What is Matcha and How is it Made?
Matcha is the healthiest tea available, but it is only beginning to gain in popularity in the west. This article examines this green tea variety and finds out where it comes from and how it is produced, before looking at the health benefits.
Matcha is a green tea powder made from the highest quality leaves. It is the tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony and it is also sprinkled on a number of dishes and drinks, like the Matcha green tea latte from Starbucks. But where did it first come from?
It began in China, during the Tang Dynasty. Back then, people came up with a method to store and transport tea, by forming it into bricks. In order to do this, the tea leaves were first steamed. To prepare the tea, it had to be roasted and pulverized in the stuff you ended up with was put in hot water. The mixture was then whipped to a frothy foam in a bowl. This method of preparation was especially popular during the song Dynasty.
Preparing tea in this manner was ritualized by Zen Buddhist monks. It was brought to Japan in the 12th century. There it continued as an integral part of Zen Buddhism and was also popular among the general populace. In China, powdered tea fell out of favor for a long-time, but it is currently enjoying a bit of a resurgence.
Matcha powder is prepared from the same shade grown leaves as Gyokuro. Growing the leaves in the shade slows down the growth process and darkens them, concentrating nutrients like amino acids. For Matcha, only the finest buds are used. They are hand-picked and rather than being rolled out to dry as they would be if they were used to make Gyokuro, they are laid out flat to dry instead. Because of this, they will crumble somewhat and can now be de-veined and de-stemmed. Next, they are stone-ground to a very fine powder that resembles talc. This is Matcha.
This powdered green tea is one of the highest qualities available, but there is quite a bit of variation. The differences in quality depend on several factors. The first is the location on the tea bush. Younger leaves near the top pick for a higher-quality, since the plant sends more nutrients to the growing leaves. The way the leaves are treated before processing is another factor. The way the tea is ground also has an influence. In Japan, special granite stone mills are used. Finally, oxidation as a big influence on the greater the tea. Matcha that has been exposed to oxygen is easily compromised and takes on a hay like flavor.
When drinking Matcha, to traditional methods of preparation are used. One is referred to as thick and one as thin. For the thick preparation, twice as much powder is used as for the thin. The thin mixture is the one that ends up being frothy and that has a somewhat bitter taste. The thick mixture is whisked more slowly, so it doesn't have the foam. It tastes more sweet and mellow.
These days in the West, and also in Japan of course, Matcha green tea powder is often added to foods or drinks. In Japan, many snack foods, also known as junk foods, are prepared with the powder. Green tea kick cats are an example and they're all kinds of other things, like chips and soft drinks. You name it and the Japanese have put green tea in.
It is also often sprinkled on recipes, especially desserts or salads. It goes well with sweets. The most famous use in the West is the above-mentioned latte from Starbucks. Anyone looking to cook with the powder, will find a number of Matcha recipes online.
Why are so we people looking to cook with the powder? Taste may be a factor, but most of the people actually don't enjoy the taste that much. You're doing it for health reasons. Because the whole leaves are consumed, Matcha it is the healthiest tea available; it has 10 times the concentration of nutrients as other types of tea. And some people, myself included, actually really enjoy the taste, although I prefer drinking. If you haven't tried this variety of tea, you need to change that. It is excellent and, of course, it is also incredibly healthy.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erena is a tea connoisseur and helps out on her friend's blog; the tea site she helps run has more on matcha green tea powder: http://www.letsdrinktea.com/types-of-tea/green-tea/matcha-green-tea-powder/