Matcha, matcha, matcha. Lately, you see its vibrant green hue coloring the internet everywhere with various photos of tantalizing matcha recipes that range from matcha teas to even matcha ice cream. But what is matcha? Matcha is a type of green tea from Japan that is cultivated and prepared as a powder in order to release its concentrated matcha health benefits, intense color, and flavor!
To really understand how special this matcha tea variety is, you'd have to go back to the Chinese Zen monks of the 8th century who discovered how to pulverize green tea leaves rather than steam them. These monks would form the pulverized tea into bricks and break off a piece, mashing it into a fine powder, and whisk it with hot water in a bowl. Over time the preparation of this drink became ritualistic and ceremonies were created around the consumption of it.
In the 12th century, these practices and teas were brought to Japan by Zen Buddhist monks. It became less popular in China and gained popularity in Japan becoming a sign of social status and in tea ceremonies. It was not until the late 12th century that it became a widely popular beverage. To this day the Japanese tea ceremony, Chanoyu, is a spiritual tradition that literally translates to “the way of tea.”
Matcha consumed today in America is done so in a much more casual way, but it is important to keep in mind the traditional Japanese tea ceremony where the preparation of matcha comes from. As we enjoy our matcha we can embrace the mindfulness of the drink and the Zen belief that every encounter is unique and can never be reproduced. Beyond drinking tea, this means that each moment and experience, each cup of matcha, can not be replicated and should truly be treasured. Life is in the present moment.
Types of Matcha
Let’s start simply: Matcha is a style of Japanese green tea made from tencha, a tea plant that is shade-grown for at least three weeks before being harvested. The veins and stems are removed in the sorting process, which is often done by air since the veins and stems are quite heavier than other particles of the leaf! As a result, tencha is made up of flaky, dark green leaf bits that are then ground into a very fine powder to make matcha.
Quality ranges based on how long it was shaded, where it was grown, cultivar, mastery, etc. That being said, there are two grades of matcha: Ceremonial Grade Matcha and Culinary Grade Matcha. Since the rules are so loose as to what can be deemed ceremonial or culinary grade, companies can label their matcha as either “ceremonial” or “culinary” grade often without being held accountable to any actual standard. The difference between the two main grades can vary from company to company.
Ceremonial Grade MatchaCeremonial grade matcha simply means that the matcha powder is of a high enough quality to be used in the tea ceremony of Japan!
Culinary Grade Matcha
Culinary grade matcha is the most popular and is used in baking, ice cream, and as an ingredient in a wide variety of recipes. There are high-quality ingredient or culinary grade matchas that may not make the cut for the ceremonial grade (perhaps was harvested at a different time of year) that are great when combined with other ingredients to make matcha treats such as baked goods, smoothies, or lemonades, etc.
If you want to make sure you’re drinking the real deal or want to find a more economical way to cook with matcha ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the matcha grown and processed in Japan? (Chinese matcha is often of lower quality)
- Was the matcha shade-grown, and for low long?
- What do I know about this matcha supplier?
- Is the matcha organically grown?
- Are there other ingredients listed?
Knowing the answers to these questions will help you buy the best matcha product for what you want to use it for!
Matcha is largely associated with body, mind, and spiritual health and is known to deliver Zen Mind (a calm, alert focus) throughout Eastern cultures. High-quality matcha is packed with antioxidants and caffeine, creating a natural energy boost. Other steeped green teas are considered healthy because of the antioxidants, but water can only extract a small amount of the nutritional properties, making matcha exponentially more healthful since the entire leaf is ingested.
It’s said that matcha benefits include improved cardiovascular strength, reduced cancer risk, increased bone health, and increased immunity. It is even believed to have anti-aging properties.
How to Prepare Matcha
Unlike other powders used in cooking or beverages, matcha does not dissolve no matter how much it is stirred. Matcha is also unlike other teas because is not traditionally steeped like teas you might’ve made at home. Instead, it is whisked into a suspension with a bamboo whisk (chasen) and hot water. If you let a bowl of matcha sit for too long it will separate, unlike other brewed/steeped beverages. The traditional matcha accessories include the bamboo whisk used in matcha preparations called a chasen. It is often made in a bowl called a chawan. A special matcha scoop called a chashaku is used to measure the matcha. Each scoop from a chashaku is approximately one gram and is roughly the size of an almond.
The flavor of matcha is directly reflected by the quality of matcha and also the region from which it comes. Good matcha is dynamic and bright with fresh grassy notes. It is both rich and smooth. Matcha is an extremely versatile tea and hits the 5th taste sensation, umami, a complex sensation of both savory and subtle sweetness. Added to recipes it gives an earthy green boost to your recipes with a complimentary flavor that does not overpower the recipe. Even in ice cream, cake, or smoothies, it can add its nutrient-rich benefits and still taste sublimely delicious!
If you've never tried matcha before, we recommend our amai matcha. Amai means 'sweetened' in Japanese, and amai matcha affords an easy opportunity to experiment with all the different ways to enjoy it. You can blend it with strawberries and ice in the morning for a healthy smoothie, mix it with hot water and your favorite steamed or frothed milk for a warm and luscious latte, or experiment with any of the recipes in our Matcha Recipe Guide. (May we recommend the matcha ice cream!?) If you'd like to go a little more authentic, a tin of matcha and our Japanese Tea Party Guide will help you create a cultural experience at home for family and friends. We are sure you'll learn to love matcha as much as we do.
Download Our Matcha Iced Tea Recipe: Emerald Zen