The appeal of matcha has really grown in recent years. From coffee to salad dressing, this vibrant green tea has made its way into popular demand. However, it’s not just a unique way to flavor or color other foods. Matcha is packed with healthy antioxidants and complex flavors that really can be enjoyed in its simplicity. So, what is matcha exactly? Where did it come from, and why is it growing in popularity? Read on to discover the answers to all your matcha questions.
What is Matcha Tea?
Originating in Japan, as part of their ceremonial traditions, matcha is a ground power made from a high grade of tea leaves. Before tea pots were really common, China would beat ground tea into hot water. When they eventually developed the steeping process, China abandoned grinding the tea, but Japan continued the method. Buddhist monasteries would use it in meditation rituals, and eventually samurais also incorporated the tea ceremony into their rituals. The ceremony, or “The Way of the Tea” as they call it, still uses matcha today.
When the ground matcha powder is stirred into hot water, the result is a frothy, vibrant green brew. Since it is not steeped like most other teas, you are actually drinking the entire tea leaf. Thus, the flavor is very bold and rich. Not only that, but you consume the full potential of each antioxidant and amino acid within the tea.
Since matcha is technically a sub-category of green tea, it shares some of the same tasting notes. While green tea is a lot lighter, matcha is more vegetal, grassy, nutty, slightly sweet, and sometimes displays a little astringency. Sometimes milk is used as well, to increase the frothiness and accentuate sweet accents. However, water is the traditional liquid to highlight the matcha’s full flavor profile.
How is Matcha Made?
Matcha is made from the freshest buds and young leaves of the camellia sinensis plant. The plant is grown in shaded areas in order to promote the leaves’ intense green pigment from chlorophyll. The shade basically inhibits photosynthesis in the plant so different attributes like taste, theanine and antioxidants fluctuate. The growers want to control the amino acids within the tea because this will affect the overall flavor.
After harvesting the leaves, producers steam them as is common in Japan. This way, the oxidization process can be slowed and halted. Without oxidization, the leaves maintain their green color. Steaming also contributes to the resulting fresh, grassy taste, as opposed to a pan-fried tea which would be dark and toasty.
Once steamed, the tea leaves are dried out. The resulting flat leaves are called tencha, which actually can be steeped as its own tea. But since we want matcha, it would continue on to de-veining and de-stemming. Stone-mills are used to produce the powder, slowly grinding the leaves until very fine and smooth.Interestingly enough, the grinding process is done in the dark, continuing on that careful shade-growth method and protecting the nutrients.
Due to the complicated process of shade growing, along with the necessity of using young leaves and buds, matcha is one of the most expensive teas on the market. However, its unique flavor, rich history, and health benefits make it a desirable choice for countless tea lovers.
Grades of Matcha
You can typically buy two different grades of matcha. These are ceremonial grade, and culinary grade.Ceremonial matcha is the very highest quality of matcha that you can buy. This grade is handled with the utmost care when processing and made from the best buds and leaves of the plant. This care it to create the most delicate, smooth, and fresh matcha possible. Ceremonial grade should be enjoyed simply – no additives, and not employed in other recipes or drinks. As a result, this matcha does have a rather steep price.
Culinary grade matcha is not quite so expensive. Sometimes this matcha is a mix of several different tea batches as opposed to being a single source like ceremonial tea grade. As a result, some batches might have a few veins included, or not have that same pop of green. However, it still contains great flavor and health properties regardless. This grade can be enjoyed on its own, but also used in other recipes. The flavor is a bit more astringent and robust so there is no harm in adding some sweeteners or milk.
For someone who is just testing the waters, probably the biggest significance would be price. Over time, as you come to develop a familiarity with the teas and explore the varying attributes, you will gain a deeper appreciation for the distinctions. However, breaking the bank is not your goal – start out with quality, but inexpensive grades to gauge a sense of your tastes.
Matcha Health Benefits
Not only is matcha tasty, but it’s a great way to boost your health, metabolism, and immune system. Due to the shade method of growing the tea, catechins are fostered in the leaves. These catechins are antioxidants which help prevent cell damage and some chronic diseases. Because of these many antioxidants, matcha has even been linked to preventing liver disease, cancer, and type two diabetes.
Besides these amazing antioxidants, matcha also contains vitamin C, zinc, fiber magnesium, selenium, and chromium. These all have a positive effect on your immune system, helping you ward off harmful infections or diseases. And since you mix the entire ground leaf into the water, you gain the full potential of those nutrients all packed into one delicious cup.
There is some caffeine in matcha, which contributes to an increase in energy and awareness. However, there is also this rare amino acid called L-theanine in there as well. Most teas have this amino acid, but matcha can have up to 5 times the average amount. L-theanine relaxes your brain and reduces stress, simultaneously stimulating memory efficiency. While a few hours after a cup of coffee you might crash from the caffeine, L-theanine stabilizes with the caffeine to create a perfect balance of clear and easy focus. So next time you feel tired or unfocused, try some matcha.
How to Prepare Your Matcha
Matcha is fairly easy to prepare. You can always check the package for precise directions, but the method below is the most common. You might want to purchase a special matcha whisk called a chasen. Made from bamboo, this special whisk breaks up the clumps giving you a foamy, creamy result. If you use a fork or spoon to beat in the matcha, you will not achieve that same foamy and well-incorporated mixture.
First, bring a 1/3 of a cup of water to a boil. Let it cool slightly.Then,add just a splash of your water to ½ a teaspoon of matcha. Use brisk back and forth motions to form a paste. You don’t want to pour boiling water directly on the powder – that would scorch it, making it burnt and bitter. Then, incorporate the rest of the water into the matcha paste, whisking as you go. If it tastes somewhat bitter at first, you can always add a bit of honey or stevia to cut any acidity. And there you are – the perfect cup of matcha!
There are hundreds of other easy recipes in which to include matcha. The bright green colors and richness are used to pair with more subtle spices like vanilla.If you like lattes, simply add steamed milk to the matcha paste instead of more water. Or, if you prefer iced tea, pour the freshly whisked matcha over ice.
Whether you want to simply experience a tasty and rich tea, or you are looking for ways to boost your immune system, matcha is the perfect option. Though it may be a bit on the pricier side, the benefits of those catechins, antioxidants, and nutrients balance out that cost efficiently. Not only can you enjoy it brewed traditionally, but you can find hundreds of different ways to incorporate it into your every-day menu. From lattes to salad dressing, you’ll never run out of interesting ways to experience this delicious and nutritious tea.