Where to get great green tea? (and what kind?)
I'm trying to convert my daily hot-beverage-of-choice from coffee to green tea. I already like green tea, so that isn't a problem, but I do find the regular supermarket brands rather insipid. Where can I find great green tea, loose or bagged? I understand that loose is generally the way to go, but I'd also appreciate a rec for a good variety of bagged (in addition to the primary loose go-to) for the convenience of making it at the office.
I have access to good supermarkets, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods. I'd be happy to purchase online if that's the best way to go, too. I prefer straight-up green tea, sans other flavorings (peach, jasmine, etc.) Thanks!
I'm a tea nut -- preferring oolongs, puerhs and green tea. I have experience with some of the online vendors mentioned above -- In Pursuit of Tea, Teance, Imperial Tea Court, and O-Cha.com -- and I think those are good choices. I personally have not had such great green tea from Ten Ren (their focus is oolong). You will do much better with tea specialists (online or brick/mortar) than supermarkets or even Asian groceries. If you are in or near NYC, I can also recommend highly The Tea Gallery in Chinatown. If you like Japanese greens, also try sencha.com; they often have an astonishing variety!
Maybe you already know this, but green tea is the most fragile and easily ruined of teas .(white tea is also in this category). Make sure to buy the freshest possible, and brew at cool temperatures (c. 140-180 F). Great greens will give you at least three good steeps from the same leaves.
I'd stay away from any bagged greens...they're poor quality and brew up bitter. I think there are some pricey bagged teas out there now, and maybe they're OK, but stay with loose tea if you want the most flavor for the buck. Even if it seems expensive, fresh tea from a good vendor is well worth it.
Also, there is tremendous variety in the flavor profiles of different greens, so you need to try a few to see what you prefer!
OK, I could ramble on and on, but I'd better stop here. :-)
I had been a regular shopper at Upton Tea online for their sencha, but I've converted to My Green Tea. Though the name isn't inspiring, its sencha is the best I've tasted. They sell at retail in a handful of stores in the greater Seattle area and online at mygreentea.com. Their bagged sencha is fresher and more complex than most other loose green teas, and their loose sencha is heaven -- smooth to the point of buttery.
I'm adore green tea and am very picky regarding taste and aroma. I only use loose leaf teas that I pick up from asian and boutique tea shops. I don't buy on-line because I want to see and smell the leaves... but I'll link some pictures so you know what you are looking for.
My favorite kind of standard green tea is Sencha, which has been noted is the 'standard' japanese green tea. I tend to use a higher grade sencha (Sometimes called Royal or Imperial Sencha), so it's less bitter and green tasting. However, for a novice green tea drinker, it still might be a bit grassy. What you should look for is BIG folded glossy GREEN leaves that look like match sticks.
For when I want to treat myself to something REALLY nice, I buy pearl Jasmine made with green tea. The REALLY nice quality ones are sold in Chinese Tea shop and can be a bit of sticker shock because they can be $$$ a lb. However, when buying tea, you buy by ounce. A 3oz bag of tea will last me quite a while (And i drink it EVERYDAY!) Here's a detail about Pearl Jasmine
For guests who are kinda intimidated by my fancy teas, I always keep Cherry Sencha on hand. This is slightly green, slightly herbal, slightly berry flavored. When added with honey (I perfer Tupelo) it just EXPLODES in flavor.
I also tend to like white teas, which can be even more pricy. I joke that white teas will give you the best tasting glass of hot water you'll ever have! The flavor is REALLY subtle. Right now I'm using Pai Mu Tan, which is one of the cheaper white teas. It will be flecked with that almost looks like fuzzy pine needles...
Also, I've tried various loose leaf organic teas, I didn't like them at all! :P Finally, because my buds are used to green teas, I recently had to use TJ brand bagged green tea in a pinch and it wasn't actually all that bad (Although again, a novice might find it a bit grassy and bitter)
re: Lori D
The Foojoy brand is reliable and reasonably priced for quality. They have several varieties - Lung Ching (Dragonwell) is my personal favorite, butI have found none of their various green teas undrinkable. In general, I prefer the flavor of Chinese green tea - which brews up to a nice golden brown color - to the grassier tastes of Japanese green teas. These are so much better tasting than any American bagged green teas I've tried. I also use them to make sun tea, which is what I'm drinking as I type this. Note that Foojoy has teas in a variety of price ranges and they will sometimes offer more than one grade of tea with the same name. Personally, I opt for the regular grade Lung Ching instead of the more expensive premium.
Japanese friends have told me that, when you don't know how to choose tea, the quality improves as the price increases. I've found that I'm usually happy with tea that isn't the cheapest one in the store, although I don't need to buy the most expensive one.
A variety I like (that's mentioned elsewhere in this thread) is genmaicha - green tea with roasted rice. However, the cheaper brands tend to be alot of rice with almost no tea.
Sencha is the most commonly seen variety of Japanese green tea.
You may see a variety called bancha - this can be translated as "cheap tea." It's not undrinkable, but it's not great, either.
Shincha, or "new tea" (newly harvested tea) is great, but probably not too easy to find in the US.
Maeda-en is a pretty reliable Japanese brand that I've seen in Japanese and Korean stores. I generally buy Japanese tea, but friends tell me that Ten Ren(Chinese) is also good. I've seen that in both Vietnamese and Chinese stores.
Also, you mentioned that not everything is in English. If you look carefully at the package (i.e., on the back side), you should find a label in English. I think that's required when food is imported into the US.
Experiment and see what you like, and have fun with it.
Bagged tea will always be inferior to loose leaf. Tea producers use the "tea dust" that settles on the bottom of the tea pile and sell it to Americans at an enormous mark up. For convenience, you can buy loose leaf, buy empty tea bags and fill them yourself. A source for premium quality green tea is Teance, linked below.
re: Morton the Mousse
I agree with Morton about bagged tea and I'm glad he suggested that you can buy the empty bags and fill they yourself.
Once you start drinking green tea, none of the prebagged tea tastes like much of anything.
Another nice tea source is Far Leaves Tea. Although it is not a green tea, the blood orange made with fresh blood oranges is amazing.
Upton Tea has a good selection of green teas. For Japanese green teas, the Special Grade Sencha is a good start. The really good ones can get pricey - it's worth buying a sample to see what you think about them.
Another good Japanese green tea site:
I personally like Constant Comment's green tea. A good green tea flavor enhanced by the sweet spice of Constant Comment. I am sure true tea enthusiasts will look down their noses at it but this was the one green tea that actually got me to kick my coffee and extra strong brewed earl grey habits.
Genmai cha is my favorite green tea and is favored by my ex-husband and his family who are Japanese. This tea comes loose in foil sealed bags. I prefer to make my tea in a tea pot, but I digress.
We ended every dinner at home with a mug of green tea.
My ex-husbands father told us that the green tea plant was the only vegetation that survived the bombings in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. He grinds the tea into a powder and shakes it on his food. He's in his late 80's now and still healthy and active. I haven't researched whether or not his claims are accurate.