Japanese Matcha: A very detailed encounter of this ceremonial drink
In China during the Tang Dynasty (618–907), tea leaves were steamed and formed into tea bricks for storage and trade. The tea was prepared by roasting and pulverizing the tea, and simmering the resulting tea powder in hot water, then adding salt. During the Song Dynasty (960–1279), the method of making powdered tea from steam-prepared dried tea leaves, and preparing the beverage by whipping the tea powder and hot water together in a bowl became popular.
Preparation and consumption of powdered tea was formed into a ritual by Chan or Zen Buddhists. The earliest extant Chan monastic code, entitled Chanyuan Qinggui (Rules of Purity for the Chan Monastery, 1103), describes in detail the etiquette for tea ceremonies.
Zen Buddhism and the Chinese methods of preparing powdered tea were brought to Japan in 1191 by the monk Eisai. Although powdered tea has not been popular in China for some time, now there is a global resurgence in Matcha tea consumption, including in China. In Japan it continued to be an important item at Zen monasteries, and became highly appreciated by others in the upper echelons of society during the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries.
Matcha is made from shade-grown tea leaves that also are used to make gyokuru. The preparation of matcha starts several weeks before harvest and may last up to 20 days, when the tea bushes are covered to prevent direct sunlight. This slows down growth, stimulates an increase in chlorophyll levels, turns the leaves a darker shade of green, and causes the production of amino acids, in particular theanine Only the finest tea buds are hand-picked. After harvesting, if the leaves are rolled up before drying as in the production of sencha, the result will be gyokuro (jade dew) tea. If the leaves are laid out flat to dry, however, they will crumble somewhat and become known as tencha. Then, tencha may be de-veined, de-stemmed, and stone-ground to the fine, bright green, talc-like powder known as matcha.
Grinding the leaves is a slow process, because the mill stones must not get too warm, lest the aroma of the leaves is altered. It may take up to one hour to grind 30 grams of matcha
The flavour of matcha is dominated by its amino acids. The highest grades of matcha have more intense sweetness and deeper flavour than the standard or coarser grades of tea harvested later in the year.
How to make the perfect Matcha
Though the brilliant green colour, subtle umami flavour, and almost-creamy texture is its essence which is always there, you don’t need to be that precise to enjoy matcha, but channelling just a little of the focus and race of tea ceremony makes it more enjoyable to prepare and drink your tea.
Buy good matcha.
A puff of vibrant green powder with a sweet grassy aroma indicates that you’ve opened a good tin of matcha. But how do you choose one off the shelf? Don't bother with matcha made anywhere but Japan. Look for a best-by date stamped somewhere on the packaging (if it doesn’t have one, they have something to hide, says Mangan). Tins are easy to serve from, but bags are okay too as long as they are opaque to protect the tea from light. Buy matcha in small batches that you can use quickly; like spices or coffee, it loses its potency once opened.
Matcha is expensive because growing, harvesting, and grinding the tea leaves into powder is a labor-intensive process (and then it has to get here from Japan). It might seem like a bargain, but you definitely don’t want to drink culinary-grade matcha (except maybe in a smoothie or sweetened latte). In the U.S., higher grades of matcha are often labelled as “ceremonial.” In Japan, they are categorized as usucha, for making thin tea (most likely the matcha you know), and koicha for making thick tea (more like the texture of a very rich hot chocolate, often an acquired taste).
Have the right (simple) equipment.
You don’t need all the fancy tools used for tea ceremony, but you do need a chosen(matcha whisk) and a bowl (not a mug or teacup). The swish swish sound of a bamboo whisk is part of the pleasure of preparing matcha, and there’s really no substitute for producing a smooth cup of tea with fine foam on top.
In tea ceremony, appreciation of the bowl is part of the ritual. For everyday use you don’t have to invest in a ceramic work-of-art, but you do need a vessel that allows plenty of room for whisking (and feels nice in your hands and on your lips). A big café-au-lait mug or a delicate soup bowl that you already have will do fine to get started. If you drink matcha often, treat yourself to a bowl that you will treasure.
Use hot water.
Even if you want to make iced matcha or a matcha latte, the tea will dissolve best in hot water (make it strong and dilute with ice or frothed milk). But matcha isn’t as temperamental as other teas, so Mangan assured me you don’t need a thermometer. Boil some water, then wait about a minute, or pour it into one of those nifty Japanese kettleswith a very skinny spout (or a measuring cup, or anything else that will cool it off just a little). Before you begin making your tea, warm the bowl with a little hot water and then pat it dry.
Sift the tea.
You don’t have to sift the tea, but who likes green lumps sticking to their teeth? You can sift into the bowl each time, or sift all your matcha into its tin. All you need is a tea strainer and a spoon to help push it through (and a piece of paper to make a funnel if you’re sifting it into the tin).
Get the right ratio.
For most people, 2 grams powder to 70–80 grams water makes a pleasing cup. A scalemight seem fussy, but it makes it almost effortless to get the perfect cup every time (you’ll find it turns baking and coffee-making foolproof too). If you really can’t be bothered with a scale, use 1 teaspoon matcha and 1/3 to 1Ž2 cup water.
Once the water and tea are in the bowl, whisk back and forth in a zig-zag with the chasen, lightly touching the bottom of the bowl. The motion should come from your wrist, but don’t be afraid to really go for it! When the tea is thoroughly mixed with the water and getting frothy, move the whisk almost to the surface of the tea to make lots of fine foam on the top, almost like the crema on an espresso. Run the whisk in a circle around the perimeter of the tea, admire your fine work, and then drink it right away.
Last but not the least Serve with sweets.
Matcha is always served with a small sweet in Japan. Try it with a little square of chocolate or a tiny pastry—just a little sweetness to balance the tea and settle your stomach.
1. High in Antioxidants
We’ve all read this word before. Antioxidants are the magical nutrients and enzymes responsible for fighting against the negative effects of UV radiation, giving us younger-looking skin, and preventing a number of life-threatening maladies. Antioxidants are something that all health-conscious individuals seek from such foods as raw fruits, green veggies, and (let’s not forget) dark chocolate. The first amazing benefit of Matcha Green Tea is that just one bowl provides over 5 times as many antioxidants as any other food – the highest rated by the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) method.
2. Loaded with Catechin, EGCg
You may have already heard that not all antioxidants are created equal. Green tea contains a specific set of organic compounds known as catechins. Among antioxidants, catechins are the most potent and beneficial. One specific catechin called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg) makes up 60% of the catechins in Matcha Green Tea. Out of all the antioxidants, EGCg is the most widely recognized for its cancer fighting properties. Scientists have found that Matcha Green Tea contains over 100 times more EGCg than any other tea on the market.
3. Enhances Calm
For over a millennium, Matcha Green Tea has been used by Chinese Daoists and Japanese Zen Buddhist monks as a means to relax and meditate while remaining alert. Now we know that this higher state of consciousness is due to the amino acid L-Theanine contained in the leaves used to make Matcha. L-Theanine promotes the production of alpha waves in the brain which induces relaxation without the inherent drowsiness caused by other “downers.”
4. Boosts Memory and Concentration
Another side-effect of L-Theanine is the production of dopamine and serotonin. These two chemicals serve to enhance mood, improve memory, and promote better concentration – something that can benefit everyone!
5. Increases Energy Levels and Endurance
Samurai, the noble warriors of medieval and early-modern Japan, drank Matcha Green Tea before going into battle due to the tea’s energizing properties. While all green tea naturally contains caffeine, the energy boost received from Matcha is largely due to its unique combination of other nutrients. The increased endurance from a bowl of Matcha Green Tea can last up to 6 hours and because of the effects of L-Theanine, Matcha drinkers experience none of the usual side-effects of stimulants such as nervousness and hypertension. It’s good, clean energy. For a real energy kick, try making this energy boosting Matcha Green Tea Super Drink.
6. Burns Calories
Drinking Matcha Green Tea has also been shown to increase metabolism and help the body burn fat about four times faster than average. Again, unlike many diet aides currently on the market, Matcha causes no negative side-effects such as increased heart rate and high blood pressure.
7. Detoxifies the Body
During the last three weeks before tea leaves are harvested to be made into Matcha, Camellia sinensis are covered to deprive them of sunlight. This causes a tremendous increase in chlorophyll production in the new growth of these plants. The resulting high levels of chlorophyll in Matcha Green Tea not only give this tea its beautiful vibrant green colour. Matcha is also a powerful detoxifier capable of naturally removing heavy metals and chemical toxins from the body.
8. Fortifies the Immune System
The catechins in Matcha Green Tea have been shown to have antibiotic properties which promote overall health. Additionally, just one bowl of Matcha Green Tea provides substantial quantities of Potassium, Vitamins A & C, Iron, Protein, and Calcium. Further studies have even suggested that the nutrients in Matcha may have the ability to inhibit the attacks of HIV on human T-cells.
9. Improves Cholesterol
Researchers aren’t entirely certain how Matcha Green Tea has such a positive effect on cholesterol, however studies of different populations have shown that people who drink Match Green Tea on a regular basis have lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol while at the same time displaying higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. Men who drink Matcha Green Tea are about 11% less likely to develop heart disease than those who don’t drink Matcha.
Finally, the tenth and final benefit of drinking Matcha Green Tea.
10. Amazing Flavor
Drinking something just because it’s healthy can be a lot like swallowing medicine. It’s unpleasant and you dread it, but you feel obligated to do it. After all, it’s good for you… right? Sure, but wouldn’t you rather look forward to improving your overall well-being? Of course you would!
Fortunately, unlike a lot of other teas which require sugar, milk, or lemon to make them palatable to the average consumer, Matcha is absolutely wonderful all by itself. It’s crisp vegetative notes are complimented by the savoury taste of the L-Theanine amino acid making Matcha a tea that is truly unique in every way. So sit back, relax, and enjoy a delicious bowl of hot Matcha.