Soothing Sipper

Choose quality green teas, brew properly for fullest effects

Soothing Sipper

Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, this mild mood booster is known to promote weight loss, prevent heart attacks and ward off cancer. While the health benefits of green tea are widely accepted, lesser known are proper preparation methods to highlight its fullest flavor and calming effects.

“It helps you relax,” says Travis Peterson, owner of Dobra Tea in Ashland. “It reduces stress.”

The Chinese symbol for tea, in fact, shows a relationship between people and plant, says Peterson. And the tea plant — like humankind — is known for its diversity: black, red, white, yellow, oolong and green. Usually most familiar with black teas (actually called “red” tea in China), Americans, says Peterson, tend to view green tea as the exotic alternative, although white and yellow teas are much less common.

“There’s all kinds of different cultivars,” he says. “Japanese green teas are really exquisite.”

Mention Japanese green tea, and matcha comes to many people’s minds. But Japan, which produces 10-15% of the world’s green tea, is renowned for several other varieties, which Peterson describes as “vegetal and oceanic.”

Sencha is Japan’s quintessential tea, the most widely consumed by Japanese, who prize its uniform leaves and delicate taste. Genmaicha is a grassy green tea combined with popped and crisped brown rice that offers a rich taste and nutty aroma. Hojicha is a green tea that’s been roasted over charcoal, resulting in a mild, caramel-like flavor unlike any other green tea, as well as less caffeine.

Producing the vast majority of the world’s green tea — about 75% — China boasts many beloved varieties. The national drink of China, Dragon Well arises from freshly picked buds that are pan-fried according to traditional methods. Blue-Green Spirals are silvery leaves that unfurl gracefully in water and yield a minerally, slightly astringent taste.

Perennially popular, jasmine green tea achieves its floral scent and aroma from jasmine petals reposing for several weeks atop drying tea leaves. The flower’s persona fuses with the tea, which contains no actual part of the jasmine blossom, says Peterson.

Tea should consist of pure, unbroken buds and leaves, packaged and sold in their loose form, says Peterson. Commercially packaged teabags contain leaf and stem shards that are the byproduct of processing loose tea. Breaking leaves accentuates any bitter flavors, he says.

“Tea shouldn’t be bitter.”

Brewing errors also account for much of the bitterness associated with tea. Water that’s too hot, particularly for brewing green tea, brings out the tannins, rather than coaxing out other nuances of flavor, he says. And Japanese green teas should be brewed at an even cooler temperature — as much as 15 degrees lower — than Chinese counterparts.

Tea thermometers are available for purchase at The Spice and Tea Exchange, a franchise with an Ashland location. Proprietor Scott Plummer recommends using water heated to 170 to 180 F for brewing green tea. Steep the leaves for two to three minutes, says Plummer. This method, he says, extracts tea’s best attributes and avoids bitterness. Heat water to the precise temperature in an electric teapot with variable temperature setting, or simply boil water then let it sit for five minutes before brewing green tea.

“Most folks who say they don’t like green tea are steeping the same way they would Earl Grey, peppermint, black and herbal teas,” says Plummer.

Steeping green tea for drinking is just one way to enjoy its flavor and health benefits. Try using a few cups of brewed tea instead of water in a rice cooker. One particularly striking combination is genmaicha and Japanese short-grain brown rice. The rice comes out nuttier and earthier than when prepared with water.

Brewed green tea also adds complexity to foods braised and poached in it. Consider using it as a substitute for broths in recipes. Experience green tea leaves’ texture by crushing or grinding them and stirring into spice rubs, batters and doughs. Pair this subtly sweet shortbread cookie with a soothing cup of green tea.

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More to Explore

HOJICHA COOKIES

Hojicha Cookies

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons (about 8 grams) hojicha tea

1/2 cup (120 g) butter, at room temperature

1/3 cup (70 g) sugar

1 egg

1 1/3 cup (160 g) brown rice flour

Directions:

In a small saute pan, toast the tea over medium-low heat until fragrant, for about 2 minutes, then grind with a spice grinder to a coarse powder. In a bowl, using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar, then add the egg and mix well. Add the ground tea and flour, mix well, then wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate until firm, for 15 to 30 minutes. Remove dough and roll it into a log approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic again, and refrigerate or freeze until very firm, about 1 hour. Heat oven to 350 F. Cut dough into rounds a little thicker than 1/4 inch. Place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Bake in preheated oven until cookies are set and lightly golden underneath, for 15-20 minutes.

Serves: Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Source: Adapted by the Los Angeles Times from a recipe by Chef Kuniko Yagi.

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