Matcha is finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea. It's special in two aspects of farming and processing: The green tea plants for matcha are shade grown for about 3 weeks before harvest, and the stems and veins are removed in processing.
Matcha comes from the same plant that all true teas come from: camellia sinensis, the leaves of which can be made into green tea (unfermented tea: it’s simply steamed and dried). Matcha is a true green tea, but its growth style, harvest, and production style are markedly different from those of other green teas.
The highest -grade matcha come almost invariably from one of three Japanese varietals (they’re called samidori, okumidori, and yabukita in Japanese).
The main area of matcha cultivation in Japan is a place called Uji, which sits on the southeast border of the city of Kyoto, the homeland of almost all traditional Japanese arts and aesthetic pursuits. Many matcha connoisseurs consider Uji to have the ultimate terroir for matcha cultivation, and many of Japan’s most distinguished (and most expensive) matcha come from Uji.
Truly superior matcha must have five key characteristics:
- brilliant color intensity
- superior umami
- excellent terroir (which by definition means a rare tea)
- dreamy frothability
- a long, smooth finish that contains crema to the very last drop.
The very best matcha, in contrast, gets harvested - always by hand - just once per year, typically in May. Roughly six weeks before harvest, that is to say sometime in late March or early April, the tea fields, which are surrounded by scaffolding of sorts, are covered from the top. Traditionally, straw was employed for this, but nowadays it’s typically black vinyl sheets. The idea is to slowly and gradually decrease the amount of sunlight, and hence photosynthesis, by covering up more and more of the light allowed to shine on the plants.
The highest grade matcha is grown in near - darkness by the time harvest rolls around.
As a result of this decreased light, the tea leaves begin to crank out increasing amounts of both chlorophyll and amino acids: the newest growth is very, very delicate, with ever - softer and ever - thinner buds. This increased amino acid content serves to concentrate specific molecules, most of which are glutamates, which give the match its intense umami flavor profile. Great matcha is sweet and mouth - watery, with no traces of bitterness, because of this high amino acid content.
Only the smallest, youngest / greenest parts of the plant - the two leaves at the tip of each new shoot - are picked. They are then steamed to preserve the color and nutrients, and to stop the enzymatic action within the leaves, then thoroughly dried in large cages equipped with heated blowers.
Once dry, they are sorted for grade (with the youngest, greenest, most tender leaves earning the highest marks). Then the laborious and immensely time -consuming task of destemming and deveining happens. The leaves that make it through this rigorous process are called tencha, and, of course, the quality of tenchavaries widely. Tencha is then kept refrigerated until it’s ready to be ground, using large granite wheels that rotate very slowly and gently to avoid scorching, into a very fine powder known as matcha. It takes more than an hour to grind 30 grams, which is one of the reasons hand - milled matcha costs so much (labor costs are quite high in Japan). It is this grinding process from which matcha, literally, “ground tea” derives its name.
In the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279), the method of making powdered tea from steam - prepared dried tea leaves, and preparing the beverage by whipping the tea powder and hot water together in a bowl became popular. Preparation and consumption of powdered tea was formed into a ritual by Chan or Zen Buddhists. The earliest extant Chan monastic code, entitled Chanyuan Qinggui, describes in detail the etiquette for tea ceremonies.
Zen Buddhism and the Chinese methods of preparing powdered tea were brought to Japan in 1191 by the monk Eisai. Although powdered tea has not been popular in China for some time, there is now a global resurgence in Matcha tea including in China. 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.
Prior to use, the matcha is often forced through a sieve in order to break up clumps. There are special sieves available for this purpose. 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.
If the sieved matcha is to be served at a Japanese tea< served at a Japanese tea ceremony, it will then be placed into a small tea caddy known as a chaki.
A small amount of matcha is placed into the bowl, traditionally using a bamboo scoop called a chashaku, and then a modicum of hot (not boiling: 70 - 85 °C ) 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.
There are two main ways of preparing matcha: thick (koicha) and thin (usucha).
It is usually considered that 40 g of matcha will provide for 20 bowls of usucha or 10 bowls of koicha.
Usucha, or thin tea, is prepared with approximately 1,75 grams (about half a teaspoon) of matcha and approximately 75 ml of hot water per serving.
Koicha, or thick tea, requires significantly more matcha (usually about doubling the powder and halving the water): approximately 3,75 grams (about one teaspoon) of matcha and approximately 40 ml of hot water per serving. Because the resulting mixture is significantly thicker (about like liquid honey), blending it requires a slower, stirring motion that does not produce foam. Koicha is normally made with more expensive matcha from older tea trees (exceeding thirty years) and, thus, produces a milder and sweeter tea than usucha.
Matcha is basically a form of whole green tea leaves with extra theanine and chlorophyll. Shaded growth produces more theanine and chlorophyll. That's why matcha is supposedly more effective for improving mental focus with its higher theanine content, looks very green with more chlorophyll and tastes softer without stems and veins.
The antioxidant catechins, especially EGCG in green tea leaves, is one of the main reasons that many health - conscious people consume green tea leaves or matcha specifically.
In addition to providing small amounts of vitamins and minerals, matcha is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols.