Chinese green tea vs. Japanese green tea

Chinese green tea vs. Japanese green tea

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Is Chinese green tea the same as Japanese green tea? This is probably the question you are asking yourself when you are at the store looking at the wide variety of green teas available.

Well, if you are at the store, it’s not really a tough choice. All of the tea on the shelf most likely comes from China. Authentic Japanese green tea is more expensive and usually sold in specialty shops or online.

Why? China produces over 80% of the world’s green tea and is the top exporter. They hold 78% of the export market.

In comparison, Japan produces 7% of the world’s green tea and contributes less than 1% to the export market. Actually, Vietnam and Indonesia export more green tea than Japan.

Which tastes better?

I had the opportunity to live in China a few years ago, so I was able to visit tea farms and taste different kinds of teas. I lived in Hangzhou, which is famous for the Longjing (in Chinese) or Dragon well (in English) tea.

Dragon well tea is mild with a slightly sweet aroma. The color is much lighter than Japanese tea. Chinese green tea has a pale yellow hue rather than a rich green color.

When Japanese tea leaves are picked, they are immediately steamed to stop the oxidation process. Chinese tea looks and tastes different because the leaves are pan-fried after they are picked. This method also stops the oxidation process, but slightly ferments the leaves.

Does Japanese tea have more antioxidants?

I don’t think so.

I found some websites claiming that Japanese green tea has more antioxidants than Chinese green tea, but I haven’t been able to find any research to back up this claim.

Now, if we are talking about matcha, that’s a different story. But that is like comparing apples and oranges. Matcha is a whole different category of green tea. And yes, it does have more antioxidants than regular brewed green tea, from China or Japan.

When you brew tea, you don’t get 100% of the antioxidants because you are not consuming the whole tea leaf. You are only drinking the water (tea). Matcha is a powder made from ground tea leaves, so when you drink matcha you get 100% of the tea leaves’ beneficial properties.

Should I be worried about lead?

Yes and no.

A study in 2006 found Chinese tea leaves to have high concentrations of lead. 32% of the leaves sampled exceeded the limit of 2 micrograms of lead per serving. The Japanese tea leaves did not have any tea leaves that exceeded the limit.

Green tea plants absorb lead from the environment at higher rates than other plants. If you’ve been to China, you’ve seen the pollution. Industrial pollution and car exhaust have a serious effect on the soil and air.

Chinese Green Tea: Hazy day in Shanghai, ChinaHazy day in Shanghai, China

It is not even recommended to buy organic because the tea leaves absorb lead from everything in the environment.

Reports by Consumer Labs say the high amounts of lead are not dangerous if you use a filter to brew your green tea, such as a tea bag or a K-cup.

The process of decaffeination also removes lead. So, if you’re worried about your Chinese green tea, make sure you use a paper filter or buy a decaffeinated brand.

Know the origin of your matcha

With the growing popularity of matcha, Chinese tea producers have started to sell Chinese matcha.

This could have serious consequences since the lead content in Chinese tea leaves is so high and you are consuming the unfiltered leaf. If you are buying matcha from China, be sure to ask about lead content.

Sources

Han, W., Zhao, F., Shi, Y., Ma, L., & Ruan, J. (2006). Scale and causes of lead contamination in Chinese tea. Environmental Pollution, 139(1), 125-132.

Intergovernmental Group on Tea, UN Food and Agriculture Organization. (2012). Current situation and medium-term outlook for tea (p. 16).

Becki
Becki Benedict has a Master’s degree in International Studies and has traveled extensively throughout Asia. She has lived and worked in Japan, China, and Thailand.

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