Matcha tea is a finely ground powder created from green tea leaves. It’s known for having therapeutic benefits and fighting many ailments. Sometimes, matcha is touted as one of the main reasons behind the low cancer rates and long lifespan in Japan. Matcha literally means powdered green tea leaves. However, the product that is labelled and sold as ‘matcha’ is referring to the tea leaves that are grown in the shade called tencha. Other tea leaves, such as sencha, are ground to form a powder but this creates a different product, such as konacha.
During China’s Song Dynasty (960 to 1279 CE), matcha was first created by grinding dried green tea leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Hot water was added to the tea leaf powder and whisked together.
Matcha was incorporated into a ritual by Buddhist monks and in the 12th century, the monks brought the tea to Japan where it became increasingly popular. It was included in the rituals in Japanese monasteries and was appreciated by everyone from aristocrats to everyday citizens. This was when the now-famous tea ceremony was first formed.
Green tea leaves are used to make matcha and on its own, green tea renowned for having many health benefits. It is said to fight cancer, boost the metabolism, increase bone density, reduce the risk of gum disease, fight aging and even boost immunity. These properties are magnified in matcha, because the ground tea is consumed fully. This differs from regular green tea where the leaves are steeped and the healing ingredients leech into the water and are then consumed in a diluted form. Matcha has some of the highest antioxidant ratios in any food, surpassing even blueberries and pomegranates.
Matcha has half the caffeine of a cup of coffee. The caffeine is accompanied by an amino acid called theanine. Theanine has a relaxing effect, which counteracts the caffeine so it is unlikely to cause any anxiety and can even encourage sleep and relaxation – depending on the individual. I will recommend umami matcha tea
In early spring, the Camellia sinensis plant starts sprouting shoots. After the first shoots appear, the plants are covered with a screen to filter the light. This helps increase the theanine in the plants, which improves the flavor.
In mid-May, depending on the growing climate, the first leaves are harvested. The first leaves are the highest grade from the plant, but the plant continues to be harvested to produce lower, more affordable grades of matcha.
After harvesting, the leaves are steamed for 15 seconds. This preserves the bright green color and prevents oxidation. This is the key difference between green tea and black tea. Once the leaves are steamed, they are spread out to dry. Then, the leaves are separated from the stem and the stem is removed. The remaining leaves are ground into matcha.
Matcha is not a cheap form of green tea. Mainstream matcha sells for about $20 a tin but higher grades can be 10 times as much.
The highest grades of matcha come from the first flush of leaves at harvest time. The absolute top grade of matcha comes from the top of the Camellia sinensis plant at first harvest while the lower leaves have a lower grade. The lowest grade comes from the last harvest on the lower section of the plant. Even later harvests have superior leaves on top compared to the lower leaves. Matcha that has been sun-dried fetches a higher price than commercially prepared matcha leaves that are dried in a drying chamber.
When buying matcha, it is better to choose a grade that suits the purpose. High-end matcha is best left to tea ceremonies and special occasions, while lower-grade matcha works fine in cookie recipes or ice cream.
Prepare regular matcha by first sifting the green tea powder. Use a fine sieve or special matcha sifter for this job. Sift the matcha into a dry, warm bowl.
Bring soft, mineral water to a boil and allow it to cool to a temperature of about 167 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit.
Add the cooled water to the bowl at a ratio of 2.4 ounces per 2 teaspoons of matcha. Mix the tea with a bamboo whisk called a chasen until it is frothy. The ratio of water to matcha varies, depending on if you want thick or thin matcha. You can add ice cubes to the matcha drink when you are finished whisking it, if you want a cold drink.
The Japanese tea ceremony uses matcha tea to promote harmony, respect and purity between the participants. The blend of warmth, bitterness and sweetness promotes these aspects. The host prepares the tea for the guests from scratch, starting with cleaning the bowls and boiling the water. Guests generally sit quietly in a circle together or around a low, Japanese table. When the bowl of match is received, it is proper etiquette to bow to thank the host. The tea bowl is taken with the right hand and transferred to the palm of the left hand, where it is turned clockwise three times. You can then drink the tea. When you are finishing, slurp the matcha to show how much you enjoyed it. This is typical of Japanese culture and is seen when soup is served. Wipe the part of the bowl that you touched with your lips, using your right hand, turn it counter clockwise and give it back to the host.
Matcha is most often used as a beverage but Japanese people also use it in other recipes. It is mixed with tempura to create a flavored variation of this deep-fried dish. Castella, a sponge cake, can have a green tea flavor by adding matcha. Two dishes made with azuki beans, manjū and Monaka, are also found with matcha. manjū, a dish that is similar to snow cones but with dairy added, is sometimes found with matcha powder.