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Matcha tea has enjoyed a surge in popularity in the last few years. It is used in many recipes including matcha lattes, matcha cakes and even matcha ice cream. But what exactly is it and why is it such a healthful beverage?
What is Matcha?
Matcha is powdered green tea, traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies. Its appearance is a bright vivid green powder, it contains many nutrients and the process used to make it is very skilful and specific to this tea. It is high in caffeine and can be drunk on its own, or blended with other drinks and food.
How is Matcha made?
To make a matcha tea only the best green tea varietals are used (one of the best for matcha is the Asahi varietal), the tea is picked as early in the year as May. In the run up to the picking the plants are partially shaded from the sunlight. This is done using mesh screens or more traditionally using reeds and straw mats. A tea master will monitor the conditions and increase or decrease the amount of shading depending on conditions. The shading causes the tea plant to produce more chlorophyll and theanine (we will discuss why that is important later).
Once the leaves are picked they are steamed to stop oxidisation, all veins and stems removed and it is dried. What is left after this deveining process is called Tencha, the Tencha is taste tested by a tea master who will decide how the tea should be finished and whether different Tencha should be blended together to create the exact flavour desired. The Tencha is then ground in a stone mill. The grinding must be slow and careful, otherwise the heat could cause the matcha to loose its colour, nutrients and disrupt the flavour.
Although powdered green tea was used in Chinese tea culture dating back to 2000 years ago, true matcha is always made in Japan (in fact the very best matcha never leaves Japan). There are many great Chinese matcha style teas, but often they are not shaded for as long as their Japanese counterparts, which does change the final flavour and levels of nutrients. We have both Japanese and Chinese matcha teas including flavoured ones which you can browse here.
The entire matcha making process is one that involves much care and attention, the level of time and care involved produces different levels or “grades” of Matcha.
There several grades of Matcha , sometimes given different names but some common ones you might encounter are … Ceremonial grade, Premium grade, Cafe grade and Kitchen grade. It is certainly helpful to know what the difference between these grades is when exploring matcha so let’s have a look at how they differ…
Ceremonial grade :
the highest quality of matcha, this is the only kind used in the Japanese tea ceremony. Ceremonial matcha is shaded for a minimum of 15 days before picking, made only using the tips and freshest pickings of the plant and is ground very slowly. Ceremonial matcha is high in nutrients and antioxidants. The tea is a vivid green colour and has a smooth, rich grassy flavour with a sweetness. Ideal for drinking on its own, for special occasions and for connoisseurs who enjoy the finer things in life.
Premium matcha is still a great quality of matcha made carefully, although it may have been shaded for less time than a ceremonial matcha or made from leaves lower down the plant. With a smooth mildly grassy taste it is also suitable for drinking on its own or you could use it to make other matcha drinks.
Cafe grade matcha is most suited to blending with other things such as milk to make a matcha latte, or to make smoothies, mixed with fruit juice or used to make matcha ice cream. The tea is less vivid in colour and has a robust flavour.
Kitchen grade :
Sometimes referred to as Culinary grade it is the kind made using the least delicate leaves of the plant. It is darker in colour, appearing a more olive shade of green than other grades. The flavour is slightly more bitter than other grades. Kitchen grade is more suited to baking with, things like biscuits and cakes.
What are the health benefits?
There are many reasons why matcha is a healthy choice of beverage, in fact one serving of matcha contains the same goodness as 10-20 cups of a good quality green tea. But why is it such a healthy drink?
- It is high in a plant compound called EGCG ( epigallocatechin gallate ) which research suggests can help prevent heart disease, fight against cancer cells and encourage weight loss.
- Because the tea plant was shaded from sunlight during the last days of growing, the plant naturally produces more chlorophyll and the levels of theanine stay high. Chlorophyll is associated with boosting your bodies ability to detox. Theanine is an amino acid which can cross the blood brain barrier, boost the immune system, regulate mood, promote calmness and can increase your creativity and alpha brainwaves.
- It is high in antioxidants, vitamin B, vitamin C and minerals.
- It has a high caffeine content compared to other teas, but won’t give you the jitters like coffee because of the theanine, the caffeine is released in a more steady way than it is in coffee.
- Because with matcha you are consuming the entire leaf, you a receiving 100% of the goodness it contains. With other forms of green tea you are extracting some of the goodness but some stays in the leaf which is thrown away.
How to prepare Matcha?
Preparing matcha for a tea ceremony is an art that could fill an entire blog post of its own, however the good news is preparing it for daily consumption is fairly easy once you’ve got the hang of it.
- Add 1-2 teaspoons of matcha powder to a tea bowl or cup. Use a small sifter to remove any lumps.
2. Add freshly boiled water which has cooled to about 80-90° c. Add a little water at first so it makes a paste, then add more water.
3. Using a bamboo whisk (called a chasen) whisk the tea and water. Use a loose wrist and use a backwards and forwards whisking motion, imagine you are making a ‘W’ shape with the whisk. Do this until you have a froth on top of the tea with tiny bubbles. If you don’t have a whisk you could always use a fork but a whisk will make it easier to get good results.
4. Drink and enjoy!
Some tips and things to bear in mind
If you are a newbie to matcha here’s a few things you might want to bear in mind when starting your journey …
- If you metabolise caffeine slowly you may want to drink it after food and not on an empty stomach, as it could be a bit full on otherwise.
- Matcha tea is very reactive to air and light. Storing in in something air tight and away from light will keep it tasting its best and stop the colour fading. It is best to drink matcha within the year it was produced.
- When using a new matcha whisk it is advisable to warm the ends bristles in warm water, soak them for about 5 minutes. When cleaning it after use either whisk it in clean warm water or run it under a tap. Don’t put it back in the plastic container it came in and instead store in standing upright somewhere, this will avoid any mould growing on the bristles.
- Because you are consuming the entirety of the leaf, it is important to always check that it is from a reputable source and not somewhere where heavy metals are present in the soil. All of our matcha teas are carefully sourced, organically grown and officially certified as heavy metal free and from good soil.
There you have it, our introduction to matcha tea, we will be exploring matcha recipes in the future posts so keep an eye out for different ways to get the most out of this exciting tea type!