When people buy their first green tea, what they expect after brewing is green water. After all, why should they call it green tea if it is not really green?
However, to the astonishment of most people, when they brew green tea just as specified in the packaging, it turns water brown. And you are left to wonder, is this what the Japanese or Chinese people call green?
Well, to answer the question- Why Does Green Tea Turn Brown? We can say that the color is down to different levels of oxidation of the green tea leaves. Green tea should be grown in high altitudes, under shades. Sunlight harms the plant, and this affects its color.
So, does this mean the green tea you just bought is fake? Well, it might be original, but not grown in ideal conditions. Also, it might not be processed correctly, and that’s why it assumes a brown color when brewed. Typically, green tea should turn green, but even if it turns yellow or light brown, you will still derive its benefits, although the green one boasts of more benefits.
Before we talk at the factors that make green tea turn out light brown or yellow, let's discuss briefly talk about green tea.
Green tea comes from young Camellia Sinensis leaves and buds, the same plant that produces black tea. It originated from China, but it is now grown and processed in many other countries due to the rising demand.
Green tea is intended to be consumed 'fresh,' which explains its green color in tea, while black tea is drank roasted. The fact that it is grown under shade away from direct sunlight and is less processed makes it retain more of its antioxidants and nutrients. This is the main reason green tea is considered healthier than black tea and other tea varieties.
There are two main reasons why some green tea comes out brown;
The ultimate color of the leaves after they have been prepared for packaging will dictate the color your green tea will take. Originally, when leaves are on the Camellia Sinensis tree, they are bright green. The young shoots and buds are only meant to be lightly processed to prevent over-oxidation.
However, different types of green teas are processed differently; for instance, the Japanese green tea is made by steaming raw leaves, rolling them, and allowing them to dry. This means their green color is richer.
Matcha, on the other hand, is the greenest type of green tea. It is made of green tea leaves that are shade-grown for 3-4 weeks. When harvested, the veins and stems are removed during processing, after which they are finely ground into powder.
Chinese green tea is processed differently. Although not fermented, this type of green tea is first exposed to sunlight or dried using warm air. The leaves are then pan-fried to stop further processes. This makes Chinese green tea more oxidized than their Japanese counterparts, which means this type of green tea is likely to take a brown or light yellow color upon brewing. In addition, the level of altitudes and types of soil between Japan and China are different.
The whole point of this explanation is to show you that the method of processing green tea dictates the color the tea will take. How long green tea leaves are exposed to direct sunlight, the heat they are exposed to, and how well the tea is packaged and stored before you get it, all dictate the color your green tea will take.
Therefore, you will encounter vast variations of green teas because each country and brand has a different processing style and use green teas from different regions.
Besides, you may encounter a scenario where oolong tea, another type of green tea that is usually more processed than all other green teas, was mislabeled as Sencha (Japanese green tea). This is a grave mistake that will deny you a chance to drink your usual cup of green tea. Of course, this shouldn’t be a reason why your green tea turns yellow, but it is important to mention that mistakes do happen in labeling different types of green teas.
Green tea is extremely sensitive to heat. If you recall in the above point, we mentioned that the difference in color could be brought about by how the tea is processed. Processing tea is all about heating and oxidation.
In the same way, green tea can turn out green or brown, depending on how you brew it. Keep in mind that due to how it is grown (under shade) and processed (low heat or no heat at all), green tea oxidizes faster than black tea. Therefore, if you brew it in the same manner as black tea, then you are in for a different flavor, color, and taste.
For instance, most people use hot water (80 degrees Celsius/ 176F) to brew their green tea, a process that normally takes place between two and four minutes, depending on how the manufacturer has indicated. However, for your tea to retain its green color, you should not steep it for more than two minutes.
Most people are unable to brew green tea the right way because of failure to monitor the temperature of the water you are brewing your green tea with. When temperatures are too high, you will end up with a bitter, overly oxidized tea. The results are darker, yellow tea, which can turn brown in extreme cases.
When brewed in water that is under 80 degrees Celsius/ 176F, your tea will possibly have a bright green color. Well, you may have attained your desired color, but you may not have drawn all the nutrients from your tea leaves.
In addition to the hot brew method, some people prefer cold brewing. This means the leaves are left to steep in water that has room temperature for about 10 to 12 hours. This brewing method is slower and will result in a different flavor of the same green tea you normally make using the hot brewing process.
Since this process eliminates the risk of oxidizing tea leaves, you don’t have to fear about getting bitter tea or your tea getting the brown or light-yellow color. If your green tea does not turn out green using this method, know that either it has gone stale or has become overly oxidized, probably due to poor packaging.
Also, when brewing, do not add too much tea leaves into your cup. Of course, there are those who like it strong, but there are limits. Brewing too much tea leaves can alter the color of resultant tea, whereby color can range from greenish-yellow to green.
This discussion brings us to another question
Like most foods, there are distinct differences between the qualities of green teas. A study conducted by Consumer Lab indicated that antioxidants in green tea could vary greatly; in fact, by more than 240%.
So, how do you know the right green tea to drink? The easiest way is judging by the color of the tea, especially when cold brewed. If your green tea turns out brown, even after brewing it in water that has room temperature, then it is likely that the tea is overly oxidized and thus has an inferior antioxidant quality.
Also, asses the taste of your green tea. Green tea is not supposed to be bitter since it doesn’t go under any oxidation process. Therefore, if you find it with a bitter taste, it is likely that the antioxidant content in it is inferior.
We hope to have clarified the reasons why green tea often takes brown or light yellow color. Keep in mind that the light yellow color doesn't always indicate that your green tea has inferior quality when it comes to antioxidants in it since there are different methods of processing green teas.
To ensure that you brew your green tea the right way, you need to have teapots that keep water at recommended temperatures. Porcelain teapots will do fine with green tea. Japanese people use Kyusu (Japanese teapot) for brewing and drinking green tea. With this teapot, your green tea will taste a little bit better.
Browse our collection of best teapots for green tea as well as green teacups.