1. What is Matcha Green Tea?
Matcha is a powdered green tea used in Japan’s formal tea ceremony, as well as for every day drinking pleasure and as a delicious ingredient in countless recipes. Matcha is uniquely Japanese and is one of the highest quality teas available in Japan. Matcha is prized for its high concentration of nutrients as well as its distinctive flavor. In its non-powdered form, it is known as “Sencha.” Premium grade matcha is a vibrant shade of green.
2. How does Matcha differ from other green teas?
For Matcha, unlike other green tea, farmers take great care to gradually shade the tea plants from sunlight in the month before harvest. This causes the new shoots to develop larger, thinner, and tenderer leaves, and Matcha’s signature, vibrant emerald color.
During harvest, which takes place in May of each year, only new leaves are picked. The leaves are steamed briefly to stop any fermentation, and then dried. Next, they are sorted for grade, and stems, veins, and any inferior quality leaves are removed. At this point, the leaves are called “tencha” and they are stored in cold storage. Aging deepens the flavor of the tea. After the tencha is ground on a stone mill into a fine powder, it is known as Matcha.
3. Green tea is well known for its health benefits. Does Matcha offer the same benefits?
For Matcha, unlike other forms of green tea, the fine baby leaves are ground into a delicate powder. So Matcha drinkers are consuming the whole leaf and all of its goodness, not just tea brewed with water.
Matcha is rich in catechin polyphenol compounds with high antioxidant activity. It also contains potent nutrients such as polyphenols, minerals, (Vitamin A, B-Complex, C, E and K), fibers, potassium, and chlorophyll. Matcha is also especially rich in L-theanine.
A University of Colorado study determined that drinking matcha green tea will “result in a dramatically greater intake of EGCG (epigallocatchin gallate) compared to drinking other types of green tea”, with EGCG being a powerful antioxidant possessing many therapeutic properties including cancer prevention[i]. The antioxidants in Matcha have a number of other health benefits associated with its consumption including helping to prevent gum disease[ii] and promoting weight loss[iii].
4. Where is Matcha grown and processed?
Matcha is very unique to Japan. Preparation of matcha is the focus of the Japanese tea ceremony and has a long association with Zen. The prime Matcha growing regions are located around Nishio and Kyoto, in micro-climates that are the most favorable to Matcha cultivation.
5. How long has Matcha been in existence?
The history of matcha green tea dates back several centuries. In 1271, tea cultivation began in Nishio, Japan, by a priest named Shoichi. Shoichi’s temple was in constant competition with the neighboring temple over rights to the nearby tea plants for more than 400 years. These two temples fought for ownership of the land, until 1692, when the coveted plants were awarded to the decedents of the temple Shoichi. Nearly two hundred years later, matcha production was finally embraced in major areas of Japan and its use increased.
6. Are all Matcha green teas created equal?
Not at all. Color, aroma, and taste are key determinants of quality, and this can vary widely from one Matcha to another. These factors can be assessed in Tencha (dried tea leaves ready to be ground) form.
The best quality Matcha powder will be a vibrant emerald green with a lustrous quality. If the powder has a slight yellow tone, it is of a slightly lower grade. A whitish tone is still lower, while brownish toned matcha powder can be considered very low grade or old. The powder should have a grassy, seaweed-like aroma and a sweet after taste (“umami”) from its amino acids. An astringent or bitter aroma and a biting taste indicate Matcha of lower grades.
In its liquid form, Matcha should also have a vibrant green color (vs. yellowish or dull), and a smooth sweet after taste.
7. What should I know about the different grades of Matcha?
There is a wide range of Matcha grades for different uses, ranging from ceremonial grade Matcha to industrial grade Matcha for use as an ingredient in food and beverage processing.
8. Does Matcha come in loose leaf and tea bag form?
No. Matcha is by definition a powder. It mixes directly into hot water to make tea (or with other ingredients in recipes), however since it is finely ground tea leaves, it is not water soluble by nature.
9. How should Matcha be stored?
Matcha should be stored in its tightly closed container at room temperature or preferably in the refrigerator. Heat, light and excess exposure to air are the enemies of delicate matcha powder.
10. Is there a special technique for preparing a cup of Matcha?
Although Matcha has traditionally been associated with the formal Japanese tea ceremony and all of its special rules and etiquette, making a cup of Matcha at home is actually very easy. The formal tea ceremony uses a special tea scoop (chasaku) for measuring the tea, a bamboo whisk (chasen) for mixing the powder smoothly into the liquid, and a tea bowl (chawan.) However, it is perfectly acceptable to use a plain teaspoon, a small egg whisk, hand-held frother, or blender, and a small bowl or mug.
First, place the whisk in the bowl and warm them both by pouring in some hot water. Let the water sit in the bowl for a minute or so, then discard the water. Place about 2/3 teaspoon (or 1 ½ heaping scoops if using a chasaku) into the bowl. Bring some water to a boil and let it cool down to 160 – 180 degrees. Add the water to the Matcha. Whisk briskly with one hand while holding the bowl/mug with the other. Whisk until fine foam appears on top of the liquid, which means the tea is smooth and ready to drink. Foam is as integral to the enjoyment of Matcha as it is to that of espresso.
11. What are some of the other ways to enjoy Matcha?
Creative cooks and chefs use Matcha green tea in a wide range of foods and beverages…entrees, pastas, chocolates, scones, cakes, ice cream, lattes, smoothies, cocktails, and much more.
[i] David J. Weiss and Christopher R. Anderton (2003). Determination of catechins in matcha green tea by micellar electrokinetic chromatography Journal of Chromatography A Volume 1011, Issues 1-2, 5 September 2003, Pages 173-180.
[ii] Mitoshi Kushiyama, Y. Shimazaki, M. Murakami, Y. Yamashita (2009), Relationship Between Intake of Green Tea and Periodontal Disease Journal of Periodontology Volume 80, Pages 372-377
[iii] Numerous Authors (2009) Tea catechins and exercise-induced weight loss The Journal of Nutrition