Tender Tea Shoots
Why They Make Best Green Tea

The best green tea is made from young tender tea shoots harvested early spring. Why they make the tastiest and healthiest tea.



tender tea shootsFinest Chinese and Japanese green tea is usually harvested once a year in spring. These spring tea is the highest quality. In fact, the earlier the tea is picked in the season, the higher the quality.

Unknown to many Westerners, tea nutritional value decreases with leaf age. These early picks are the tenderest and have the highest levels of theanine, caffeine, EGCG and aromatics oils - delightful stuff that thrills the connoisseurs.

Seasonality

Autumn tea is the next best. They are more floral, but doesn't taste as good. They are better for making oolong tea.

Summer tea is coarse. Its rich polyphenols content make them bitter and astringent. They make the lowest grade tea. But their high polyphenol content makes them excellent for making red tea or black tea.

Health and Nutritions

Tender shoots not only taste better, they are healthier. Tender tea buds contain higher levels of soluble compounds. They have the highest concentration of the calming theanine and antioxidant catechins. To quote Bokuchava from his 1980 study:

The first and second leaves of the shoot are richest in catechins.

As the leaf ages, the content of total catechins decreases with the amount of EGCG and ECG falling sharply and the amount of EGC and EC rising.

... the site of catechin synthesis in the tea plant is in young leaves and shoots.

Tea plants accumulate heavymetals such as fluoride and lead from the environment. These young shoots contain the least of these contaminants. According to some sources, the mature, old leaves can contain 10 to 20 times more fluoride than the tender tea shoots of the same tea plant.

Table 1: Young tea shoots contain the most theanine and catechins.

Milligrams per gram Bud Only Bud + 1 Leaf Bud + 2 Leaf Bud + 3 Leaf Bud + 4 Leaf
Catechins 147.3 150.32 134.47 134.50 116.03
Theanine - 31.07 29.16 23.39 19.48

Table 2: The younger the leaves, the greater the health benefits.

Percentage Soluble Solids Polyphenols Catechins Theanine
3rd Leaf 45.47 30.12 76.30 3.64
4th Leaf 44.27 29.24 70.64 3.41
5th Leaf 42.44 26.53 69.63 2.50
6th Leaf 37.91 22.54 49.79 1.67

Tender Tea Shoots

Almost all famous Chinese green tea is made from tender shoots picked early spring. There are few exceptions, such as the highly regarded Liu An Gua Pian, which is made from more matured leaves.

The type of tea will dictate the kind of tea plants cultivated.

  • Longjing tea favours leaves that are thin and soft, as Longjing is flat and spear-shaped.

  • Bi Luo Chun tea favours tiny leaves which are then rolled into tight, curly spirals.

  • White tea favours fat buds with lots of showy white hairs and thick leaves.

The tenderer the leaves, the higher quality. Green tea harvesting uses only the following tender shoots:

  • Up to two leaves adjacent to the terminal bud. The leaves are equal in length or shorter than the buds.

  • Lots baby white hairs.

  • Soft to touch.

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References

Xu Zhen Bing (1996). Zhongguo Mingyoucha. Jingdun Chubanshe.

Chaye Shenping Yu Jianyan (2006). Zhongguo Laodong Shehui Baozhang Chupanshe.

Bokuchava MA, Skobeleva NI (1980). The biochemistry and technology of tea manufacture. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1980;12(4):303-70.

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