Unveiling the Delights of Matcha: From Production to Preparation
Updated: November 20th, 2023
Matcha, the vibrant green powdered tea that has captivated the taste buds and health enthusiasts around the world, is a unique beverage with a rich history rooted in Japanese tradition. In this article, we will delve into the intricate process of matcha production, explore the traditional art of preparing it, and uncover the numerous health benefits associated with this remarkable tea. Throughout the article, we will draw upon the knowledge and expertise of renowned tea experts to provide accurate and reliable information.
The Art of Matcha Production
Matcha is made from shade-grown green tea leaves known as tencha. These tea plants are cultivated in carefully maintained conditions to enhance the flavor and quality of the final product. To obtain tencha, the tea leaves are shielded from direct sunlight for several weeks before harvest. This process stimulates the production of chlorophyll, giving matcha its distinct vibrant green color. Once the tencha leaves are plucked, they undergo a meticulous process of steaming, drying, and grinding. Experts such as Jane Pettigrew, a tea specialist and author, emphasize the importance of each step in matcha production. The steaming preserves the color, aroma, and nutritional content of the leaves, while the careful drying process ensures that the leaves are crisp and ready for grinding.
What are the different Grades of Matcha?
The overall quality of any Matcha can be determined by three things: color, taste and smell. Where leaves are located on a tea bush also plays a significant factor; softer tea leaves develop higher on the bush, resulting in a higher grade Matcha. Ceremonial-grade Matcha is the highest quality Matcha, offering a vibrant and recognizable green color, subtle taste and fine texture. It’s made from the youngest tea leaves, resulting in a thick and creamy tea. Good quality Matcha has a shade of vibrant green, along with a deep umami sweetness and a fresh green, spring-like aroma known in Japanese as “Ooika”. This is a way of telling whether or not the tea leaves have been shaded prior to harvest. Tea leaves that are shaded have a high content of Theanine, a kind of amino acid, which helps to enhance moods, concentration and alertness. A low-grade Matcha will have a tinge of yellow or brown in color, with a certain degree of acidity in taste and an aroma very close to Sencha green tea. For ingredient grade Matcha, in which coarser leaves are used, the taste is astringent and the foam produced from whisking is very light and disappears within a very short time after the whisking is finished. For flavored Matcha products, color should not be considered as they are blended with ingredients such as cinnamon, cocoa, ginger, and turmeric.
Preparing a Perfect cup of Matcha
Preparing matcha is an art form that demands precision and finesse. To enjoy a cup of this emerald elixir, one must master the traditional Japanese tea ceremony known as "chanoyu" or "sado." While the ceremony itself is complex and requires years of practice, the fundamental principles can be applied to everyday matcha preparation. To begin, gather the necessary tools: a bamboo whisk (chasen), a ceramic bowl (chawan), a bamboo scoop (chashaku), and, of course, high-quality matcha powder. Measure approximately 1 to 2 grams of matcha (about half a teaspoon) using the chashaku and sift it into the chawan to remove any clumps. Next, heat water to approximately 80°C (176°F) to preserve the delicate flavors of the tea. Pour a small amount of hot water into the chawan and whisk the matcha vigorously in a zigzag motion until a frothy layer forms on the surface. This step, called "koicha," produces a thick and creamy consistency. For a lighter, frothier version, known as "usucha," use more water and whisk gently.
Benefits of Matcha
Beyond its distinct taste and ceremonial rituals, matcha offers an array of health benefits backed by scientific research. Matcha contains L-theanine, an amino acid that promotes relaxation and mental clarity. L-theanine induces a state of calmness without causing drowsiness, making matcha a great alternative to coffee for those seeking a focused yet tranquil energy boost.
Matcha, Craftmanship and Careful Cultivation
The journey of matcha, from its cultivation to the ceremonial art of preparation, reveals the meticulous craftsmanship and dedication behind this beloved tea. Matcha's vibrant green color, distinct flavor, and numerous health benefits make it a captivating beverage that has gained global popularity.
The traditional Japanese tea ceremony provides a glimpse into the cultural significance and ritualistic beauty associated with matcha preparation. Its high concentration of antioxidants, such as catechins, along with the presence of L-theanine, contribute to its potential stress reduction, and improved mental focus.
As we embrace the wonders of matcha, let us appreciate the centuries-old traditions that have shaped its production and the emerging scientific evidence that supports its health benefits. Whether enjoyed in a ceremonial setting or as a part of daily wellness routines, matcha continues to captivate tea enthusiasts and health-conscious individuals, offering a flavorful and nourishing experience that celebrates both taste and well-being.
For more on the science and health benefits of Green Tea and Matcha please see the below Mount Sinai piece: https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/herb/green-tea