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As Crystal Gale once wrote, "You're gonna make my green tea, brown." Or something like that.

When I typically order (the free or close-to-free) green tea at Japanese restaurants, it's usually noticeably green. At home, regardless of brand and time on the shelf, it's typically brownish. I follow good guidelines for making green tea: 170 degrees for about 90 seconds.

Am I buying the wrong kind of tea; or are restaurants using food coloring?

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Could be the restaurant uses matcha? That stuff is super green. –  lemontwist Sep 19 '12 at 21:35
    
Green tea is normally brown :) –  Muhammad Raja Sep 19 '12 at 21:38
    
There are multiple types of green tea. I know here in Korea what is called green tea tastes nothing like what I was used to and in fact tastes like rice. So I'm sure there are lots of other types too. –  hippietrail Sep 21 '12 at 7:27
    
@hippietrail - are you drinking Gaenmaicha (green tea with roasted rice)? –  5arx Oct 25 '12 at 13:58
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@hippietrail OK. I've recently discovered Gaenmaicha and really dig its toasted rice/popcorn aroma. –  5arx Oct 25 '12 at 14:24

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Hojicha is a green tea which is made from bancha, a low grade green tea, and cooked slightly; this very inexpensive green tea often comes out brown because it is discolored by oxidation. Other than this variety, and some very stale bancha, I can't think of a Japanese green tea that comes out brown. Some stale kukicha might come out brown, and low quality genmaicha made with poor quality kukicha could be brownish from the combination of excess oxidation and the toasted rice.

Most of the non-Japanese green teas I've seen sold as "green tea" and some lower quality teabags marked as "sencha" are broken down tea leaves that can easily oxidize in the packaging to the point where they are, at best, yellowish.

However, if you use even a moderate quality sencha, and it isn't stale, it should come out green. Most good quality kukicha and genmaicha will at least come out greenish-yellow. Since most Japanese restaurants use a fairly inexpensive second-harvest sencha, I imagine you're either buying hojicha or simply using a very stale, low-quality sencha.

Chinese green teas are sometimes slightly yellow, but if they're actually yielding a brown brew, they, too are either stale or are simply mislabeled oolong.

I used to sell a fair amount of green tea when I ran a small scale import business. I do recall even matcha products turning brown after being exposed to excessive sunlight; one of the bakeries I know was constantly running into issues with their matcha pound cake slices on sunny days, especially those pieces in the front of their pastry case. So it's reasonably possible you simply have tea which has been stored improperly; you're best off with a nitrogen flushed tea and it should be used within about 6 months of opening the sealed package. If your tea comes unsealed, it probably isn't in very good shape to begin with.

In any event, my recommendation is to try a first-harvest high-mountain grown sencha that is sold in nitrogen-flushed aluminum packages. Depending on the style, the brewed color will be either very green or slightly yellowish if brewed in the typical way. You can either do a very brief, several second infusion at near-boiling, or a longer infusion at around 80 celsius. I like it both ways.

Gyokuro, if you can afford it, is extraordinarily green, but is unlikely to be served at a restaurant without an additional charge (it's essentially the same leaves used to make matcha, except rolled instead of being milled).

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Thanks for the great answer. It's certainly not a matter of my storage or the store's--I'm buying it from Trader Joe's and it's in sealed plastic bags; even right after purchase--still brownish brew. And it can't be a matter of quality; I highly doubt the free tea I'm getting with my lunch special is made from any kind of premium tea. –  Jeff Axelrod Sep 21 '12 at 12:02
    
You could ask the restaurant to show you what kind of tea they are serving you. When I was new to tea I did this frequently and I was never turned down on my request. They might even sell you some if they are reasonable about it. –  Peter K. Sep 22 '12 at 6:32
    
@PeterK. I did some follow-up research at your suggestion when I went to a sushi joint. They told me the same thing--buy Japanese green tea. I went to a big oriental grocer and bought a few different kinds of Japanese green tea and what a huge difference vs. Trader Joe's! (Theirs is not advertised as Japanese green tea.) They came out green and tasted much better. –  Jeff Axelrod Oct 5 '12 at 0:24

All green tea should be green, but if you let it boil for too long it will be brown. Try waiting half a minute rather than 90 seconds, and it will be a spring green. It depends on how strong typical cafes make it, though my green tea also turns brown after too long.

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I don't boil any tea, especially green tea. I usually let it steep at 170. –  Jeff Axelrod Jun 19 at 22:55

It's the kind of tea you are using. Japanese green teas are mostly steamed, where Chinese teas are roasted, in order to stop the leaves from breaking down. When the leaves are steamed, as in Sencha or Matcha, they produce a very green leaf, and in turn, a green brew. If a restaurant serves you a really green colored tea, its most likely a powdered sencha (which is very common for use as an iced green tea). Most likely you will have to order the tea from an internet retailer unless there is a specialty tea shop near you.

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