What is Matcha Tea?
Matcha is a form of green tea where the entire tea leaves are consumed, making the process of preparing the tea very different. Matcha is prepared by using a bamboo whisk to mix the matcha and hot water into a frothy and nutritious drink.
Matcha is by no means a new and trendy tea fad. This method of preparing tea has evolved for almost a thousand years changing only slightly in how it is grown, processed, prepared, and consumed.
The origin story of matcha dates back somewhere between the 7th and 10th century in the Tang dynasty of China, where tea leaves were steamed and formed into tea bricks. This made it easier to transport and trade. In fact, it was used as a form of currency. These tea leaves were roasted and ground down into a powder. The tea was then prepared by mixing this powder with salt and hot water.
Those who tend to get the credit for something are the ones who make it popular. The credit here goes to the Song dynasty who made the process of whipping up tea in a bowl, super cool in their era.
How is Matcha Produced?
Matcha is made from the leaves of the Camellia Sensis plant and is processed like a green tea, sort of. About 3 weeks before the tea is harvested the tea plant is shaded preventing direct sunlight. This method of shading ups the l-theanine amino acid levels which are responsible for the umami flavor profile. Sunlight can decrease l-theanine producing higher levels of catechins which gives the tea a more astringent and bitter flavor.
Preventing direct sunlight also increases the level of chlorophyll turning the tea leaves a darker shade of green.
Now Matcha is not the only tea that is grown using the shaded method. If the tea at this point is rolled up before it is dried, similar to the most popular unshaded tea in Japan (Sencha), it becomes a Gyokuro tea. However, if the tea leaves are left to lay flat while drying allowing them to crumble, it becomes tencha. Tencha is the name of the tea before it is deveined, destemmed, and ground into the fine powder known as matcha.
How is Matcha Prepared?
Now, while the Song dynasty gets the credit for making whipping matcha up in a bowl cool, it is the Chinese Buddhist monks who ritualized the process into a ceremony. The Japanese Zen Buddhist priest Eisai is known for starting the tea ritual in Japan. After a short trip to Mt. Tiantai in China, where Eisai became a Zen teacher, he returned to Japan carrying the tea seeds that started the tradition.
Now Eisai was known as Eisai/Yōsai Zenji which translates Zen Master Eisai. He was a Buddhist monk after all and he believed that drinking matcha tea improved his ability to get into his zen-like meditative zone. It calmed his nerves and helped him maintain mindful alertness.
It is Zen Master Eisai who gets the credit for beginning the art form known as the Japanese Tea Ceremony. We won’t go into the details of the ceremony, but to learn more click on the link.
If you so desire, the matcha may be sifted through a sieve to break up the matcha making it easier to blend.
In the tradition of the tea ceremony, the matcha is then placed in a chaki which means tea implement. Really it’s just a place to hold the tea prior to scooping. In my house, I usually just scoop the matcha from the bag and put it right into my chawan which is the bowl used for whipping and drinking the matcha.
Using a chashaku, a bamboo tea scoop, you’ll usually scoop about a teaspoon of matcha per cup or about 3g into your bowl. You’ll pour just enough hot water over the matcha to moisten it a bit. This just makes mixing a bit easier on yourself.
The temperature of the water should be about 165F.
Once the tea is moistened, using a chasen (a small bamboo whisk) you’ll begin to gently stir up the mix into a paste. Now you’ll add the remaining 60 to 80ml of water and begin vigorously whisking the matcha into a uniform consistency. Back and forth across the entire bowl works better than circles. Put the work in and froth that thing up.
Well, I think you’re ready. To get started you may need some vital equipment such as our Japanese Ceremonial Matcha Kit. This will have all of the necessities you’ll need to whip us some matcha. Of course, you’ll also need some quality matcha. Click on the options below, order you some quality powder and begin the ritual at home.
Ceremonial Matcha Green Tea Powder
This tea is pretty much the ultimate tea for your new tea ritual with its sweet aroma and crisp umami flavor. The hints of almond and its wheatgrass aftertaste contribute to the nuanced flavors.
Everyday Matcha Green Tea Powder
This grassy, vegetal matcha is invigorating and brisk with a medium to high grade which makes it economically priced for everyday use. Throw it in a smoothie, shake it up in a protein shake, drink it as a morning ritual or use it to make some delicious and nutritious baked goods.