What Is Matcha and Why Is Everyone Talking About It?
matcha, with its vibrant green visual appeal, has become the darling of the superfoods, experiencing a surge in popularity thanks in part, to its purported health benefits, and beautiful, distinct flavor.
Matcha literally means “powdered tea.” When you order traditional green tea, the components from the leaves get infused into the hot water, then the leaves are discarded.
With Matcha, you’re drinking the actual leaves, which have been stone-ground into a delicate powder. This finely milled green tea powder is then sifted and whisked with hot water.
Matcha comes from the tea plant “Camellia Sinensis”, a shrub native to Southern China, and the practice of milling tea leaves into a fine powder and then whisking in water originated in China In the Tang Dynasty around the 10th century. The fine green tea powder was dried into bricks for easy storage.
It is believed that the very first green tea seeds were brought to Japan from China by the Zen Monk Eisai in 1191 A.D, who planted the seeds on the temple grounds in Kyoto.
Eisai (1141-1215), the founder of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, likewise introduced the practice of grinding and consuming green tea leaves in powdered form. Thus Zen and matcha became inextricably bound together, in the form of the exquisite tea ceremony (chanoyu ceremony).
…The best matcha still comes from Japan and the most popular growing regions are in the southern half of the country: Uji, Nishio, Shizuoka, and Kyushu…
But what most distinguishes matcha from other green teas is that matcha bushes are covered for up to 20 days prior to harvesWhat Is Matcha and Why Is Everyone Talking About It?t to shade the leaves from direct sunlight.
This triggers the growth of leaves with better flavor and texture, and boosts the plants’ chlorophyll levels (which turns the leaves a darker, vibrant shade of green), this process also increases the production of L-Theanine, an amino acid that occurs naturally in the tea plant.
Leaf buds are then hand selected, steamed briefly to stop fermentation, then dried and aged in cold storage, to again deepen the flavor.
…Depending on whether the leaves are rolled out flat before drying or whether they are laid out to dry will result in two different green teas…
If the leaves are rolled out they become a premium green tea named Gyokuro, while the leaves that are laid out to dry become Tencha. Tencha is the leaf used for making matcha.
Matcha is usually made in two forms: usucha and koicha. Usucha translates to “thin tea,” and is the most common preparation.
Generally what cafes and restaurants serve is Koicha which is a “thick tea.” It’s made with half the amount of water and twice the amount of matcha powder as usucha. And instead of quickly whisking, the tea is gently kneaded using the chasen or bamboo whisk. The result is a very thick soup like tea.
Koicha is usually prepared during traditional tea ceremonies and is made from the highest quality of matcha powder. As compared to usucha which is made from the second highest grade of matcha powder.
…The matcha powders used to make usucha and koicha cannot be interchanged…
To prepare usucha, matcha powder is sifted into a bowl and whisked with hot water until frothy. The entire tea leaf is consumed in contrast to “regular” tea, which is a brewed beverage of tea leaves steeped in hot water.
Matcha is also tea. But instead of a brew, it is a suspension. The matcha powder is whisked and suspended in the water. And if you let the bowl of matcha tea sit for too long it will separate unlike a brewed/steeped tea.
Equipment is an essential part of the experience and key to making great matcha. Start with a chawan, the tea bowl which is used to make and drink the matcha.
Also necessary is the chashaku, a traditional bamboo tea spoon used to scoop the matcha into the chawan. Also important, the chasen, a tea whisk, and a tea sifter to break up all the clumps, which develop because of static in the matcha powder.
…The flavor of matcha depends on the quality of powder used and the region from which it comes…
The result is a hot, frothy (the goal is to get only small bubbles on the surface, not big ones) concoction that is all at once sweet and grassy, occasionally with a hint of bitterness.
The flavor of matcha depends on the quality of powder used and the region from which it comes. Some prefer matcha that is a touch sweeter, others might prefer a more umami-rich matcha. There are clear distinctions between good and bad quality matcha (powder that tastes unpleasantly bitter), but once a powder is in the realm of good and above, it’s primarily about personal taste preference.
In addition to drinking matcha both warm and cold, there’s no shortage of creative uses for the powder: infused into cocktails, whipped into lattes, dusted atop savory dishes, and mixed into any number of sweets from macarons to mochi, and cakes to doughnuts.
Matcha has also recently been making waves in the health and beauty sectors because the green tea leaves are believed to be rich in antioxidants.
These antioxidants called polyphenols, are believed to protection against heart disease and cancer, as well as better blood sugar regulation, blood pressure reduction, and anti-aging. Another polyphenol in matcha called EGCG has been shown in research to boost metabolism, and slow or halt the growth of cancer cells.
This combination of antioxidants, chlorophyll and L-Theanine is why Matcha can be vitalizing and calming at the same time? The calming effect is thanks to L-Theanine.
But because you’re consuming whole leaves in matcha, you may get three times as much caffeine than a cup of steeped tea, about the equivalent to a cup of brewed coffee, which makes Matcha a strange mix that is vitalizing, stimulating and calming.
Regular steeped green tea is also considered healthy because the leaves also contain antioxidants, but water can only extract a small about of the leaves’ nutritional properties. In the case of matcha, one consumes the entire leaf, making it exponentially more potent.
Matcha consumed in western countries is done so in a causal way. But keep in mind the traditional Japanese tea ceremony from which the matcha ritual stems. At its root is the notion of mindfulness and ichi-go ichi-e (“one time, one meeting”), the idea that every encounter is unique and can never be reproduced.
In terms of drinking tea, this means that each particular occasion and experience, each cup of matcha, can never be replicated and should thus be treasured.
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