Tea is the second most consumed beverage globally (just behind water), and tea drinkers are known for being opinionated about the type of tea they think is best. While green tea and black tea come from the same plant, how these teas are processed and oxidized generates significant differences in taste, color, and even health benefits.
Black tea vs. green tea | Which one do you choose?
Black tea is typically considered richer and stronger, while green tea is regarded as a lighter body tea often described as having a rich umami flavor. Both black and green tea each have their own unique taste, color, and benefits, so which tea should you drink? Read more to discover which one is right for you!
Cultivation and manufacturing of black tea vs. green tea
Green tea and black tea both come from the Camellia sinensis plant, but the subspecies grown, the type of leaves used, when leaves are picked and how they are processed, and oxidized can all lead to significant differences in color and flavor.
There are two subspecies of Camellia sinensis: C. sinensis and Camellia sinensis assamica. C. sinensis is a Chinese plant with smaller leaves and is often described as softer and sweeter (often used for green tea). The C. sinensis assamica is from the Assam region in north India. The latter subspecies has larger leaves, and is ideal for stronger, more robust teas (like black tea). Hybrids of these two varieties are also grown and used.
The typical process for manufacturing tea involves four phases: withering, rolling, fermenting, and drying.
To make black tea, mature leaves are picked and then withered. The withering process essentially allows the tea leaves to wilt. The primary purpose of this step is to reduce the moisture content in the leaves. Leaves may be laid outside on bamboo mats or placed inside under hot forced air to speed up the process. On average, black tea is left to wither for 14-20 hours, although timing can vary greatly.
Tea leaves are then twisted and rolled. This allows the leaf cell walls to rupture and brings juices to the surface, letting enzymes and polyphenols combine. Rolling is traditionally done by hand; however, many manufacturers now use specialized machines.
Next, rolled tea leaves are allowed to 'ferment'. This step isn't so much proper fermentation as it is letting oxygen interact with leaf enzymes. Exposure to oxygen initiates the oxidation process and is one of the most significant differences between black and green tea. Oxidation is also what gives black tea its dark, coppery, brown coloring.
Fermented leaves are then left to dry under large dryers until a moisture content of about 3% is reached. After thoroughly drying, tea leaves will be packaged and ready to be sold and used.
How green tea and matcha powder are manufactured differently compared to black tea
In contrast, green tea is often made with smaller, younger leaves, and the whole process is typically completed in less than 24 hours. The method of making matcha is more involved than traditional green tea, and begins with shading the tea plant a few weeks before harvest.
After being picked, the young leaves are quickly heated or steamed- this is critical as heat turns off the enzymes that start the oxidation reaction. This is what preserves the high amount of chlorophyll in the leaves and keeps them bright green.
The next two manufacturing steps are very similar for green and black tea. Both green and black tea leaves are rolled and dried until they have a moisture content of about 3-4%. Though for matcha green tea, young green tea leaves are ground by hand into a very fine green tea powder.
Regarding green and black tea processing, one of the most significant differences is how long the tea leaves are allowed to oxidize. The oxidation process for green tea is minimal, which helps the leaves stay green and promotes certain health benefits. Black tea leaves are heavily oxidized, giving them their color and flavor.
Learn more about how loose-leaf green tea differs from matcha green tea powder.
Preparation, appearance, and taste of black tea vs. green tea
Black tea is prepared with hot water (200-205°) and steeped for 3-5 minutes. Green tea is also made with hot water (175-180°) and steeped for 2-3 minutes.
Black tea can range in color from amber to red or very dark brown. Green tea can be yellow, light brown, or have a very bright green hue.
Black tea often has a very robust and full-bodied flavor profile. It's often described as being rich, earthy, spicy, or even having malt notes. Flavor can vary depending on the specific type and origin, but black tea generally has a particular warmth and a hint of sweetness. Some black teas may also be floral, fruity, or spicy.
Chinese teas tend to be more full-bodied, while Indian teas are often more robust. Ultimately, the taste of black tea can be described as bold, comforting, and invigorating.
Learn more about the differences between Chinese and Japanese matcha green tea powder.
Green tea has quite a different flavor profile compared to black tea. It is refreshing and has a cleaner taste. It's often described as having a vegetal or umami flavor and can sometimes offer up notes of freshly cut grass or fresh herbs.
Green tea typically has less robustness and astringency than black tea and instead has a slightly sweeter taste. Green teas can also have hints of nuttiness, floral notes, or citrus qualities. Green tea is also often described as crisp, clean, and revitalizing.
Caffeine Content of green tea vs. black tea
The amount of caffeine can vary greatly depending on type, origin, and how strongly brewed the tea is, but on average, black tea contains more caffeine than green tea. An average cup of black tea may contain 50-90 mg of caffeine, whereas an average cup of green tea may have 20-45 mg.
Black tea tends to have more caffeine than green tea because of the oxidation process it undergoes. Black tea is also made with hotter water and is often allowed to steep longer, which helps release more caffeine from the leaves.
L-theanine, found in both green and black tea, although in different amounts and concentrations, may also change how you process and experience that caffeine rush. L-theanine is an amino acid that gives a calm, relaxed, yet alert feeling. L-theanine may help reduce that jittery, anxious feeling some people experience when drinking coffee and energy drinks.
Health benefits of black tea vs. green tea
Both green tea and black tea contain a specific group of antioxidants called flavonoids—a type of polyphenol. Studies show that antioxidants protect against free radical damage and may help reduce the risk for many diseases and conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Green and black tea also contain caffeine and the aminoe acid L-theanine- this combination is thought to potentially boost energy, improve focus, memory, and attention.
Both green and black tea also contain quercetin, which one study suggested may help lower stroke risk.
While both teas share many health benefits, they also provide unique benefits.
Green tea health benefits
As discussed, green and black tea contain flavonoids. However, green tea is incredibly high in EGCG, a catechin (subcategory of polyphenols) that has been very well-researched. It's thought that EGCG may help reduce inflammation and risk for certain health conditions like heart disease and cancer and even aid in weight loss.
Matcha green tea, in particular, contains more concentrated L-theanine, which, research shows, could help boost memory, concentration, focus, and clarity.
Green tea has also been studied for increasing metabolism, speeding up weight loss, protecting the brain from age-related diseases, and managing healthy blood sugar levels.
Black tea health benefits
Black tea is exceptionally high in a flavonoid called theaflavins. Theaflavins have been studied for their effect on heart health, lowering cholesterol, balancing blood sugars, and reducing free radical damage.
The high quantity of polyphenols in black tea may even support a healthy gut microbiome. Having a healthy gut has been connected to aid in lowering levels of IBS, diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. One study showed that black tea might help promote the growth of good bacteria over harmful bacteria.
The Bottom Line
The distinctions in processing and oxidation for green tea and black tea result in two similar yet distinct beverages. Green tea keeps its natural, fresh, umami flavor, while the oxidation process gives black tea a robust, hearty taste. The contrasting ways green tea vs. black tea are processed may also lead to different possible health benefits.
Green tea contains EGCG and may potentially have more antioxidants, whereas black tea contains theaflavins and more caffeine. Ultimately, the choice between green and black tea comes down to personal taste preferences and desired health benefits.
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- Japanese vs. Chinese grown matcha
- A guide to different grades of matcha
- 11 Benefits of drinking matcha instead of coffee
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Disclaimer: These statements in this blog post have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. It's essential to consult with a qualified healthcare professional before making any dietary or lifestyle changes.
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