What is Matcha?
Matcha, matcha, matcha. Lately, you see its vibrant green hue coloring the internet everywhere with various photos of tantalizing matcha recipes that range from matcha teas to even matcha ice cream. But what is matcha? Simple. Matcha is a type of green tea from Japan that is cultivated and prepared as a powder in order to release its concentrated matcha health benefits, intense color and flavor!
History of Matcha
To really understand how special this matcha tea variety is, you'd have to go back to the Chinese Zen monks of the 8th century who discovered how to pulverize green tea leaves rather than steam them. These monks would form the pulverized tea into bricks and break off a piece, mashing it into a fine powder, and whisk it with hot water in a bowl. Over time preparing this drink because ritualistic and ceremonies were created around the consumption of it.
In the 12th century these practices and teas were brought to Japan by Zen Buddhist monks. It became less popular in China and gained popularity in Japan becoming a sign of social status and in tea ceremonies. It was not until the late 12th century that it became a widely popular beverage. To this day the Japanese tea ceremony, Chanoyu, is a spiritual tradition that literally translates to “the way of tea”.
Matcha consumed today in America is done so in a much more casual way, but it is important to keep in mind the traditional Japanese tea ceremony where the preparation of matcha comes from. As we enjoy our matcha we can embrace the mindfulness of the drink and the Zen belief that every encounter is unique and can never be reproduced. Beyond drinking tea, this means that each moment and experience, each cup of matcha, can not be replicated and should truly be treasured. Life is in the present moment.
Types of Matcha
Why is the cost of some matcha so much more than others? What even makes matcha matcha? How can you be certain you’re getting your matcha’s worth? Let’s start simply: Matcha is a style of Japanese green tea made from tencha, a tea plant that is shade grown for at least three weeks before being harvested. The veins and stems are removed in the sorting process, which is often done by air, since the veins and stems are quite heavier than other particles of the leaf! As a result, tencha is made up of flaky, dark green leaf bits that are then ground into a very fine powder to make matcha.
There are a few grades of matcha: ceremonial matcha and culinary grade matcha being the most popular. Quality ranges based on how long it was shaded, where it was grown, cultivar, mastery etc. Since the rules are so loose as to what can be deemed ceremonial or culinary grade, companies can label their matcha either “ceremonial” or “culinary” grade often without being held accountable to any actual standard.
The difference between the two main grades can vary from company to company but simply put, ceremonial grade matcha simply means that the matcha powder is of a high enough quality to be used in the tea ceremony of Japan!
Culinary grade matcha is made for use in baking, ice cream and other ingredient uses. There are high quality ingredient or culinary grade matchas that may not make the cut for ceremonial grade (perhaps was harvested at a different time of year) that are great when combined with other ingredients to make matcha treats such as baked goods, smoothies, or lemonades etc.
If you want to make sure you’re drinking the real deal or want to find a more economical way to cook with matcha ask yourself the following things:
- Is the matcha grown and processed in Japan? (Chinese matcha is often of lower quality)
- Was the matcha shade grown, and for low long?
- What do I know about this matcha supplier?
- Is the matcha organically grown?
- Are there other ingredients listed?
Answering these questions will help you buy the best matcha product for what you want to use it for!
What Does Matcha Taste Like?
The flavor of matcha is directly reflected by the quality of matcha and also the region from which it comes. Good matcha is dynamic and bright with fresh grassy notes. It is both rich and smooth. Matcha is an extremely versatile tea and hits the 5th taste sensation, umami, a complex sensation of both savory and subtle sweetness. Added to recipes it gives an earthy green boost to your recipes with a complimentary flavor that does not overpower the recipe. Even in ice cream, cake, or smoothies it can add it's nutrient rich benefits and still taste sublimely delicious!
Matcha is largely associated with body, mind and spiritual health and is known to deliver Zen Mind (a calm, alert focus) throughout Eastern cultures. High quality matcha is packed with antioxidants and caffeine, creating a natural energy boost. Other steeped green teas are considered healthy because of the antioxidants, but water can only extract a small amount of the nutritional property, making matcha exponentially more healthful since the entire leaf is ingested.
It’s said that matcha benefits include improved cardiovascular strength, reduced cancer risk, increased bone health and increased immunity. It is even believed to have anti-aging properties.
How to Prepare Matcha
Unlike other powders used in cooking or beverages, matcha does not dissolve no matter how much it is stirred. Matcha is also unlike other teas because is not traditionally steeped like teas you might’ve made at home, instead it is whisked into a suspension with a bamboo whisk (chasen) and hot water. If you let a bowl of matcha sit for too long it will separate unlike other brewed/steeped beverages. The traditional bamboo whisk used in matcha preparations is called a chasen, and it is often made in a bowl called a chawan. A special matcha scoop called a chashaku is used to measure the matcha. Each scoop from a chashaku is approximately one gram and is roughly the size of an almond.