|Other names:||抹茶, "fine powder tea"|
|Quick description:||Stone-ground Japanese-style green tea|
Matcha (抹茶?, pronounced [mat.tɕa][n 1]) 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 three weeks before harvest, and the stems and veins are removed in processing.
The traditional Japanese tea ceremony centers on the preparation, serving, and drinking of matcha. In modern times, matcha has also come to be used to flavour and dye foods such as mochi and soba noodles, green tea ice cream and a variety of wagashi (Japanese confectionery). The former is often referred to as ceremonial-grade matcha, meaning that the matcha powder is good enough for tea ceremony. The latter is referred to as culinary-grade matcha. However, there is no standard industry definition or requirements for either. Different matcha manufacturers might provide their own definitions.
Blends of matcha are given poetic names called chamei ("tea names") either by the producing plantation, shop or creator of the blend, or by the grand master of a particular tea tradition. When a blend is named by the grand master of a tea ceremony lineage, it becomes known as the master's konomi, or favoured blend.
In Tang Dynasty China (618–907), tea leaves were steamed and formed into tea bricks for storage and trade. The tea was prepared by roasting and pulverizing the tea, and decocting the resulting tea powder in hot water, adding salt. 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 (Rules of Purity for the Chan Monastery, 1103), 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.
Matcha is made from shade-grown tea leaves also used to make gyokuro. The preparation of matcha starts several weeks before harvest and can last up to 20 days, when the tea bushes are covered to prevent direct sunlight. This slows down growth, stimulates an increase in chlorophyll levels, turns the leaves a darker shade of green, and causes the production of amino acids, in particular theanine. Only the finest tea buds are hand-picked. After harvesting, if the leaves are rolled out before drying as usual, the result will be gyokuro (jade 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.
It can take up to one hour to grind 30 grams of matcha.
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.
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In general, matcha is expensive compared to other forms of tea, although its price depends on its quality. Grades of matcha are defined by many factors.
Location on the tea bush
Where leaves destined for tencha are picked on the tea bush (Camellia sinensis) is vital.
The very top should have developing leaves that are soft and supple. This gives a finer texture to higher grades of matcha. More-developed leaves are harder, giving lower grades a sandy texture. The better flavour is a result of the plant's sending the majority of its nutrients to the growing leaves.
Treatment before processing
Tencha leaves are traditionally dried outside in the shade and are never exposed to direct sunlight. However, drying has mostly moved indoors. Quality matcha is vibrantly green also as a result of this treatment.
Without the right equipment and technique, matcha can become "burnt" and suffer degraded quality. Typically in Japan matcha is stone-ground to a fine powder through the use of specially designed granite stone mills.
Oxidation is also a factor in determining grade. Matcha exposed to oxygen can easily become compromised. Oxidized matcha has a distinctive hay-like smell and a dull brownish-green colour.
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, 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, and then a modicum of hot (not boiling: 70–85 °C or 158–185 °F) 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 wagashi sweet (intended to be consumed before drinking), and without added milk or sugar. 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 (amounting to 1.5 heaping chashaku scoop, or about half a teaspoon) of matcha and approximately 75 ml (2.5 oz) of hot water per serving, 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 (usually about doubling the powder and halving the water): approximately 3.75 grams (amounting to 3 heaping chashaku scoops, or about one teaspoon) of matcha and approximately 40 ml (1.3 oz) of hot water per serving, or as many as six teaspoons to 3/4 cup of water. 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; it is served almost exclusively as part of Japanese tea ceremonies.
It is used in castella, manjū, 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. The Japanese snack Pocky has a matcha-flavoured version. Matcha may also be mixed into 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, such as Starbucks, which introduced "Green Tea Lattes" and other matcha-flavoured drinks after matcha became successful in their Japanese store locations. As in Japan, it has become integrated into lattes, iced drinks, milkshakes, and smoothies. A number of cafes have introduced lattes and iced drinks using matcha powder. It has also been incorporated into alcoholic beverages such as liqueurs and even matcha green tea beers.
Basic matcha teaware
The equipment required for the making of matcha are:
- Tea bowl (茶碗, chawan)
- large enough to whisk the fine powder tea around 120 millilitres (4.06 fl oz)
- Tea whisk (茶筅, chasen)
- a bamboo whisk with fine bristles to whisk or whip the tea foam
- Tea spoon (茶杓, chashaku)
- (also called tea scoop) a bamboo spoon to measure the powder tea into the tea bowl. Not the same as a Western teaspoon.
- Tea caddy (棗, natsume)
- container for the matcha powder tea
- Tea cloth (茶巾, chakin)
- small cotton cloth for cleaning tea ware during the tea ceremony
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. Its theanine in combination with caffeine is supposed to offer energy boost without the typical jitter or crash associated with caffeine in coffee. Matcha is also more effective for ingesting all the content in the leaves because people consume its entirety as dissolved in water, latte, smoothie or other creations. 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.
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- "Matcha", also called fine powder tea or powdered tea, is the most common spelling, and accords with Hepburn romanization. In Kunrei-shiki romanization (ISO 3602) it is "mattya". "Maccha" is a nonstandard and uncommon spelling. However the word is spelled, the Japanese pronunciation remains [mat.tɕa]; within English this is likely to be /mætʃa/.
- Han Wei, "Tang Dynasty Tea Utensils and Tea Culture: Recent Discoveries at Famen Temple," in Chanoyu Quarterly no. 74 (1993)
- Tsutsui Hiroichi, "Tea-drinking Customs in Japan," paper in Seminar Papers: The 4th International Tea Culture Festival. Korean Tea Culture Association, 1996.
- "Zen book reviews". The Zen site
- Process of culinary and ceremonial grade matcha
- "How Matcha is Processed". Ippodo Tea. Retrieved 19 September 2012.
- "Preparation of Matcha". Marukyu-Koyamaen.
- Hosking, Richard (1997). "Wagashi". A Dictionary of Japanese Food. Tuttle Publishing. p. 168.
- Horaido. "H4". JP: Dion. Archived from the original on 2005-04-06.
Matcha used to be sold in packages of 10 monme (ancient measure of about 3.75 g, or 37.5 g for the package) and most tea masters considered that one package provided for 20 usucha (about 1.8 g each) or 10 koicha (about 3.75 g each). This is why today's traditional packaging is 40 g (the closest to 10 monme)
- a Japanese tea historian. "Japanese on-line encyclopedia". JP: Yahoo!
- a Japanese tea historian. "Japanese on-line encyclopedia". JP: Yahoo!
Media related to Matcha at Wikimedia Commons