One of the most common staples of the Japanese diet is the extremely healthy and increasingly popular Green Tea, a tea with a unique green color that has found its way into flavoring ice-cream, jelly, breads and even burger patties in Japan. But although it is the norm in Japan and much of Asia, it is becoming increasingly popular with a Western market as well, mainly due to the health benefits it claims to offer its drinkers.
Amongst many scientifically unsupported claims such as it being a way to treat and prevent all forms or cancer and multiple sclerosis, it has been proven that green tea helps boost the immune system and Polyphenon E (an extract found in Green Tea), was said to have limited the growth of colorectal tumors, which oftentimes lead to cancer. A long running study at Tohoku University followed no less than 40,000 adults for a total of 11 years, finding that those that drank 5 or more cups of green tea everyday where 16% less likely to suffer a fatal attack, with a whopping 26% less chance of suffering from Cardiovascular Disease.
In Japan, Green Tea is a huge market, with every supermarket, convenience store, restaurant and cafe stocking the delicious drink. With such a huge target audience, it is not surprising that the vast majority of green tea in Japan is mass produced in a factory environment. But it is still common for local farmers to refrain from introducing new technologies and stick to traditional methods.
Preparing the tea leaves is a slow, hard process, one which consists of several steps. First, the larger, ripe leaves are individually plucked from the tea trees. The larger the leaf, the more flavor it has packed into it, but obviously it also has a large amount of water content. Most green tea in Japan is dried so that it can be stored for longer periods of time, so the water is slowly drawn out of the leaves. Firstly, they are roasted in a large, stone pot, constantly being turned to avoid the leaves burning. After around three minutes, the roasted leaves are placed in a large drum, which spins the leaves much like a tumble-drier, flinging the excess water to one side. Last and perhaps most importantly, the roasted and tossed leaves are placed on large tatami mats, where they are kneaded by hand to squeeze out any remaining moisture and laid out flat in the sun, where they will remain for the remainder of the day.
To make just a small batch requires a team of at least 5 or 6, so the organic tea is obviously a little more expensive than its mass-produced counterpart. But with no additives and preservatives to speak of, it is obviously far healthier and hopefully, much tastier!