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More on Maccha or Matcha (抹茶)
Also called: “fine powder tea”
“Maccha” is the correct spelling of the Japanese term, but some-how “matcha” became the standard in English.
Powdered tea made from finely ground gyokuro tea leaves. Unlike gyokuro, the leaves are not rolled at all. The leaves are steamed and then thoroughly dried; at this stage it is called tencha. This is then ground into a powder of varying fineness, according to grade.
Matcha is the tea of chanoyu (Japanese Tea Ceremony).
The most famous matcha-producing region is Nishio in Aichi (on the main island of Honshu). This tea is called Nishiocha. [Matcha is now being produced again in China and is rivaling Japan for quality and market share.]
Generally expensive compared to other teas. The price depends on its quality. Grades of matcha are defined by many factors. The lighter green varieties generally are sweeter.
The grading system above is purely conceptual. In reality, there is no governing body to regulate the labeling of matcha products. Different companies can call matcha whatever they want!
General grading guidelines:
- Used in the Japanese tea ceremony.
- Color – bright shade of green.
- Most expensive and highest quality.
- Made of the most tender tip leaves/buds that are soft and supple and provide a finer texture to the powder.
- The plant sends its nutrients to these developing leaves, resulting in better flavor.
- Ground just right, preferably in a stone mill, but certainly by a very attentive tea master so the teas does not get “burnt” by the friction of the grinding process.
- Good ceremony teas are very hard to find outside Japan.
- Premium grade matcha tea is ideal for everyday consumption, from a morning latte to an afternoon matcha smoothie. Compared to ceremonial grade matcha tea, premium grade is a very good blend at a slightly lower price. This makes it an excellent choice for everyday use. Premium grade matcha tea has a very fine texture, which breaks up easily in water. It is slightly less vibrant green than ceremonial grade matcha, but don’t let the color fool you – it’s just as satisfying. This is the type of Culinary Grade matcha that Epic Matcha offers. Read more about how we source our matcha.
- More of an everyday beverage.
- Very good and much easier to find.
- In the West, many companies label their products as Ceremonial grade when in reality they are Premium grade.
- Made with less delicate leaves than ceremonial and premium grade matchas, café grade matcha offers an extremely strong flavor – perfect for cooking and baking. It’s one of the more expensive types of matcha powder, and you can tell it apart from the lower grades by its unique green color. Café grade matcha tea has a fine texture that blends well, whether you are making a cool green tea smoothie or warm matcha cappuccino.
- Made of the third level leaves.
- Used for lattes, blended drinks, desserts, recipes.
- Ingredient grade matcha tea is an excellent choice for recipes that contain milk and other dairy products. Use it to make green tea ice cream, a matcha smoothie, or matcha latté. Because of its thick consistency, it works well when added to sauces and desserts. Prevent lumps in your recipes by stirring the matcha well, preferably with a whisk.
- Kitchen grade matcha tea is one of the most economical brands, and is made with less delicate leaves than the other grades. It has a strong astringent flavor that makes it perfect for large-scale brewing and mixed into other foods. Not quite as fine as the other types of matcha powder, kitchen grade matcha tea is a bit darker in color and usually sold in larger bulks. This matcha is ideal for experimenting with new recipes and getting creative in the kitchen.
- Made of the third level leaves.
- Used for lattes, blended drinks, desserts, recipes.
- Classic grade matcha tea is an enjoyable blend with an excellent economic value. It’s one of the higher grades but usually costs less than the other grades. Classic grade matcha has a strong and distinct flavor, which lends itself to many uses – and it is more widely available compared to other matcha teas.
- Made of the second level leaves.
- Whisked in bowl and sipped.
Components of Matcha
The main water-soluble components:
- L-theanine (an amino acid) – the source of the tea’s flavor and has a calming effect
- Caffeine – the source of its bitterness and low enough to be stimulating without jitteryness
- Tannin – the source of its astringency (amount usually low)
- Vitamin C – an antioxidant
The insoluble components:
- Vitamin A (and some fiber)
How Is Matcha Made?
- Much like the Gyokuro tea plant, the Matcha plant is grown in the shade too.
- When the new shoots on the tea bush have two or three leaves, they are shaded from sunlight with straw, reed, or cloth screens for 2-3 weeks. This slows down growth, turns the leaves a darker shade of green and causes the production of amino acids that make the resulting tea sweeter.
- Only the finest tea buds are hand picked.
- These buds are steamed.
- They are then laid out flat to dry and the veins and stems are removed.
- No hand rubbing or rolling is done.
- The matcha leaf is comprehensively stone ground to a light and fine green powder – 5 to 10 microns (there are 1,000 microns in one millimeter).
- Traditionally, the grinding is done with stone grinding wheels, taking as long as an hour for a single stone mill to grind between 30 and 40 grams.
- The richness of the flavor depends on how much grinding it has gone through.
History of matcha
Powdered tea started in China during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). Their green tea was ground int a powder and then brewed. This was part of their medicine. The powdered form could be fully consumed for better health benefits. A Zen monk named Myoan Eisai (栄西) brought some of this powdered tea back to Japan with him from China, had been studying, where he in the 12th century. He had experienced how Buddhist monks in China drank it to aid in their meditation. Eisai even wrote a book about green tea, the Kissayojoki (喫茶養生記 ) in AD 1214.
Tea plants grown specifically to produce gyokuro and matcha began to be grown in the Uji fields in Kyoto prefecture. For connoisseurs Houn no Uji matcha is the highest quality. Some other areas where top quality comes from are the Nara and Mie prefectures to the southeast, where gyokuro and sencha are also grown.
In the 16th century Sen no Rikyu (千利休) perfected the Japanese tea ceremony (sado 茶道, also known as chanoyu 茶の湯). Since only matcha is used in the tea ceremony, it became an item of great cultural significance for Japan.
Koicha (O-koi, o-koi-cha) (濃茶, 濃い茶)
Matcha made to be very thick. In the tea ceremony, koicha is made by putting 3 chashaku scoops of matcha in a bowl with a small amount of warm water. It is mixed in a way that is more like kneading, not whisking, creating a thick, dark matcha.
Koicha is said to be the most important way to welcome and treat the guests. Often times the bowl is passed around among the guests where each guest take a sip (practice may vary depending on the school of tea ceremony).
Usucha (O-usu, o-usu-cha) (薄茶)
Matcha made to be very thin. In the tea ceremony, usucha is made by putting 1.5 chashaku scoops of matcha in a bowl with warm water. The mixture is a bright light green color.
In general usucha is used for casual settings but may vary by school of tea ceremony, each school has its own rules.
Very easy to make, add hot water and stir, a kind of ‘instant’ tea.
How to Prepare Matcha Drink
Hot water is poured into a special bowl and the tea is whisked with a bamboo brush.
The tea is bright green and sometimes foamy, with a strong taste.
A standard way to brew usucha:
(not the method for the Japanese tea ceremony)
- Matchawan (抹茶碗) tea bowl.
- Chasen (茶筅, or 茶筌) whisk.
- Chashaku (茶杓) scoop.
Pour hot water at a temperature close to the boiling point into the matchawan to warm it. Pour out the water and dry the matchawan. Put two scoops (about 4 grams) of matcha into the matchawan. Pour in about 2 ounces (60ml) of water heated to 158-176ºF (70-80ºC).
Whisk the matcha by holding the matchawan with your left hand and stirring quickly with the chasen. Start slowly, moving the chasen in a W motion, and gradually increase speed. Continue until all the powder is mixed into the water and you have some froth on top.
Koicha – 4 grams matcha, 1 ounce water; pour in 40% of water, whisk, pour in rest of water, whisk, do not froth, use an up-down, left-right motion and a 360 rotation. If taste is bitter, you are using wrong kind of matcha.
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