Matcha is generally expensive compared to other forms of tea, although its price depends on its quality. Only the finest tea buds are hand picked, and it can take upwards of one hour to grind 30 grams of Matcha. Matcha is made from shade-grown tea leaves also used to make gyokuro, unlike other forms of powdered tea, such as powdered sencha.
Zen Buddhism, and powdered tea along with it, were brought to Japan in 1191 by the monk Eisai. Powdered tea was slowly forgotten in China, but in Japan it continued to be an important item at Zen monasteries, and became highly appreciated by others in the upper echelons of society during the 14th through 16th centuries. Along with this development, tea plantation owners in Uji perfected techniques for producing excellent tea for matcha. The cultural activity called the Japanese tea ceremony centers around the preparation, serving, and drinking of matcha. The 16th century tea master Sen no Rikyu is regarded as the person who perfected this cultural activity. The kind of Japanese tea ceremony that he conceived is called wabi-cha or sōan-cha.
After harvesting, if the leaves are rolled out before drying as usual, the result will be gyokuro (jewel dew) tea. However, if the leaves are laid out flat to dry, they will crumble somewhat and become known as tencha (碾茶). Tencha can then be de-veined, de-stemmed, and stone ground to the fine, bright green, talc-like powder known as matcha.
Note that only ground tencha qualifies as matcha, and other powdered teas are known as konacha (粉茶, lit. "pulverized tea").
The flavour of matcha is dominated by its amino acids. The highest grades of matcha have more intense sweetness and deeper flavour than the standard or coarser grades of tea harvested later in the year.
The very top would have developing leaves that are soft and supple. This gives a finer texture to higher grades. More developed leaves are harder, giving lower grades a sandy texture. The better flavour is a result of the plant sending all its nutrients to the growing leaves.
Also, as a result of chlorophyll's relationship to tannin, younger growth is greener and more vibrant in colour, while more developed leaves further down the plant have had their chlorophyll convert gradually into tannin, giving a more bitter flavour and duller brown-green colour profile.
Prior to serving, the matcha is often forced through a sieve in order to break up clumps. There are special sieves available for this purpose, which are usually stainless steel and combine a fine wire mesh sieve and a temporary storage container. A special wooden spatula is used to force the tea through the sieve, or a small, smooth stone may be placed on top of the sieve and the device shaken gently.
A small amount of matcha is placed into the bowl, traditionally using a bamboo scoop called a chashaku, then a modicum of hot (not boiling) water is added. The mixture is then whisked to a uniform consistency, using a bamboo whisk known as a chasen. There must be no lumps left in the liquid, and no ground tea should remain on the sides of the bowl. Because matcha can be bitter, it is traditionally served with a small sweet.
Usucha, or thin tea, is prepared with half a teaspoon of matcha and approximately 75 ml (2.5 oz) of hot water, which can be whisked to produce froth or not, according to the drinker's preference (or to the traditions of the particular school of tea). Usucha creates a lighter and slightly more bitter tea.
Koicha, or thick tea, requires significantly more matcha, as many as six teaspoons to 3/4 cup of water. Because the resulting mixture is significantly thicker, blending it requires a slower, stirring motion which does not produce foam. Koicha produces a sweeter tea, and is served almost exclusively as part of Japanese tea ceremonies.
Matcha is now a common ingredient in sweets. It is used in castella, manju, and monaka; as a topping for kakigori; mixed with milk and sugar as a drink; and mixed with salt and used to flavour tempura in a mixture known as matcha-jio. It is also used as flavouring in many Western-style chocolates, candy, and desserts, such as cakes and pastries (including Swiss rolls and cheesecake), cookies, pudding, mousse, and green tea ice cream. Even the Japanese snack Pocky has a matcha-flavoured version. Matcha may also be mixed into to other forms of tea. For example it is added to genmaicha to form what is called matcha-iri genmaicha (literally roasted brown rice and green tea with added matcha).
The use of matcha in modern drinks has also spread to North American cafés where, as in Japan, it has become integrated into lattes, iced drinks, milkshakes, and smoothies. It is available at Jamba Juice as an add-on to the Matcha Blast and also as an energy shot mixed with either soymilk, fresh-squeezed orange juice, or both. It has also been incorporated into alcoholic beverages such as liqueurs (including Zen liqueur, manufactured by Suntory).
The health benefits of green tea and matcha have also raised significant interest in North America. Consequently, it can now be found in numerous health food products ranging from cereal to energy bars.
Japan's matcha tea: a short primer: Japanese matcha tea has been traditionally used for over 1,000 years, and is increasingly incorporated in modern beverages and products. Stevens explores the traditional and modern uses of matcha, along with the production process and advice for purchasing and preparing matcha tea.(Matcha)(Company overview)
Jul 01, 2008; [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] Japanese tea often inspires a vision of the brilliant, emerald-hued powdered tea used in the Japanese tea...