First popularized, over 900 years ago by Chinese Zen Buddhist monks, traditional Matcha preparation is ritualistic and meditative by nature, requiring customary tools and following a careful step-by-step process.
In the 11th century, the Matcha making ritual was shared with the Japanese, who have been preparing and sipping the frothy tea drink ever since. The word Matcha comes from Japanese: “ma” translates to rubbed or ground, while “cha” means tea.
From Japan, the Matcha craze has made its way all around the world. Matcha is all the rage at the moment. There’s been a massive rise in popularity of Matcha over the last few years.
This blog is your guide to everything about Matcha and will cover the following topics:
What is Matcha?
What to look for when purchasing Matcha?
Why you should be drinking Matcha?
How to make Matcha?
What is Matcha?
Matcha is a stone-ground green tea traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies. You can't just pluck any green leaf, grind it into a powder and call it Matcha. Matcha requires a specific process. You start out with good varietals of green tea. Most of the matcha available in the market are made with the Yabukita varietal, although you can get very high-quality Matcha made from the Samudori, Okumidori, and Asahi green tea varietals.
The area where the leaf is grown is of fundamental importance. Good green tea growing prefectures in Japan like Kyoto, Aichi, and Shizuoka produces the best Matcha tea.
The tea used for making Matcha is normally picked in early to mid-May. About 20 days before the leaves are ready to be plucked; farmers start to shade the tea plants from the sun. Traditionally, this is done by using reeds, and then piling straw on top of the reeds. Nowadays, though, they use fabrics or black vinyl to cover over the leaves. Gradually, over the 20 days, they increase the amount of coverage to increase the shade to make the plant grow in increasingly low light conditions.
The plant reacts to this environment by producing high amounts of chlorophyll. The theanine levels of the leaf also remain high, because when the leaves are shaded the theanine does not break down as quickly into other compounds like tannins. So you get high levels of chlorophyll and theanine, which are really important when talking about the health benefits of Matcha.
So the leaf is picked in mid-May - a really dark leaf full of theanine and chlorophyll. These leaves are then steamed to stop the oxidation process, just like any other green tea. It is steamed for 15 - 20 seconds and the tea is left to dry. The tea is called Aracha at this point which is the midpoint process of making Matcha tea. The central stem and veins of the Aracha are then taken away. After deveining all that’s left is the lovely, supple, meaty part of the leaves. The size of the leaves is then uniformed, before drying it again. At this point, the tea leaf is called Tencha.
Many big tea producing brands, hire a tea master to taste the Tencha from different plantations and even different fields in the same plantation to understand the flavor of the different qualities of the Tencha. The tea master then makes the blends. The Tencha is blended to get the right flavor profiles for the Matcha that the company would like to produce.
Once the blending process is finished, the Tencha is then ground into Matcha. For this, Tencha is slowly sent down the hole of round, stone mills that ground against each other and outcomes micro-fine Matcha powder.
What to Look For When Buying Matcha?
The powder needs to be micro-fine - under 10 microns - and the process of the stone grinding is done at a low temperature to make sure that the nutrients aren’t denatured affecting the color and flavor of the Matcha. The entire matcha grinding process is very slow.
Matcha is divided into three general grades. The ceremonial grade is at the top followed by the standard grade and cooking grade Matcha. The Matcha making process requires several different stages and if any shortcuts are taken, the result is lower grade Matcha.
The cooking grade is the Matcha used for Matcha ice creams, to dust over truffles, etc. The standard grade is just decent matcha made from Tencha. The ceremonial/premium-grade is shade-grown for at least 15 days, carefully de-veined, stone ground at low temperature and into very small particles to make a very nice micro-fine powder which creates a very smooth drink.
You can also get things called green tea powder but this is not Matcha.
The best way to judge Matcha and its quality is by eye. Some Matchas are more yellowish in color. It's not the vibrant, green color expected from matcha. Premium grade matcha is a nice, vibrant, dark green in color compared to a kind of khaki yellow color of lower grade matcha. So with Matcha, use and trust your eye. Once you've purchased good Matcha it is also important to store it properly. For example, if matcha has been stored in a glass jar, the light will start affecting it and there will also be a large amount of air in the jar.
A Matcha that has been stored in light and airtight tin will retain its green color for a longer time. It is also best to drink your Matcha the year that it was picked, since Matcha ages very quickly.
Why You Should Be Drinking Matcha?
● With Matcha you are consuming the whole leaf, so you get 100% of the power of the leaf and 100% of the nutrients. All the health benefits of any tea - specifically green tea - is ramped up and supercharged in Matcha.
● A shot of Matcha contains about 10 to 20 times more antioxidants than a good quality green tea.
● You also got high levels of Vitamin C, Vitamin B, all of the minerals that are in green tea that are very beneficial for you.
● Matcha also contains a high amount of theanine. Theanine is a remarkable amino acid which contributes to the flavor of the tea, giving it a kind of egetal savoriness that turns to sweetness, making it a delicious tea.9
● Theanine can also cross the blood-brain barrier which directly affects your brain chemistry. It controls stress by increasing your GABA levels. GABA is a neurotransmitter that acts as a brake on your nervous system to help you relax and calm down.
● Matcha also boosts - and improves - your mood. It affects the dopamine levels, so you get that feeling of well-being, calmness, and happiness.
● Matcha improves your cognitive abilities. It makes you more aware and creative. It does this by stimulating alpha brainwave activities, radically.
● Matcha also boosts your immune system.
Be aware though that because you're consuming the leaf - the caffeine level of Matcha is the highest compared to any other tea. So, if you're caffeine-sensitive then tread carefully, start with small amounts and see how you react. Some people find that they can't metabolize caffeine as quickly and therefore are caffeine sensitive.
Some people also find that drinking Matcha on an empty stomach in the morning makes them feel slightly nauseous. For some, though, if they just keep drinking it over a few days the reaction goes away. The best advice is to just drink Matcha after eating.
How To Make Matcha:
1. Heat up some water to about 80°C and pour it into the chawan (tea bowl). This keeps the chawan warm during the process of making matcha tea.
2. Use a chashaku (bamboo tea scoop), to measure 1 1/2 to 2 scoops of matcha (1/2 teaspoon) and strain it into a chawan (tea bowl).
3. Add just a little bit of simmering water. Use a chasen (bamboo tea whisk), to whisk the matcha and hot water. Make sure you hold the chasen vertically and without touching the bottom of the bowl.
4. Add 1/4 cup of simmering water (70 - 80°C) to the matcha in the chawan.
5. Whisk briskly back and forth in the middle of the tea bowl until matcha dissolves and drink turns frothy.
6. After light foam has developed, take off the whisk and enjoy!