You’ve had a cup of green tea a time or two in your life, right? Or maybe you’re an avid green tea drinker – someone that wakes up each morning and instead of a cup of coffee you have a warm cup of green tea.
Whether you drink green tea or not, I know you’ve heard all about its health benefits. You can find it on just about every “Top Superfoods” list online and doctors everywhere are telling their patients to sub green tea for their morning coffee.
But not nearly as many people are aware of the power of eating green tea leaves. Yes – eating them.
My life and wellness journey has been greatly impacted by green tea leaves, and I want to share that with you. We’re going to explore everything from types of green tea leaves and what’s inside of them, to the benefits of eating these leaves and how to prepare them at home.
You’ll never look at green tea the same way.
Green Tea Plants & Seeds
Let’s start this green tea story at the very beginning – the plant.
Green tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, originally native to Asia and now found just about anywhere tropical. Fun fact: black teas and oolong teas come from the same plant. The differences boil down to how you prepare the leaves after harvesting.
Knowing how to grow tea leaves at home is actually easier than you may think. You can start from tea plant seeds or by purchasing the green tea plant directly. But most of us are just going to want the green tea leaves ready to go.
Types Of Green Tea
We often talk about green tea as if it were just one type of product, but there are many green tea types and options.
Organic Green Tea
Let’s talk about the differences between organic vs. non-organic green tea. Though the plant and growing process may be identical, non-organic tea leaves can soak up any sort of toxin, chemical, heavy metal, pesticide, etc. that does not belong in your body.
And when you use green tea leaves to make you well, you should make sure toxins aren’t coming along for the ride. Keep your green tea organic – always.
Loose Leaf Green Tea
Loose green tea is the most well-known type of green tea – you can find it in just about any coffee shop and grocery store. Though all loose green tea stem from the same plant, the way you grow the plant, when you harvest its leaves, and the methods you choose for processing can leave you with variations. Here are a few:
- Fukamush Sencha
In a minute we’re going to talk about how you can actually skip the whole brewing process and eat some of these organic loose leaf tea options directly.
Matcha is simply powdered green tea. Instead of brewing the green tea leaves, they are ground into a fine powder that can be added to liquid or foods.
This means you’re not just sipping on water that has been infused; you’re getting all the good things green tea has to offer.
We are about to learn how this is an incredible way to reap the full benefits of green tea leaves, but know this isn’t a recent discovery. Ancient China enjoyed powdered green tea and the idea eventually landed in Japan all the way back in the 1100s. The art of making this matcha tea was transformed into a traditional tea ceremony.
Green Tea Ingredients
Now we start the good stuff.
At the end of the day, your green tea should have only one ingredient: organic green tea leaves. But what’s inside those leaves? What type of macronutrients and micronutrients are we talking about? Does green tea have vitamin C? Any minerals? Green tea actually offers:
- Vitamin A (when eaten only)
- Vitamin B1
- Vitamin B2
- Vitamin C
- Protein (mostly when eaten)
- Fiber (when eaten only)
You can also find L-Theanine in green tea. This is an amino acid that gives you that relaxed and happy feeling of wellness.
Antioxidant Teas – Green Is #1
Besides your vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, you are going to find loads and loads of antioxidants in your green tea leaves. There are lots of teas with antioxidants – but not a one can even hold a candle to the green stuff.
Inside of green tea are things called flavonoids – these are powerful antioxidants that include catechin, uercetin, epicatechin, and much more. You also get EGCG, which blows even vitamin C out of the water in terms of antioxidants… by 25 to 100 times! This is why green tea is the best antioxidant tea.
Remember that antioxidants play vital roles in:
- Boosting your immune system
- Preventing cancer
- Keeping your skin youthful
- Aiding mental health
- Improving arthritis pain
- Strengthening your eyes
- And much more
So green tea is already the queen of teas with antioxidants, but then I’ll take you one step further.
Eating the green tea leaves will on average boost those individual antioxidants around 8,000 to 10,000 times over.
Is Green Tea Caffeinated?
On the topic of ingredients, is green tea caffeinated? Both brewed green tea and green tea leaves contain caffeine – but not nearly as much as coffee.
- 8 ounces of coffee has about 95 mg of caffeine
- 8 ounces of cola has about 35 mg of caffeine
- 1 bar of dark chocolate has about 70 mg of caffeine
- 8 ounces of brewed green tea has about 25- 35 mg of caffeine
Whether you are drinking or eating green tea leaves, you can expect about a 3.5% ratio of caffeine in both. This means by eating green tea you get significantly more benefits without any extra caffeine high.
Green Tea Benefits
The idea of green tea leaves being filled with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants all sounds great in theory, but what does it all add up to? How does green tea actually benefit the body?
Other than being a general health booster due to its high nutrient and antioxidant content, here are a few of the many specific benefits science has uncovered:
- Say Bye-Bye Infections: Recent studies are showing more and more how green tea can be antibacterial.
- Calm Down: That L-theanine amino acid is a fabulous source of relaxation to reduce anxiety. It brings about a sense of well-being throughout the day.
- Boost that Brain: The combo of l-theanine and caffeine are being touted as an all-natural nootropic, or brain booster – perfect for improving concentration, raising alertness, sharpening accuracy, and capturing your attention. Green tea’s been offering that ideal combo – relaxed alertness – for millennia.
- Lose the Lbs.: This green tea benefit has probably been the most manipulated for marketing. It’s not going to make you lose 50 pounds in one month (that would be dangerous). However, the compounds in green tea can improve the oxidation of fat.
- Keep Your Heart Ticking: A Japanese study looked at over 40,000 adults for up to 11 years. They found that regular consumption of green tea was connected to fewer deaths due to cardiovascular problems.
- Stop Cancer?: Look, as much as I would love to tell you green tea is the ultimate cancer prevention/solution, I can’t. But – there have been studies that show that some of the antioxidant properties of green tea can potentially inhibit tumor growth, activate enzymes that detoxify (which helps prevent tumors), and help prevent radiation damage.
And the list goes on and on –there’s research showing green tea’s ability to improve things like bone health and cholesterol too.
Eating Green Tea Leaves Instead of Brewing Them
If that weren’t good enough already, there’s a way to boost these green tea ingredients and receive more of the green tea benefits. We’re going to dive into the idea of eating tea leaves instead of drinking them.
I know you’re wondering: Can you eat tea leaves safely? I want to be really clear: not all green tea leaves are safe for eating. Not even all organic green tea leaves are safe. Toxins and pollutants can enter the soil, and then the plants absorb them.
In order to benefit from eating tea leaves without any fear of heavy metals or chemicals, you will need to only choose a brand that continually tests for things like lead, mercury, etc. (Luckily, I’ve found one for you – sneak peak in the next section!)
Think about all the nutrients and antioxidants that come out of the green tea leaves when they are brewed. Now think about all the nutrients and antioxidants you could get if you just ate the leaf itself.
So What’s The Best Green Tea For Eating?
What’s the best green tea option for you? I’m going to suggest it’s the same brand that’s been the best green tea for me: Eat Green Tea.
Eat Green Tea offers two products with nearly identical health benefits:
- Powder (AKA: matcha)
- Whole leaf
The only real difference is what you want to do with it. Powders can be easy, but will make your food look green (perfect for a smoothie, not necessarily a sauce). Whole leaves are easy to toss into anything like meatballs or even to sprinkle on top of a fresh salad.
Eat Green Tea is the best green tea for health because it takes all those compounds that produce the benefits above and offers them at significantly higher percentages. Highest antioxidants; lowest levels of toxins – that’s why I trust them.
Green Tea Taste
Ok, so it’s super healthy for you. But can you eat tea leaves enjoyably? What does green tea taste like? Let’s go through each option.
Brewed Green Tea Taste
You are probably already familiar with the taste of a brewed green tea. It’s earthy, slightly bitter, yet fairly mild. Many people like a squeeze of lemon or honey.
Whole Green Tea Leaf Taste
For the most part, you will be including the whole green tea leaves into your meals or baking, so it just adopts the flavor of whatever you’re making – from a breakfast burrito to homemade pesto.
If you choose to make something like a matcha latte, these words would best describe it:
- Slightly bitter
- Slightly sweet
If you’re using the best tasting green tea (Eat Green Tea) and/or high quality matcha it won’t taste too bitter – just enough to balance the sweetness.
How To Make Green Tea
Knowing how to prepare green tea is not a one-and-done as you’re about to see – your options are virtually endless.
For the most part, matcha, or green tea powder, tends to go really well with sweeter items – like breakfasts or desserts. And whole green tea leaves tend to go really well with more savory items – like dinner. Here’s some ideas on how you can use both the powder and the leaves in your daily life:
- Incorporate green tea powder into food
I recommend experimenting with this one – but here are some of my personal favorites to get you started:
- Matcha Granola <- I cut down the sugar on this one
- Green Tea Coconut Ice Cream
- Matcha Chia Seed Pudding
Be fully warned: matcha will make your food look green, almost like you used green food coloring.
- Incorporate green tea powder into drinks
Here’s the funny thing about “eating” green tea leaves – you can still make them into a drink. Instead of brewing a tea, adding a teaspoon of green tea powder into warm milk or nut milk can make an incredible morning matcha latte.
Also! Adding a teaspoon or two of matcha powder into your morning smoothie is perfection.
- Incorporate whole green tea leaves
This is where your imagination and creativity can fly. Anytime you may toss in some spinach or cilantro or other greens into a meal, add a tablespoon or two of your green tea leaves. Stir-fry, soup, scrambles, are other ideas where you can add green tea leaves.
- Brew green tea
Of course, enjoying a nice hot mug of brewed green tea is still a fabulous choice. Brewing green tea is simple, cost effective, and still nutrient rich. How much green tea per day you like to drink is largely up to you and your caffeine limitations. A mug or two should be just fine.
Green Tea Extract
We have been talking up all this goodness about green tea leaves, so we should pause a moment on the wildly popular green tea extract. Is it the same thing?
Green tea extract often finds one or two aspects of green tea – like the catechins or EGCG green tea extract – and puts them in a green tea supplement pill. These are not necessarily natural.
Sometimes this can get a bit controversial because green tea extract dosage is not the same as when you simply drink or eat whole green tea leaves. Some aspects may be too concentrated, there may be fillers, and it may give you some side effects. This is why I recommend sticking to green tea leaves in their whole food form (or using matcha) and leaving the extracts alone.
Which brings me to…
Green Tea & Your Liver
Perhaps you have heard a rumor about green tea and liver problems. Let’s clear that up really quickly.
Drinking actual green tea is not connected with liver issues. But there have been some cases of green tea extract causing liver injury, similar to hepatitis symptoms. Once these people stop taking the extract, they tend to “recover rapidly.” So you’re not really looking at long-term issues.
And these instances are really rare.
So don’t worry about drinking or eating green tea leaves. Of course, if you have any funky symptoms visit your doctor ASAP. But don’t let some green tea extract problems drive you away from the massive health benefits of organic, high quality green tea leaves.
Green Tea Vs. Black Tea
Is it really worth switching your black tea for green? Green tea and black tea may come from the exact same plant, but the benefits aren’t even close.
The difference all comes down to processing. To keep green tea green, farmers will immediately stop the oxidation process through heat treatments. This keeps all the goodness there. Black tea is oxidized much further. This rids the leaves of many of their health benefits.
The question of green tea or black tea is a no-brainer if you’re drinking the tea for your health.
Green Tea Instead Of Coffee?
Hopefully, by now you are quite convinced that green tea really is a health and wellness must-have. To take advantage of those benefits consistently, many people choose to incorporate it by switching out their morning coffee for a morning matcha.
With green tea leaves, you still get that morning energy boost, but you are also getting a multi-vitamin and shot of antioxidants.
It can be a great choice to feel fabulous all day – not just during a short and sweet coffee caffeine high.
Enjoying The Many Benefits of Green Tea Leaves
I think one of the best ways to make these wildly nutritious green tea leaves part of your wellness arsenal is to try both matcha and the whole green tea leaves. See which you like incorporating into your daily life better.
Either way – your body will thank you.
Have you ever incorporated matcha or green tea leaves into your diet? How did you feel about them? What’s your favorite recipe? Tell me all about it in the comments below!
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- “Matcha Granola with Blueberries” 40 aprons. 23 August, 2014. http://40aprons.com/matcha-granola-blueberries/
- “Green Tea Coconut Ice Cream” Minimalist Baker. https://minimalistbaker.com/green-tea-coconut-ice-cream/
- Blair, Renee. DailyBurn. 28 April, 2016. “Matcha Chia Seed Pudding Recipe.” http://dailyburn.com/life/recipes/matcha-chia-seed-pudding-recipe/