How to Make Green Tea (& why you should be drinking it)
Updated: Aug 16
You may not know it if you were born and raised in the US, but tea is the most popular beverage in the world (after water).
In the US, coffee is far and away the go-to hot drink of choice, but as an American who is an avid hot tea drinker, I’m on a mission to help those who are curious to learn how to make tea, the right way. Brewing tea is so unfamiliar to those raised the US that every month, thousands of Americans google how to make tea.
Well, I’m here to answer all your questions about how to brew and steep tea, why to give tea a chance, and how to make tea taste good. Let’s start with how to make green tea.
According to the Tea Association of the USA, green tea makes up only 15% of tea consumed in the US, with the leader by a long shot being black tea. That isn’t surprising when you consider that about 80% of tea drunk in the US is iced tea, for which black tea is the most popular brewing leaf.
Green tea can be an acquired taste. When I first started drinking tea several years ago, I really didn’t enjoy green tea. I found black, herbal, and rooibos teas more palatable, but as I’ve learned to love tea drinking, developed not only a taste but a craving for it, and learned how to properly brew tea, I’ve really come to appreciate and enjoy green tea, and you can, too.
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What is green tea?
Botanically, green, white, and black teas are all made from the same tea bush plant, Camellia sinensis. Tea is grown in over 30 countries, with Argentina, China, India, Indonesia, Kenya, and Japan being the top tea growers.
The difference between green tea and black tea is that green tea is dried before the tea leaves have time to ferment, which is why green tea leaves are still green. They also retain a more delicate flavor than fermented teas.
Green tea has been drunk for more than 5,000 years, with credible records from earlier than 2,000 BCE in China. It’s long been used medicinally in China and other Eastern traditions, and green tea drinking has been an important cultural practice for thousands of years.
How to make green tea
First, it’s important to know that it’s not difficult to make green tea. It really involves only three simple steps:
Warm water to the appropriate temperature
Steep the green tea leaves
Remove tea leaves, add sweetener if desired, and enjoy
However, in order to properly brew a great cup of green tea, you’ll need to know just a little bit more about each step.
Let’s expound on step one of how to make green tea:
Related: Check out my list of gifts for tea lovers to get ideas for yourself or another tea drinker in your life
1. Warm water to the appropriate temperature
When brewing green tea or any type of tea, it’s best to use freshly drawn water (as opposed to the water that’s been sitting in the kettle for ages getting heated and reheated). That’s because freshly drawn water has more oxygen than water that’s been heated and reheated, making your tea taste better.
Also, filtered water will get you the best tasting green tea. If you don’t have a water filter, you can use unfiltered water, but just know that the chemicals and flavors in your unfiltered water do affect the taste of your tea.
As for achieving the desired temperature, steeping tea at the wrong temperature is one of the most common mistakes people make when brewing tea, and it makes a huge difference in how the tea tastes!
What is the ideal temperature for making green tea? Here’s the most important rule of thumb:
Do NOT steep green tea in boiling water!
The ideal water temperature for steeping green tea is between 158-176 degrees Fahrenheit, or 68-80 degrees Celsius.
To those who are new to tea, this might seem arbitrary and unimportant. Why can’t you use boiling water for green tea? Seems a little finicky and detail-oriented, doesn’t it?
Well, there’s a good reason to not use boiling water for green tea. When you prepare green tea with boiling water, too many tannins are released from the tea leaves, making the tea taste bitter and overriding the natural flavors of the tea leaves. Have you ever tasted green tea and thought it tasted too bitter or astringent? This was probably because it wasn’t brewed at the proper temperature (or it was over-steeped, but we’ll get to that in the next step).
How do you know when your water has reached the right temperature for green tea?
There’s a variety of ways you can estimate when your water is at the proper temperature for green tea. Perhaps the most obvious is to use a thermometer. However, I think few people bother to do this, myself included.
If you are serious about your tea brewing, then I think getting a temperature-controlled kettle is definitely a worthwhile investment. It takes a lot of guesswork out of your tea brewing and can help you get a perfectly brewed cup without any hassle. I simply set my kettle to 80 degrees Celsius, and the kettle shuts off when it reaches that temperature. It couldn’t be any easier!
If you want to get really fancy, there are even some tea kettles that are labeled with the various tea types so you don’t have to remember the proper temperatures.
If you’re new to tea and not sure you want to invest in a new kettle, how do you check water temperature for tea without a thermometer? There’s a few ways. One way is to let the water come to a boil, then turn off the heat, remove the lid, and wait for 3-4 minutes for the water to cool.
You can also look for the first signs of steam. The water has reached the ideal temperature for green tea when the steam first starts to rise from the surface of the water. Remove it from the heat, wait for the steam to stop, then steep your green tea.
So, in summary, the best way to brew green tea is to use freshly drawn, filtered water heated to 68-80 degrees celsius.
Now let’s go over step two in more detail.
Related: Check out these companies that make delicious bookish tea inspired by various books and authors.
2. Steep the green tea leaves
Equally important as making sure you have fresh water that isn’t boiling is the second step in how to make green tea: steeping.
I cannot help but cringe when I see people drinking green tea with the tea bag still in the cup for 5, 10, or 15 minutes or never even taking it out of the mug. Whether you choose to use tea bags, tea pyramids, or loose leaf tea leaves (a post for another day), how long you steep your green tea will have a make-or-break level impact on how your tea tastes.
If you steep green tea for too long, it will end up tasting really bitter instead of mild and sweet, as it should taste.
How long to steep green tea
This is a bit of a trick question, because there are many varieties of green tea, and they have differing ideal steeping times. How long to steep a Chinese green tea variety and how long to steep an Indian green tea variety may differ.
However, unless you are a serious tea aficionado, you’re not going to be paying that close of attention to how long to steep your green tea, so let’s keep it easy:
A good rule of thumb is: do not steep green tea for longer than 3 minutes.
In general, green tea has a shorter steeping time than black tea, because the tea hasn’t been oxidized, remember? Green tea has had less processing, so it’s more delicate. That’s why we steep for shorter times at lower temperatures than black tea.
Here's my favorite style of steeper for loose leaf teas:
When in doubt, read the package. Some green teas do best when steeped for only 1 minute!
If you like your green tea with a stronger taste, don’t think that steeping it for longer will give you stronger tea; it will just give you astringent-tasting tea. To get a stronger green tea flavor, you have a couple of options:
You can experiment with different green tea varieties, as different varieties can have vastly different strengths and flavors.
Or, for stronger green tea, simply add more tea to your brew instead of extending the steeping time. If you use tea bags or pyramids, try adding two to your cup. If you’re brewing loose leaf, bump it up to two teaspoons, then maybe 2.5 if it still isn’t as strong as you like.
I repeat: steeping green tea for longer than three minutes won’t make the tea stronger; it just makes it bitter.
3. Remove tea leaves, add sweetener if desired, and enjoy
That’s right; it’s best to wait for your tea to finish steeping (set a timer if you need to!), THEN remove the tea and enjoy.
And I do mean enjoy! Part of the culture of tea is the ritual of preparing and drinking it; while you certainly can grab a cup of tea to go in the midst of a busy day, at least every once in a while, try to sit and do nothing else but drink your tea. Feel the warmth of the cup in your hands, really pay attention to the flavor of the tea as you drink it and the warming sensation that spreads throughout your body as you do so. Tea can be so much more than a beverage; it can be a welcome respite from the busy demands of life and a reminder to practice mindfulness.
Now, green tea: to sweeten or not to sweeten? Plenty of people, especially in the US, are so accustomed to sweetened beverages that the natural flavor of green tea just doesn’t taste good to them. I’ve encountered so many people who WANT to switch to tea from coffee, or want to simply add green tea into their routines, but they just don’t think it tastes good.
So, how do you make green tea taste good?
My first recommendation is always to make sure you’re brewing your green tea properly. Go back and reread steps one and two, and make sure you have brewed the best water at the right temperature and steeped your tea leaves appropriately.
My second recommendation is to look at what tea you are using. Not all tea is created or produced equally. Try switching up your brand or origin. For example, if all you’ve tried are Lipton tea bags or Celestial Seasonings, try getting a higher quality green tea. Experiment with Japanese varieties, Chinese, and beyond.
And finally, there’s the debate about sweetening green tea. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of nuance here.
When I first started drinking tea, I always sweetened it, no matter the variety. I would add a bit of honey, sugar, or stevia to my cup of tea. As I’ve become more accustomed to tea drinking over the years, my palate has changed, and I genuinely enjoy the natural flavors of tea without any sweetener. Indeed, adding any sweetener actually ruins a good cup of tea for me now, more often than not.
Adding sweetener can have a big impact on how your green tea tastes. Depending on what you add and how much, it has an impact not only on the healthfulness of the drink (why drink tea if you’re going to add as much sugar to it as a can of soda?) but also on the flavor.
My recommendation? When you first brew your green tea, go ahead and try the tea first before sweetening it. Take a mindful sip, take in the flavors. Then decide if you want to add sweetener, what kind, and how much.
Then, start small. Experiment with what sweetener complements the tea for you. My recommendations for sweeteners for green tea are:
Start small, because you can always add more. I think the least amount of sweetener that brings the green tea to a flavor you enjoy is where to start. Then, stay open. You may find yourself tapering off that amount over time.
Related: One of the best ways to learn to start enjoying tea is to visit a tea house where they do the work for you. My recommendation for afternoon tea in London is the Library at County Hall.
Is green tea good for you?
Now that you know how to make green tea, let’s dip our toes into the debate: is drinking green tea good for you?
I mentioned earlier that green tea's earliest recorded uses in China were medicinal; green tea was prescribed as part of a cure for any number of illnesses and struggles.
But what really are the benefits of drinking green tea? Is green tea good for you?
The short answer is: yes, but just how good and through what exact mechanisms haven't been firmly established by the science.
Scientists believe the health benefits of green tea mostly come down to its abundance of catechins, a type of polyphenol. A number of studies have shown that diets rich in catechins may be protective against a number of chronic illnesses, such as inflammatory bowel disease.
Studies in humans and mice have found evidence that green tea had inhibitory and/or preventative effects on a wide number of illnesses, including multiple types of cancer, heart disease, obesity, influenza, neurodegenerative diseases, and even Coronavirus.
Evidence has linked green tea consumption with improved gut microbiota, better glucose metabolism, increased bone mineral density, improved kidney and liver health, and weight management.
Polyphenols in green tea are higher in green tea than black tea, because the tea is dried before fermentation. The fermentation process involved in producing black tea kills some of the beneficial polyphenols (although not all! Black tea still has them, too).
It's easy to read about all of these demonstrated health benefits of green tea and get carried away thinking green tea is the silver bullet solution to all of your health problems. This is not the case (I'm sorry to break it to you, but there is no silver bullet, and if someone claims there is, that's a huge red flag!).
Keep in mind that as I mentioned earlier, none of this has been proved conclusively; in order for scientific studies to demonstrate something conclusively, there must be multiple high quality studies in differing populations replicating the findings. While there has been a lot of research on the health benefits of green tea, there's only one benefit that's been demonstrated so thoroughly that it's been approved by the FDA as an actual treatment: green tea ointment for genital warts.
Everything else would fall under the category of promising, but preliminary data.
However! I think we can safely say that drinking green tea is likely to have beneficial effects on one's health and at the very least is unlikely to have any detrimental effects. The consensus from a very conservative medical body is that green tea consumption is safe for up to 8 cups a day for the general public.
So while there may not be an exhaustive body of scientific proof that green tea is a cure-all drink, there’s enough to suggest that it may help, and there’s little evidence that it could harm. So why not?
If you want to read more of the health benefits research on tea, I recommend the following reading material:
Have I convinced you to give green tea a try? Now that you know how to make green tea properly, have fun experimenting and finding out how you like this delicious beverage.
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