For a long time, I’ve avoided green tea because I thought it was inherently bitter. Yet, I didn’t stop to consider that I may be doing something wrong, or that my tea is simply low-quality.
As I’ve started learning more about tea, I’ve discovered some critical mistakes I’ve been making. Turns out, those mistakes are very common, and might as well be the reason you may dislike green tea too.
Once you learn to make green tea correctly, you’ll be able to enjoy the hundreds of different kinds available, each offering unique tastes. You will also be able to take advantage of the health benefits that it has to offer.
In this article, I will share with you some tips to make green tea taste good. If you’re looking for a place to get good green tea to get you started, check out my tea shop.
What is Green Tea?
Green tea comes from the same Camellia Sinensis plant as black tea or oolong tea, but its processing is slightly different. When tea leaves are plucked, over time they naturally oxidize and turn darker. To keep the tea green, fresh tea leaves are subjected to heat by either steaming, baking, or roasting, to stop oxidation.
Early literature on tea like the Tea Classic (760 AD) by Lu Yu has described steaming as the method for halting oxidation. However, in 16th century China, roasting, and baking have largely overtaken steaming, because of their flexibility. It was Japan that kept developing it.
Japanese Green Tea
Japanese tea production is largely mechanized and the vast majority of all tea produced in Japan is steamed green tea. It is mostly grown in flat areas with lots of sunlight, which is not ideal for growing quality tea. Typically, steaming such tea brings out more of its bitter taste.
To produce higher-quality tea that commands a higher price, like Gyokuro or Matcha, Japanese producers set up a tent 2-3 weeks before plucking in a process known as Ooshita. This slows the growth of young tea leaves and allows them to accumulate more of the amino acids, which results in better tasting green tea. Steamed tea is visually identifiable by its intense bright green color.
Chinese Green Tea
Chinese green tea production is less mechanized and demands higher skill from the individual making it. Wok roasting is the dominant method of producing green tea in China. Although steaming and baking are still being used.
To stop oxidation, the tea master presses and turns the tea leaves on a hot wok. The resulting tea tastes less bitter than steamed teas, and may also acquire toasty or smoky notes. Chinese also like to fold and twist their tea leaves into exquisite shapes.
Why Should You Drink Green Tea?
You may have tried green tea, but it tasted bad, and you’ve decided it’s not for you. It is likely that you simply prepared it incorrectly. But why would you even care?
For starters – tea is the second most popular beverage in the world, just behind water, and green tea is the second most popular type of tea. However, the popularity of green tea is growing at a faster pace than other types of tea. It may be attributed to increasing awareness of the benefits green tea offers:
- Green tea contains polyphenols – natural compounds that can act as antioxidants to prevent damage to your cells, reducing the risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
- It contains caffeine, so it stimulates the brain in a similar way as coffee, but without causing jitters.
- Studies (1, 2) suggest that green tea can increase metabolism, which can help in losing weight.
In addition to its benefits, green tea offers a comparable selection of tea as black tea. I would also say that it has a more polarizing taste – people who like green tea, love it. Once you learn to make green tea correctly, you might discover that you actually enjoy green tea more than any other type.
China and Japan have well-developed tea cultures but are significantly different in their tea production processes. Chinese teas can be fruity, toasty, and sweet. Japanese teas can be grassy, savory, and bittersweet. These differences open the door to new discoveries, which you will not experience with other types of tea.
If you generally like tea, why would you miss out on such a large part of the tea world?
Why Does Green Tea Taste Bitter?
When prepared correctly, good green tea may taste vegetal or grassy, nutty or herbaceous, but never truly bitter.
The bitterness is mostly caused by catechins in green tea. It’s an antioxidant, that’s healthy but bitter. That bitterness gets balanced out in good green tea when prepared correctly. However, if you steep it for too long or use a higher temperature than needed, it can get overly bitter.
If you’re using green tea bags, it may be the reason why your tea tastes bitter. Tea bags usually contain low-quality tea dust, which doesn’t offer a lot of taste but has a high surface area making it easy to over-steep.
However, even with lower-quality tea, there are still ways to balance out the bitterness with additives such as lemon, sugar, honey, or even herbs and spices.
How to Make Green Tea Less Bitter
Bitterness is almost always the reason I hear when people say they don’t like green tea. But it doesn’t have to be bitter. If it is, then my actionable tips below will help you. Who knows, maybe green tea will become your new favorite drink.
1) Switch to loose-leaf green tea
There are people who say they don’t like green tea, but the only tea they’ve tried came in tea bags.
Judging whether you like a particular type of tea by trying the lowest-quality tea out there seems unfair. I’ve talked before about how most producers put leftover tea dust into their tea bags. Low-quality tea can’t make a good cup of tea. When you use loose-leaf tea, you get to experience so much more:
- An immense selection of great teas with different taste profiles – you have the steamed Japanese teas, and the masterfully crafted Chinese green teas. Each of which has dozens of variants, with vastly different tastes. No tea bag can offer this.
- Unmatched look – green tea, especially Chinese green tea, is a display of artful leaf folding and twisting. They unfurl in hot water and create a spectacle of their own. Why would you eliminate this part of the tea drinking experience by pulverizing the tea leaves and putting them in a grey bag?
- It’s economical – while buying loose tea is often more expensive upfront, it actually lasts quite long. Normally, you only use around 2 grams (1 teaspoon) of loose tea leaves to make tea, so 100 grams will make 50 cups or more with re-steeping.
If you’re wondering where you can find loose-leaf green tea – it’s best to look online in specialized tea shops. I run an online tea shop, where you can order a bundle of green teas that will be the perfect starting point.
2) Green tea needs cooler water
The primary mistake people make when preparing green tea is using boiling water.
Most people just bring their water to boil and pour it on their tea leaves. While that’s fine for most black teas, green tea may get burnt, and taste bitter.
Green tea is much more delicate than black tea and requires a lower water temperature. Chinese green tea should be prepared at around 80ºC, and most Japanese teas at even lower – around 75ºC. For Americans, it’s around 180ºF and around 170ºF.
Sometimes green tea can be made with very hot water, for instance, the Japanese Tea Association recommends preparing Bancha tea with boiling water, to unlock its fragrance, but I found that I like the taste more when prepared with colder water.
Next time you make green tea, use a thermometer, a kettle with the temperature sensor, or simply let the water cool for around 5 minutes after boiling it, before making tea.
3) Green tea needs to steep less
Most people know that black tea steeps for 3-5 minutes, but they use the same estimate for green tea as well. This will result in over-steeped tea and a bitter taste.
Green tea is never steeped for more than 3 minutes, and generally, 1-2 minutes is plenty. Steamed green tea, like Japanese Sencha or Gyokuro, generally needs to steep less than Chinese green tea. To get the most out of green tea, it’s important to get familiar with different methods of brewing and experiment yourself.
The Western Method
The western style of making tea often calls for a large teapot and just enough tea for every cup. Put one teaspoon of leaves per cup into a teapot or infuser with an extra teaspoon “for the pot”.
The brewing time for green tea is longer than the eastern method, with 1-2 minutes for green tea and 3-5 minutes for black tea. Some tea brewed like this can yield more than one pot of tea by re-steeping the tea leaves, but more is unlikely.
Here’s a helpful table with steeping times and temperatures for each type of tea:
|Type of tea||Water temperature||Steeping time|
|Most black teas (except Darjeeling)||96°-100°C / 205°-212°F||3-5 minutes|
|Darjeeling black tea||93°-96°C / 200°-205°F||2½-4 minutes|
|Chinese green tea||77°-82°C / 170°-180°F||2-3 minutes|
|Japanese green tea||71°-77°C / 160°-170°F||30 seconds – 1½ minutes|
|Oolong tea||82°-93°C / 180°-200°F||3-5 minutes|
|Dark tea (such as Pu’erh)||96°-100°C / 205°-212°F||3-6 minutes|
|White||82°-88°C / 180°-190°F||3-5 minutes|
|Yellow||77°-82°C / 170°-180°F||1-2 minutes|
|Herbal & rooibos infusions (a.k.a tisanes)||100°C / 212°F||5-10 minutes|
The Eastern Method
The eastern style uses much more tea leaves and allows for many more infusions. Some Asian-style teapots are unglazed. They absorb the flavor, so only a single kind of tea should be made in the same teapot. The steeping time in that case is also much lower. Depending on the tea it can be mere seconds or 1-2 minutes.
Japanese Tea Association has issued a recommended preparation instruction for Japanese teas, which is extremely detailed and informative. I suggest you take a look at it here: Nihon Cha.
4) Don’t squeeze your green tea leaves
I’ve seen people do it, and I’ve done it myself, but – don’t squeeze your tea leaves. It’s tempting to get every last bit of tea from your tea leaves, but doing this releases more of the catechins into your tea, making it more bitter. It also damages the tea leaves if you’re using loose-leaf tea, spoiling the subsequent infusions.
Next time you’re making tea, just use a strainer and lightly shake it, after you take it out. Or simply use a teapot, so that you avoid the temptation to squeeze the tea leaves altogether.
5) Add flavoring add-ins
If you can’t use high-quality green tea for whatever reason, adding some flavorings can counteract the bitter taste. Here are some of the popular choices you can try:
- Honey – it’s got some health benefits of its own. Also, it dissolves better in cooler water than sugar.
- Lemon – the sour taste counteracts the bitterness well and can be mixed with some honey for the well-rounded sweet and sour cup.
- Make a herbal blend – you can add some dried fruit or spices like apples, oranges, peaches or mint and use green tea as the base.
Next time you’re in a pinch, even some sugar can make your green tea from tea bags palatable. However, for a consistently good cup of tea, loose-leaf tea is still the best option.
6) Use hard water
Even though hard water can be responsible for the film on the surface of your tea, it can make your tea taste less bitter.
A study in the 2019 issue of Nutrients, tested the effect hard water has on the taste of tea. It found that fewer catechins are extracted making it taste less bitter, and the tea was perceived as sweeter. Bottled water, that’s usually softer, will produce healthier, but less palatable infusions.
If less bitterness, is what you want, using simple tap water may actually be your best option. However, make sure it’s not chlorinated because it will ruin your tea and can upset your stomach.
7) Make iced green tea
Finally, you can use cold water to make iced tea, which will not get bitter easily. You can’t burn your tea, and the infusion will refresh you on a hot summer day.
For a basic recipe – add a teaspoon of green tea per cup into a pitcher, pour in cold water, and refrigerate for 6-8 hours. Strain the tea or remove the tea bags. Serve with ice cubes and some lemon and cucumber. Check out the full recipe.
Making tasty green tea is not rocket science, and is well worth learning. All you need is some high-quality tea leaves and a few simple tips. If there’s only one thing you take out of this article it should be this – green is delicate and should be steeped for a shorter time, and in cooler water.
Green tea offers a huge variety of teas and tastes to pick from, and I’m sure you can find something that you like. Give these tips a try next time you make green tea. If you decide that it is not your cup of tea, but still want the health benefits that it offers – read about herbal teas that can boost your immune system.
Let me know in the comments – how do you take your green tea?