Info courtesy of AOI Tea Company.
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 prized for its high concentration of nutrients as well as its distinctive flavor. In its unpowdered form, it is known as “tencha.” Premium grade matcha is a vibrant shade of green.
Matcha is different from other green teas both in the way it is cultivated and the way it is processed. The great care taken to gradually shade the tea plants from sunlight in the month before harvest results in thinner, more tender 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 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.” After the tencha is ground on a stone mill into a superfine powder, it is known as Matcha.
Green tea is well known for its health benefits. Does Matcha offer the same benefits?
Yes. Recent studies have shown that green tea aids with digestion and weight loss, increases energy, decreases stress levels, prevents cancerous cell growth and helps to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, among many other health benefits. Matcha has a very high catechin content and also contains potent nutrients such as polyphenols, minerals, vitamins, fibers, potassium, and chlorophyll. Matcha is also especially rich in l-theanine.
In addition, Matcha is made using only the whole leaf of the tea plant, not the veins and stems, which are removed before grinding. Matcha powder is mixed directly into hot water. So Matcha drinkers are consuming the whole leaf and all of its goodness, not just brewed water.
Where is Matcha grown and processed?
Ceremonial grade Matcha (high grade Matcha designed for drinking and cooking) is grown and processed exclusively in Japan. The premiere Matcha growing regions are located around Nishio and Kyoto, in micro-climates that are the most favorable to Matcha cultivation. AOI Tea has the largest organic Matcha growing capacity in the Nishio area.
Matcha’s has been used in Japan for centuries. Its history dates back to the 1200’s when it was used by monks as an aid for meditation.
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 both when the Matcha is in its powder form, and when it has been mixed into hot water to create Matcha tea.
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 lesser quality.
In its liquid form, Matcha should also have a vibrant green color (vs. yellowish or dull), and a smooth sweet after taste.
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. In the United States, AOI offers everything from award winning ceremonial Matcha to cost effective industrial grade Matcha.
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).
How should Matcha be stored?
Matcha should be stored in its tightly closed container in the refrigerator. Heat, light and excess exposure to air are the enemies of delicate matcha powder.
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 a 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!
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. AOI Tea Company can provide recipes.
Where can I find Matcha in the U.S.?
Matcha is becoming more widely available in the U.S. through specialty retailers and health and natural foods stores or online at www.aoitea.com .
Is there any recommended reading on Matcha?
Yes. Mutsuko Tokunaga’s comprehensive book, New Tastes in Green Tea (Kodansha America, 2004) is a must-read for anyone interested in Matcha and other green teas.