of tea.
Quality of Tea Leaf
The quality of green tea affects its flavor profile. When the tea leaf is first plucked, the tea begins to undergo natural fermentation. This fermentation process can be stopped by heating the leaves quickly. This is a step in the green tea manufacturing process known as “kill-green”. If a producer accidentally over-ferments the leaf, then this could be why green tea is bitter.
During the tea manufacturing process, if the withering and tossing of tea leaves are poorly controlled, the water concentration at the cellular level may be high, which leads to tea leaves with a higher anthocyanin content, causing astringency https://thechineseteashop.com/blogs/notes/why-tea-tastes-bitter-how-to-get-rid-of-it-part-2.
Water source is an important thing to pay attention to, as it can affect the taste of green tea. The explanation of how this happens lies in the mineral content of the water.
Based on a study published by MDPI Publisher of Open Access Journals, tap water can be the best source of water, compared to bottled and deionized water. If you have to use tap water, avoid softened tap water for brewing green tea. In some places, tap water contains other compounds like chlorine, fluoride, or minerals like copper, calcium, magnesium, and sodium. These can react with the compounds in green tea, leading to less production of catechins which is the compound that contributes to the bitter taste in green tea. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6356489/.
On the other hand, distilled water which is a type of purified water has no mineral content. Due to its lack of minerals, distilled water can make your green tea bland and flat. Hence, distilled water is not a good water source for brewing green tea.
The best water source to brew green tea for the best flavors would be either tap water, filtered water, or spring water.
The temperature of the water should be between 150 – 160 degrees Fahrenheit (65 – 70 degrees Celsius) when steeping tea leaves, which may lower or higher depending on the type of green tea you are using (Japanese vs Chinese). The water to brew green tea should be of lower temperature than that used to brew black tea.
Green teas should be steeped in 180 degrees Fahrenheit water, black and oolong teas should be steeped in boiling water, and herbal teas should be steeped in 212 degrees Fahrenheit water. The common mistake of most tea drinkers is to brew green teas in higher temperatures like boiled water. This brings up the level of bitterness of green tea and makes it cloudy. Brewing it correctly gives you a clear liquid.
Cold brewing of green tea leads to less caffeine extraction from the tea leaves, resulting in lighter, less colored and higher sensory-rated tea infusions with less astringent and bitter taste https://ifst.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jfpp.12084.
The step-by-step guide on steeping times will ensure that you steep your green tea correctly. When you steep your green tea correctly, you can brew extremely rich and flavored cups of this healthy drink.
Can you oversteep tea? The steeping time recommended for green tea depends on the type you’re using. Quick-steeping green tea leaves can be steeped between 3 and 7 minutes, while other types of green tea leaves have a shorter steeping time, usually around 1 minute. The general idea is that the longer you steep your green tea leaves, the stronger it will become.
Assuming the temperature of your water is 180 degrees Fahrenheit, across all green teas in general, the best brewing time for green tea is between 2 to 3 minutes. Anything more than that can cause it to have a bitter flavor which can be unpleasant to taste.
The main reason for bitter tea could be steeping it too long in hot water.
Steeping technique affects the flavor of the tea. Two important techniques are to warm up the steeping container before brewing so that the tea doesn’t cool off right away, and to slowly add more hot water to the pot during consumption.
Good tasting green tea also depends if you are using loose tea or green tea bags. A fresh cup of delicious green tea is usually brewed from loose leaf tea. With the same steeping time, brewing from a teabag may bring out a more bitter flavor of the tea than brewing from loose leaves.
For green tea to stay fresh, last longer, and maintain the balance of a sweet and bitter taste, it has to be given proper storage. If the green tea was not stored properly or it is too old, such as being stored in a place with high heat or high humidity, this condition will cause more oxidation in the tea leaves. Over time, this condition eventually brings out a more bitter taste from this batch of brewed green tea.
It is best to store your teas in an airtight container, out of direct sunlight, and under room temperature conditions. Heat and light exposure can alter the flavor of the tea, hence you will want to keep the green tea leaves or tea powder in a cool dry place.
Bringing the Best Flavor Out of Your Green Tea
From our observations, as shown above, there are a few reasons why green tea is bitter. Most times, the use of the wrong water source, wrong steeping techniques, longer steeping time, and higher water temperature are the main reasons for making green tea bitter. This is regardless of the initial quality of the green tea leaf before the brewing stage. Otherwise, the taste of green tea should be like grass, nutty, slightly sweet, and not bitter.