Matcha has been part of our daily routine for quite some time now. This super food is our favorite morning ritual that allows us to slow down, appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of the chawan (tea bowl) the chasen (bamboo whisk), the preparation of making a good cup and–finally, taking in all the green goodness that comes with it.
Over time, our love for Matcha has evolved during our kitchen adventures, as we experiment and cook with culinary grades from Coconut Matcha Panna Cotta to Matcha Pistachio Biscotti to Tempura with Matcha Salt. The ideas are endless. This is why we’re excited to share this quick guide, as the first step to experience Matcha and appreciate how its preparation can lead to rich mindfulness moments!
From China to Japan
Matcha has been making waves in the food & beverage world, specifically in the West, for its incredible health benefits and delicious flavor. This ancient drink originally came from China, which later spread to Japan. During the Tang Dynasty, Chinese Zen monks in the 600’s prepared Matcha by roasting and pulverizing the leaves. This production method was further advanced by the Song Dynasty–whereby whipping the powder together with hot water in a bowl became popular.
In 1191, Esai Myoan, a Japanese Buddhist Monk brought back tea seeds to Japan, while studying Buddhism in China. Eisai subsequently planted these seeds in the temple grounds in Kyoto, the home of Kamakura Shogun. During that time, Matcha was only produced in extremely limited quantities and was regarded as a luxurious status symbol. It was viewed as medicine, the ¨elixir of the immortals¨, for providing sustained energy and mental alertness. Over time, Zen Buddhist developed a new method for cultivating the green tea plant under shaded conditions.
The 1st tea garden was grown in Uji, Kyoto with this shaded method. By the 1500s, a Zen student named Murata Joko formalized a ritual that included cultivation, consumption and ceremony. This was popularized by Zen Master Sen-no-Rikyu, who later became the most well-known historical figure of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
Matcha (抹 茶) comes from the whole green tea leaves (Tencha – 碾茶) grounded into a fine powder.
Matcha is set apart from other teas because the entire green tea leaf is consumed during its refinement process which makes it unique.
Matcha is made softer, sweeter & brighter through a shade growing process three weeks before harvesting. The stems twigs and other unneeded parts are then deveined before the leaves are ground into a fine powder.
For a tea to be called Matcha it must follow certain growing and refining methods mentioned below:
- Shade for 20 Days: The shading shuts out direct sunlight to reduce photosynthesis, resulting in high chlorophyll and levels of l-theanine & for a full-bodied flavor.
- Pluck: First flush is the year’s first harvest of young leaves, usually in early May. This is considered to be the absolute finest in quality, freshness and flavor.
- Steam the Leaves: The steaming process lasts for about 15-20 seconds and is performed soon (within 12-20 hours) after the leaves are picked. The purpose is to prevent the leaves from being oxidized.
- Dry the Leaves: The tea leaves are then dried by removing the water content in a large drier. The tea leaves in this condition is called tencha aracha.
- Devein & Destem: After drying, the teas are deveined & de-stemmed. The leaves are further refined in a process of size and sorting. The final refined tea leaves are called Tencha which is the raw material for Matcha powder.
- Grind “Tencha” Leaves: It takes more than an hour to grind 30-40g grams. It is this grinding process from which Matcha-抹 茶, which is literally, “ground tea” derives its name.
Matcha is so much more than a drink, with such a vast array of physical & mental benefits. Matcha is a way of living. It nurtures the body & calms the mind. It can be a first step to help us retreat from our hectic lifestyles, grounding us in the midst of our over-stimulated modern lives. Energizing yet relaxing, nourishing & protecting, Matcha is the drink that keeps on giving.
Before tea was considered a casual beverage, it was considered a medicine. Of all the teas on earth, Matcha is the ultimate medicine.
Rich in Antioxidants
- One serving of Matcha has the same number of antioxidants as 10 cups of normal brewed green tea, making Matcha the highest source of antioxidants per gram.
- Matcha is full of polyphenols and catechins (particularly EGCG, the most potent & beneficial antioxidant known to prevent diseases and benefit your heath reducing inflations).
- Full of amino acids such as l-theanine and theophylline.
- Rich in vitamin A, B-Complex, C, E and K.
- Rich in trace minerals such as selenium, zinc, chromium and magnesium.
Full of Alkalizing & Detoxifying Properties
- Matcha contains high levels of chlorophyll which helps provide tissues with oxygen, which aids your body in detoxifying & creating a healthy alkaline pH.
A Way to Stimulate Metabolism & Burn Fat
- The catechin EGCG in Matcha has been found to raise the body’s thermogenesis (the body’s own rate of burning calories).
- At the same time, it oxidates fat & limits intestinal absorption of fat, while not raising blood pressure or heart rate.
An Effective Skin Protector
- EGCG is proven to fight skin aging, reduce inflammation caused by UV radiation & suppress acne.
- Improves skin complexion.
A Focus Booster & Mind Calmer
- The shade growing of Matcha elevates the L-theanine content, an amino acid that induces alpha frequency brain waves, resulting in mental calmness, improved concentration & memory, and relaxed alertness.
- Leaves the body calm and relaxed.
- Improves concentration and mood.
An Energy Booster
- It naturally contains about 1/2 the caffeine of coffee.
- The unique properties of Matcha result in a calm energy that lasts for 5.5 hours on average, with no jitters, crash, or nervous energy.
After trying, tasting and scoring many Matcha, our selected Matcha is chosen directly from small farms, where they’re directly packaged, naturally grown and pesticide-free from Uji, Kyoto and Shizuoka, Japan.
Here are the main factors to consider when choosing quality Matcha:
- Color: Bright, “really” vibrant green is an indicator of quality and high chlorophyll content. Lower grades will have more yellowish, brownish hue, which could indicate the use of mature leaves or 2nd harvest.
- Origin: Similar to wine, where tea leaves grow matters. The main Matcha producers are Nishio, Uji, Shizuoka & Kagoshima, Japan, known for their best growing areas & climate conditions.
- Texture: High quality Matcha is similar to fine baby powder. Very smooth & silky. Lower quality will have a course, gritty feel.
- Aroma: Good quality Matcha should smell fresh, green and nutty.
- Taste: High quality Matcha should taste smooth, vegetal, mildly sweet with umami flavor–not chalky or bitter.
There are typically two (2) general market grades of Matcha: Ceremonial & Culinary. However, there is no industry standard, even in Japan. There are many sub-grades in the market as well. Culinary Grades come in various nomenclature, such as Latte grade, Kitchen grade, Cocktail grade. etc. The main difference from one grade to other is usually based on the harvest season, color, texture, taste & grinding method. On a personal level, it really depends on the purpose and intention of your use. We recommend high quality Ceremonial Matcha for traditional drinking, such as Usucha (thin matcha) or Culinary grade for baking use, smoothies, lattes, etc.
There are different ways to enjoy Matcha, and you don’t necessarily need all the tea ware to enjoy it. The traditional style of making Matcha is called USUCHA, also known as thin Matcha.
Tea Ware traditionally required:
- Chawan (Teabowl) or a mug/cup of choice.
- Chasen (Bamboo Whisk). This can be replaced with a milk frother or whisk. However, the metal can damage the chawan.
- Chasaku (Matcha Bamboo Spoon), or any wooden spoon.
- A fine mesh strainer.
Preparation for Usucha:
- Warm the chawan with hot water.
- Soften the chasen with hot water.
- Discard the hot water & towel dry.
- Sift 2 chasaku spoons (2 grams) or 1 standard teaspoon of Ceremonial Matcha to avoid lumps.
- Add a small amount of water to create a smooth paste.
- Add the remaining water, 70ml or about 1/3cup at 80ºC/176ºF.
- Whisk vigorously in zigzag motion for almost a minute. Drink immediately.
Note: For Koicha (thick tea), double the matcha powder dosage and decrease the water amount to 50%, creating a thick syrup paste.
Kindly visit our blog at http://www.yvettetea.com/how-to-enjoy-your-matcha-3-ways/ to check out the other ways of Matcha.
Matcha Latte Choices
Our personal preference for making Matcha lattes are plant-based, but this is really based on your personal choice and diet preference. We’ve used:
- Organic Coconut Milk
- Organic Almond Milk
- Organic Cashew Milk
- Organic Oat Milk
Much like milk, this is a personal preference. We normally don’t add sugar to tea or Matcha. However, here are some recommendations that pair well with Matcha latte:
- Organic Honey (we enjoy the raw, unfiltered kind)
- Organic Date Syrup
- Organic Coconut Sugar
Please keep in mind that Matcha doesn’t dissolve in water. It needs to be suspended in water or milk (for latté), so whisking the matcha helps hold the powder in suspension and the frothing process aerates the water, which affects the flavor. This is sole function of the bamboo whisk, which we think is irreplaceable.
The following traditional tools are what we use to make the best Matcha at home:
- Traditional bamboo whisk (chasen) & holder (chasen naoshi).
- Fine sieve & bamboo spoon (chasaku). Sifting ensures there will be no clumps of Matcha.
- Matcha bowl (chawan) or mug at least 10cm in diameter to allow for optimal space for whisking action.
- Mason Jar-for Jar Shaken Method.
*Please note that if you don’t have the traditional tea ware at home, you can use a soup bowl with a deep wide base, so there’s room for whisking action. Also, if you don’t have a bamboo whisk, you can try using an electric milk brother.
Matcha & Storage
It’s important to avoid oxidization (or exposure to air), light or odor, so store your Matcha in an airtight package or container in the refrigerator.
To ensure freshness, color and taste, Matcha should ideally be consumed within 1-2 months once opened. An unopened refrigerated package will last about one year.