Friday, June 8, 2012

How Many People Are Put Off From Tea By Bad Green Tea?

I often like to re-read old posts on people's blogs. Sometimes I find them through web searches or links, other times by browsing. Today I want to draw attention to an old post on Adam Yusko's blog The Sip Tip. The post is titled Current thoughts on Tea Freshness, and the post is quite brief. I want to credit Adam's post with inspiring not only this post, but my recent post Why Can Green Tea Bags Be Worse Than Black Tea Bags?. In his post, Adam writes:

With all the health promotions out there, most peoples step away from black/ red tea would be a green tea, which is a lot more "time sensitive" than most black/red teas.

I've also noticed this, and I'd agree about the greater time-sensitivity of green tea, in that green tea is not as likely as black tea to stay fresh over long periods of time.

Also: green tea can be pickier about brewing:

I want to add to this observation that, with the exception of a few quirky teas (like Darjeeling oolong), I've found that green teas can be among the most sensitive to brewing temperature, and, in general, the most picky about brewing. I find a typical green tea takes more skill to brew well than a typical black, oolong, white, or Pu-erh tea.

Also: green tea purchased in tea bags can be worse than the worst black tea bags:

I recently published a post Why Can Green Tea Bags Be Worse Than Black Tea Bags? in which I explain how, in my experience, green tea bags can potentially be worse than the worst black tea bags.

Typical green teas in tea bags are more likely to lead to a bad tea drinking experience than black teas:

All these points, Adam's point about storage, and the points about brewing and the broader range of low-quality green tea bags, lead to the same conclusion: green teas are more likely to lead to a bad tea drinking experience for casual tea drinkers than other types of tea.

A lot of people try out tea first in the context of experimenting with green tea as a health product or weight loss method:

People who try out green tea as a health product are unlikely to experience green tea at its best, in the form of high-quality, loose-leaf green tea, properly prepared. What is more likely is that they will encounter low-quality tea in a tea bag, possibly of dubious freshness, and try brewing it with boiling water.

It's a sad fact that in America, many people's first experiences with tea are with low-quality green tea, in tea bags, consumed with intentions of weight loss or acquiring supposed "health benefits". These misguided ventures into green tea can be part of an overall healthy pattern of eating healthier foods, like when a person gives up soda for tea, but they can also be a part of harmful fad diets which have negative impacts on health. I'm active on Yahoo! Answers, where I sometimes answer tea-related questions, and an overwhelming majority of tea-related questions, once filtering through the ones about tea party politics, are ones relating to green tea and weight loss, with a few relating to green tea and promises of vague "health benefits".

Many of them are questions from people remarking that they want to start drinking green tea but that they find it tastes terrible.

How can we combat these things?

It's hard to combat a dominant cultural idea, like the ubiquitious association between green tea and weight loss in the public consciousness in America. I find that the best way to combat these sorts of ideas is, rather than negating or outright challenging them in an antagonistic way, to present a new, more truthful statement, and then, to repeat this statement frequently. I recommend:

  • When talking to someone who seems motivated to drink tea for health or weight loss purposes, acknowledge and appeal to their concern for health. Emphasize that taste is a good indicator of freshness and quality, and that higher-quality teas and fresher teas are often lower in contaminants and are likely to be higher in beneficial chemicals (such as Vitamin C in green tea, which breaks down over time). Emphasize that whole-leaf tea stays fresh better than broken-leaf tea. Appeal to the things the person has already communicated that they care about (health). Emphasize that the process of enjoying your tea can be relaxing and can promote mindfulness, which is well-known to reduce stress and promote overall health.
  • Avoid negating the person's motivations, and especially avoid telling the person what they "should" do, how they "should" think, or what they "should" want, and avoid approaching the person in any sort of way that puts them down. It can be tempting to say something like: "You shouldn't drink tea for its health benefits, you should drink tea because you like the way it tastes." This sort of statement is more likely to alienate a person and elicit a defensive reaction than a similar statement, worded like: "I recommend thinking less about health and focusing on drinking the teas that you enjoy most." or better yet, appeal to their desire for a healthy drink: "I think the healthiest approach is to focus on drinking the teas that taste best to you and that make you feel best."

It's a lot easier to work with people than against them!


  1. I start each of my tastings asking the participants if they've ever had bitter green tea. The majority always says yes. Then I steep some quality green tea correctly and change their minds instantly. It's amazing.

    1. I've had the same experience! It's pretty exciting.

      But then I also have encountered a few people like Sylvia, who actually prefers green teas that most tea enthusiasts would label low-quality.

    2. I still like most black and white teas better than low-quality green tea, though.

  2. Yeah, for a long time, I couldn't understand why some people wouldn't like green tea. Not being excited about green tea, was understandable to me. But what's to feel dreadful about green tea, was rather puzzling to me. Then once I had a K-cup green tea in a mechanic garage when waiting for my car to be repaired. Oh that tea was so dreadful! I would only take a sip of it again if somebody pays me $100 to do it! :-p Then I fully understood why some people were scared of green tea!

  3. Thank you for this post! As a budget-minded practitioner of Chado I am always looking for matcha that is good quality but also a good value. It's dreadful to have purchased what is marketed as high-grade matcha only find that it is not even food-grade. I'm sure that many people new to Tea have had this experience and will be reluctant to try it again.

    1. Re: the matcha, that sounds like that's going beyond sloppiness or bad business, and into unethical false representation of a product. Have you ever had a case like that where it's a packaged product with Japanese labelling, where you actually have something in writing stating that it's something other than what it's sold as? Or was it just that you ordered something and it was very bad?

  4. And there is only one green tea... Where I live most people think green tea is only one type: That in the teabag labeled "green tea". So if they don't like it (for whatever reason) they don't know that they can explore further to find a green they like.

    I also experienced that the temperature tip works miracles, even with teabag "green tea". Either by letting them cooling the water down or by mixing with unboiled water.

    1. seems that a lot of people don't really have much more than generic "green tea" on their radar. One of the things that I am really hoping to do with RateTea, is to get people to think more about the different types of tea, and different regions in which they're produced. I want the site to appeal to casual tea drinkers, people drinking this "generic" green tea, and show them how much else is out there.

      I also have noticed though that even with basic tea bags, brewing them with care can produce much better results. I've also had the same experience with black tea...if you put as much care into preparing a basic Lipton black tea as you do with a high-quality loose-leaf black tea, it produces much better results. People often complain that these teas are very bad, and some of them are, but I also think that, even among people who know a lot about tea, people tend to drink them when they're in a hurry, perhaps don't have control over the water temperature, maybe are brewing them in a styrofoam cup, etc...

  5. Aside from the fact that the tea might be lousy, it's worth noting that even the best green tea might be offputting to someone who's accustomed to drinking heavily sweetened, strongly flavored sodas and other bottled beverages.

    1. Yes! That's another thing that I did not really think about. I think that bitter beverages with subtle flavors like tea tend to be more of an acquired taste for people fomiliar with drinking things like sodas.