Buyers’ Guide for Green Tea

 

Buyers’ Guide for Green Tea

Green tea buyers’ guide: essential information on the most important green tea varieties from Japan, China and India – Sencha, Matcha, Gyokuro and more.

Market Overview of the Most Important Green Teas

A confusing amount of green teas exist on the market, most of which give little to no information on the product origins, variety, cultivar, year of harvest, time of harvest, processing methods etc. Nevertheless, it is precisely this information that is crucial to distinguish good or at least sufficient quality green teas from those that are of an inferior quality. Many well-known brands are enjoying the surge in “healthy living” and profiting from demands for “healthy” products such as green tea. But inferior quality teas (late harvests, blends of the cheapest teas, cultivation with pesticides, herbicides, insecticides) can even be straining rather than healthy for the body. In addition, the tea bags sold in small quantities (usually 15 to 20 bags of 3g each), calculated on the price of 100g, are often even considerably more expensive than good loose-leaf tea qualities.

Even for tea experts, when searching for products it is difficult to gain an overview of the numerous teas available online and to assess their quality. It is even harder to find special varieties, cultivars and teas from particular regions on the market, even though this is now of major interest to health-conscious consumers and gourmets. Furthermore, when using green tea medicinally, not every variety is equally as suitable for specific health problems; it is beneficial to drink certain types of green tea when experiencing certain illnesses or ailments and likewise sometimes advisable to avoid others. 

Buyers’ Guide for Different Varieties 

For this reason, we regularly update a database where we gather information about the online green tea market. In our buyers’ green tea guide, it is possible for consumers to sort the information according to their own priorities. The results should serve both tea connoisseurs and health-conscious tea drinker alike, providing them with a useful market insight. The database is updated every six months with great care and is based on publicly accessible information from tea manufacturers. It should be noted, however, that we assume no liability for the accuracy, completeness or currency of this information. 

General green tea brands

Most green tea sold in Europe and the USA is sold in teabags and labelled simply as “green tea” without any indication of the tea variety or other important factors (growing region, harvest, cultivar, processing etc.). Our buyers’ guide shows how extremely poor the information is on the so-called “green teas” available on the market, exposing how often low-quality products are sold at relatively high prices. Teas that are packaged only as “green tea” are shown in the test, as well as comparable, all-round healthy varieties like Japanese Sencha.

Green Tea VarietyCharacteristicsIntake Recommendations
>>General green tea brands<<Very frequently sold simply as “green tea” with no information on the variety and no further details

We do not recommend the daily consumption of green teas which indicate neither the tea variety being used, nor other important information. Where a sufficient quality if indicated (at least >79%, best >90%) 3 portions daily, each consisting of 2 heaped teaspoons, is a useful starting point. However, it is better to drink the main basic teas (see following category) throughout the day.

The most important green tea varieties: the ‘basic green teas’

In the article >>The Best Green Tea Varieties and How Much to Take?<<, we explore why it is healthier (and tastier) to take the three most important green tea varieties – Gyokuro, Sencha and Bancha – throughout the day, as well as the green tea powder Matcha two to three times a week, as oppose to drinking just one general green tea all day. Furthermore, it is even better to change the cultivar as well as the region of origin from time to time, as this will bring about a variety of ingredients and flavours. If the four varieties mentioned become too boring, you can also fall back on the milder and more specific varieties mentioned in the following categories. Further details on the preparation of green teas can be found >>here<<. 

Green Tea VarietyCharacteristicsIntake Recommendations
>>Gyokuro<<Finest variety, fully shaded, full umami flavour, many amino acids1 portion daily (preferably mornings). If possible, switch between two different types of Gyokuro (region of origin and seed variety). For more info, see: >>Gyokuro Tea<<.
>>Sencha<<The classic green tea and health all-rounder, most consumed variety, requires lots of sun, many catechins and bitter substances, rolled1 portion daily (preferably midday/afternoons). If possible, switch between three different types of Sencha (region of origin and seed variety). For more info, see: >>Sencha Tea<<.
>>Bancha<<Later harvest, more affordable, mild, less caffeine, very alkaline/mineral-rich, contains many minerals and trace elements1 portion daily (preferably evening). If possible, switch between two different types of Bancha (region of origin and seed variety). For more info, see: >>Bancha Tea<<.
>>Matcha<<

Finely ground Tencha leaves, fully shaded, the whole tea leaf is consumed, antioxidant

2-3 x per week, 1 portion in a matcha bowl whisked while hot. Can also be consumed daily in a shake/smoothie, unheated. For more info, see: >>Matcha Tea<<. 
   
>>Shincha<<The first tea of spring, particularly rich in nutrients, fresh and powerful, otherwise similar to SenchaInstead of Sencha: seasonal early summer course with this first green tea of the year (available April – end of July). For more info, see: >>Shincha Tea<<. 
Mizudashi Cold brew tea, particularly high in amino acids and polysaccharides, sweet and mild, can be brewed in the fridge (also with ice cubes)Instead of Sencha: seasonal summer course with this refreshing cold brew tea. Particularly beneficial for the immune system and good for metabolism, see >>Mizudashi Tea<<. 

Special green tea varieties 

In this section, you will find our guide for the specialist, rarer green tea varieties. They are all just as accomplished in terms of both taste and health as the teas in the basic package and can be drunk as an alternative or supplemented for variety. However, all of the below teas also have their own special health effects. 

Green Tea VarietyCharacteristicsIntake Recommendations

Karigane & Kukicha

Stems of Sencha and Gyokuro, high levels of amino acid, less bitter substances, less caffeine

Daily as milder and less caffeinated alternative to Gyokuro and Sencha. For more info, see: >>Karigane & Kukicha<<.
Genmaicha50% Bancha and 50% roasted rice, pleasant roasted aromaDaily as milder and less caffeinated alternative to Bancha, high gastrointestinal tolerability, warming. For more info, see: >>Genmaicha Tea<<.
HojichaRoasted BanchaDaily as milder alternative to Bancha, less catechins and nutrients, but very beneficial for the intestines, also warming.
Matcha iriSencha, Karigane or Genmaicha with some Matcha mixed in

Daily as a delicious and slightly more stimulating, refreshing alternative to Sencha, Karigane or Genmaicha.

Fukamushi Sencha Longer-steamed Sencha (deep steamed)

Daily as a tastier, more intense and “fuller” alternative to Sencha.

Kabusecha Half-shaded SenchaDaily as alternative to Gyokuro or Sencha. Falls exactly between both of these sorts, so more bitter substances and less amino acids than Gyokuro.
KamairichaOxidation stopped by furnace or ladle firing instead of steaming.Daily as alternative to Sencha. Very pleasant roasted aroma, the typical green tea taste is less pronounced. However, it is only worth consuming if it has been fired very gently.
TamaryokuchaSpecially processed so that it takes on a significantly shorter and 5 times smaller compressed form compared to Sencha (Magatama form).Daily as alternative to Sencha. Very elegant. Contains however somewhat less nutrients in water. Therefore, pay attention to high quality.

Green tea functions

These green teas have extremely special health properties and are less “all-rounders” than the basic varieties mentioned above. They are often used to support specific health problems. But GABA tea and Yamakai also have a lot to offer in terms of taste.

Green Tea VarietyCharacteristicsIntake Recommendations
>>Benifuuki<<Special crossbred green tea with the highest content of catechins (especially EGCG) and one of the very few cultivars that contains methylated catechins (highest content)Particularly beneficial for the liver, pancreas, metabolism, against allergies and inflammations. Daily as alternative to Sencha, differs according to application, see article: >>Benifuuki Tea and Powder<<.
>>GABA<<

Contains up to almost 50 x more of the amino acid GABA than already amino acid-rich normal green tea, otherwise similarly potent general effect as Sencha and very tasty when properly processed

Daily as alternative to Sencha. Particularly beneficial for high blood pressurerelaxation, sleep disorders, help falling asleep, better sleep, concentration disorders, Parkinson’s, alcoholism, supporting the liver, diabetes, muscle development, pain and age-related deficiency of GABA. Depending on application, very different, see article: >>GABA Tea and Powder<<. 
>>Sunrouge<<

Special crossbred green tea, only green tea variety that contains a high quantity of special anthocyanins and a significant catechin content

Especially beneficial for eyesight, against over-tiredness of the eyes, for night vision, against short-sightedness, also a potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory (first and foremost for intestinal inflammations), it protects blood vessels, is beneficial against cancer and increases sensitivity to radiation therapy. See >>Sunrouge Tea<<.

>>Yamakai<<

Special green tea cultivar, in the form of Sencha or Bancha, has a special catechin composition, similar to Benifuuki, only milder and has an extremely good and natural taste

Daily instead of Benifuuki/Sencha/Bancha: beneficial for people with health problems, which require a good mix of methylated and non-methylated catechins. Very delicious with a milder but more tolerable effect than Benifuuki.

Green tea capsules and green tea extract

Green Tea VarietyCharacteristicsIntake Recommendations
Sencha powderFinely ground Sencha leavesFor health problems, which require a high intake of bitter substances. Only as a treatment course/therapy.
Green tea capsulesFinely ground green tea leaves, packed into capsulesFor health problems, which require a high intake of bitter substances. Only as a treatment course/therapy.
Green tea extractExtracted from green tea leaves, concentrated catechins, as powder in capsule or tabletsFor health problems, which require a high intake of catechins substances. Only as a treatment course/therapy.
EGCG extractExtracted from green tea leaves, concentrated EGCG (the main catechin), as powder in capsules or tabletsFor health problems, which require an especially high intake of EGCG. Only as a treatment course/therapy.

Buying Criteria 

Our recommendation for the consumption and purchase of green tea is generally based on essential criteria for each variety:

Criteria for Buying Green Tea

      1. Sufficient high quality (in the sampling at least 79% of 100%, but preferably >90%)
      2. All essential tea information is given (mainly variety, cultivar, year of harvest, harvest details/date, 100% original (origin teas), exact composition and, if possible, information on the method of cultivation and processing)
      3. Airtight, resealable packaging with high barrier safety (protection against pollutants, oxidation, odours, moisture and light)
      4. Good price-performance ratio
      5. Published lab tests (pesticides, herbicide, mineral oil, radio activity etc.), if possible, organic teas or teas from pesticide-free farms are preferable
      6. Information about awards and accolades won by the tea farm or tea itself

Details of our sampling and the information we gathered are presented in the corresponding product profiles. 

QualityOur Rating %*

Typical Quality Markers on the Market (does not always correspond to the actual quality)

Taste and Health Benefits
Standard79%-89%Beginner, basicWe only recommend drinking teas with ratings of 79% or higher for daily use. In our opinion, teas below this score have imbalanced ingredients and effects.
Premium90%-94%Premium grade, high grade, superior, extra fineBalanced taste and significant health benefits. Very good properties for daily supply. Can help with selected health problems and be beneficial for the body.
Super Premium95%-97%Highest grade, ceremonial gradeExcellent properties for daily supply. Can significantly support certain health problems. 
Competition Grade98%-100%Contest grade, competition teas, Like super premium, however with an improved taste and health benefits. Teas which have taken part in significant competitions and won corresponding rankings/medals.

* The rating of a tea is carried out according to the following criteria: taste/aroma of the infusion, appearance and feel of the leaves, colour of the infusion.

Green Tea and Water

Please pay close attention to the quality of the >>water used in green tea<< preparation, as it has a major influence on the taste and health benefits of the tea. On this topic, see also our >>overview on the topic of water<<. 

Negative Test Reports for Green Teas

The pleasure of the major medicinal plant that is green tea has been repeatedly clouded in recent years by some disturbing test reports. Tests conducted by magazines such as ‘Stiftung Warentest’ and ‘Ökotest’ have to be highlighted, as these tests mainly involved green teas of low quality, predominantly without organic certificates. What all tests do clearly show is that investing in organic teas is worthwhile, as it allows you to avoid a large portion of harmful substances. However, organic teas are often of poor quality, especially if they are in the low-price range, and not all organic teas are pure. Manufacturers seldom publish their own laboratory tests; yet this practice should be encouraged. Radioactivity is no longer a problem in Japanese teas. No laboratory tests have shown elevated values of radioactivity. Rather it is important to pay attention to other pollutants and harmful substances, above all in Chinese and Indian teas, as well as in Matcha from Japan.

Green tea test: ‘Stiftung Warentest’

The independent magazine ‘Stiftung Warentest’ conducted a survey on 25 green teas on the market in September 2015. In particular, cheap discount teas were selected. Pesticides, radioactivity, anthraquinone, mineral oil residues, PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), pyrrolizidine alkaloid and nicotine were tested. The herbicide glyphosate was not analysed. Increased radioactivity was not found in any of the teas. But none of the 25 teas were completely free of pollutants, 7 were heavily contaminated (deficient) and a further 7 were rated as sufficient. A test the magazine carried out in 2006 for pesticides in green teas showed similar results. Of the 30 green teas tested, 8 were unpolluted, 6 were very low, 9 were low, 4 were significantly polluted and 3 were heavily polluted. However, green teas from the lower quality and price segments were also tested here. Of the 8 organic teas, 2 were slightly contaminated. Compared to the 1999 test, the 2006 test showed a significantly better picture. In 1999, more than half of the 68 green teas tested were still heavily contaminated and only 7 were unpolluted.

Green tea test: ‘Öko Test’

The magazine ‘Öko Test’ last published a test of 22 green teas in 2012. Residues of mineral oils were found in 17 products. These are often found in tea through cardboard packaging made of recycled paper (residues of newspaper inks). Flavoured green teas contained numerous synthetic and flavouring substances derived partly from biotechnology. As in the above-mentioned test by ‘Stiftung Warentest’, it was mainly green teas from the lower price segment that were tested. This test is however too old to provide a good orientation for consumers today. 

Testing Pesticides in Green Tea

Plant protection products (pesticides and herbicides) are a major problem for the green tea industry. Growing teas in hot and humid regions without pesticides is quite a difficult task, as many diseases and pest infestations can occur. Organic farming is much more demanding and yields are lower, especially in the period of converting to organic farming. In addition, the tea quality suffers in organic cultivation if the farmer has not yet mastered the technique.

Pesticides in teas from China and India

In lab testing, for years green teas from India and China in particular have shown unsatisfactory results in their exposure to pesticides and herbicides. According to the assessment of three leading German laboratories, these regions stand out again and again. They are often far above the limit values. This also applies to a significant proportion of organic green teas. We can confirm this through our own commissioned laboratory tests of green tea samples from China. In one instance, an acclaimed green tea that grows wild in the “idyllic nature of the mountains” was found to extremely exceed limit values for several pesticides in our lab tests. 

We therefore recommend that you do not buy green teas from China or India without clear published test results from a domestic, trustworthy laboratory. This even applies to certified organic teas, especially from China and India. It should also be noted that green tea, which is labelled “Sencha”, does not necessarily come from Japan, as there are now quite a few tea plantations that grow green tea in China using the Sencha method. These teas can also be found on the market as “Japanese Sencha”; if you want to buy genuine Sencha from Japan, you need to pay attention to the exact origin of the tea.

Pesticides in teas from Japan

Japanese green teas are a special case, as the maximum levels for certain pesticides are different in Japan than in the EU. Currently, prominent and proud tea farmers are reluctant to do without their specific Japanese pesticides, since they are relied upon in the domestic climate. For example, even good green teas from Japan sometimes exceed the EU maximum limits for pesticides, but usually comply with the Japanese maximum limits in our experience. In fact, we have not yet seen test results for a Japanese green tea that has exceeded the Japanese limits. However, this is not uncommon and even frequently occurs for Chinese and Indian green teas.

It is not possible for us to ascertain whether the different Japanese and EU limits are solely due to a lack of coordination and lobbying; or whether the EU limits actually provide better health protection. In contrast, it is important to remember that certain pesticides and herbicides that are authorised in the EU are assessed quite differently in Japan.

In recent years, there has been an increasing trend in Japan to use pesticides authorised in the EU (EU-compatible green teas) in order to appeal to attractive export markets. Thus, pesticides commonly used in Japan will be replaced by pesticides commonly used in the EU. Whether this is a positive development remains to be seen. At the very least, we do not recommend buying green teas directly from producers in Japan, as they tend not to be EU-compatible and often have exceedingly high pesticide values according to EU standards. Our own lab tests have confirmed this in numerous cases. Japanese green teas should be imported by experienced traders, tested as EU-compatible and only then approved for import to the EU.

Pesticides in Matcha and Gyokuro

The above applies even more significantly to Matcha and Gyokuro. These shaded teas are more susceptible to diseases and insects and therefore many pesticides are commonly used. We therefore only recommend organic Matchas and Gyokuros or teas from pesticide-free farms.

Pesticide in organic green teas

Tests have shown that organic green teas are much less contaminated with pesticides and herbicides than non-organic teas. However, leading laboratories repeatedly confirm that residues are also found in a considerable proportion of organic teas. According to our observations, this is especially true for green teas from China and India, but also partly from Japanese farms that are poorly located and border non-organic farms or are exposed to wind. In organic farms from China and India, there are sometimes considerable toxins, which can no longer be explained by wind bringing contamination from neighbouring fields. In Japanese organic green teas, we have not yet found any strong toxins in lab tests, however have found residues bought by wind. 

Pesticides in flavoured green teas

Special care should be taken with flavoured green teas. Here tea leaves are often mixed with flowers, leaves, herbs or fruit peels to change the aroma and taste. However, for such teas no or higher legal pesticide limits apply. This can lead to a significantly greater exposure to pesticides and pyrrolizidine alkaloids (weeds) when drinking tea. Furthermore, sometimes synthetic or biotechnologically derived flavourings are also used, which must be harmful from a health point of view.

Conclusion – pesticide tests on green teas: we recommend only consuming green teas that have been tested by the producer/trader in a local laboratory and whose test results are published. Care should also be taken with organic teas, especially from China and India. For Matcha and Gyokuro we only recommend organic teas.

Tests for Radioactivity in Green Teas

The article >>Radioactivity in Japanese Green Tea<< describes in detail the extent to which green teas from Japanese growing regions are contaminated from our experience. To cut a long story short: since 2012 we have not been able to detect any contamination within the numerous green teas tested in German independent laboratories. The measurement results were unanimously 0 Becquerel. This is probably due to various geographical and wind-related influences. As a precautionary measure, however, we advise buying tea only from suppliers who regularly have their farms lab tested and publish these tests.