Everything You Need to Know About Matcha
June 18, 2019 • 7 min read
Used in an ancient practice of tea ceremony (chanoyu), one whose benefits are many, Japanese matcha has traveled the seas to find itself a well sought-after item here in the West. Revered for its potent wellness properties, matcha differs from green tea in general, providing the consumer with antioxidants and nutrients, those that far outweigh the favour of just green tea.
The Tang Dynasty (600-900 AD) in China was an era where matcha was consumed profoundly. The transfer of knowledge and culture between China and Japan that commenced in the 1100s, saw a union between matcha and Zen Buddhism, one that swiftly became inseparable. By the 1500s, matcha had become an essential part of formal Japanese tea ceremony, an antiquated practice that is still performed today – a choreographed statement of grace, and one that celebrates stillness and simplicity.
The historical milieu of matcha is dense and profound, with its benefits reaching beyond scientific. The effect this verdant green powder has on our entire being, extends to our soul, and reminds us to slow down, take a few moments to be present, and to honour that which is sacred.
To help you understand it better, here is a complete guide on everything you need to know about matcha.
What is Matcha?
Matcha is pure green tea in powder form. Made from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant (like regular green tea), matcha differs as it undergoes what is called “shade growing”. Each year, 4-6 weeks before harvest, the tea plants that are destined to become matcha are covered from direct sunlight. Being deprived of sunlight, the plants increase their production of chlorophyll to assist in photosynthesis. That boost in chlorophyll is what gives matcha the vibrant jade green colour. Unlike regular green tea where we consume the liquid of steeped leaves, matcha is the entire leaf, ground into a potent and fine dust. When the leaves are ready for harvest, only the finest tea buds are chosen. These are usually the youngest and greenest small top leaves. The leaves are then steamed, dried, de-stemmed and de-vined, and then ground into the micro-fine powder. The grinding stones used to crush the matcha tea leaves are called Ishiusu. They are hand-carved and have been used in matcha production for centuries.
What are the Health Benefits of Matcha?
The health benefits of matcha are many, a key factor in its rise to popularity. Some of the benefits include:
- L-Theanine: Shade-growing preserves the unique amino acid, L-Theanine, which is responsible for helping us in cognitive function. Stimulating the production of alpha waves in the brain, L-Theanine gives us the ability to focus and concentrate, while maintaining a calm mental alertness. Similar to how adaptogens affect us, L-Theanine aids in reducing stress
- Chlorophyll: Rich in chlorophyll, this substance helps us detoxify, alkalize, oxygenate and can also assist with bad breath and body odour
- Metabolism: Matcha can increase thermogenesis, depending on the amount of matcha you consume. On average, there’s 75mg of EGCG per 1g of matcha powder. A latte typically requires 2g of matcha powder, meaning it contains roughly 150mg of EGCG. Two matcha lattes a day equates to around 200-300mg of EGCG, which is the amount required to boost your metabolic function.
- Antioxidants: Being high in antioxidants, matcha trumps popular antioxidants such as goji berries (253 units per gram) and blueberries (93 units per gram). Matcha has 1573 units per gram
- Slow Caffeine Release: Unlike coffee, matcha slowly releases its caffeine over 3-5 hours. Rather than feeling wired or jittery, you will feel boosted, mentally alert, and energetic. Because matcha doesn’t spike insulin and adrenaline in the body, it isn’t addictive.
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How to Choose High-Quality Matcha?
With the increase in popularity, everyone seems to be offering matcha these days. It’s important to note that not all matcha is made the same, and many companies are making it to capitalize on the trend. In Japan, matcha is so intrinsic to the way of life that it is not seen as a commodity, but rather a carefully honed craft, one that spans generations of matcha-growers and green tea farmers. Inferior matcha loses its unique characteristics, health benefits, and taste, as the producers focus on quantity, instead of quality. Things to look out for include:
- Made in Japan: High-quality matcha must come from Japan, as this is where the best matcha in the world is grown. Even though originating from China, many Chinese growers have begun to cut corners and aren’t offering the same grade of high-quality matcha. The best ceremonial grade matcha will come from either Uji, Nishio or Fukuoka in Japan. Matcha from anywhere else is best used for lattes or smoothies, not for sipping
- First Harvest: When buying ceremonial grade matcha which is used for straight sipping, you want leaves that were picked in the first harvest (spring). These leaves are the newest and youngest. For lattes or smoothies, second harvest is doable (summer), as most latte-grade matcha is a blend of first and second harvest
- Stone-Ground: The best way to grind matcha is by stone. Matcha that is crushed by ball mills creates heat, killing the nurtrients
- Smells Fresh: When you take a sniff of the matcha you’re about to buy, stick your nose in and inhale deeply and slowly. High-quality matcha will smell fresh, with a grassy, vegetal aroma
- Bright Green: Checking the colour of your matcha is an easy way to discern whether it is high-quality or not. High-grade matcha will be a striking green colour (the greener it is, the higher in quality it is). If your matcha is labeled as “pure” but is a dull green or yellowish hue, you know that it is either of inferior quality or old (opened pure matcha will lose its colour after a period of time, so it should be consumed within a year of opening)
- It Bubbles: Part of the experience of making matcha is whisking it with a bamboo whisk, or chasen. When whisking high-quality matcha, beautiful, creamy bubbles will evenly form on the surface. As you are whisking, wonderful aromas will rise to the surface and you will smell the earthiness of the powder. Low-quality matcha won’t result in big bubbles, and they will disappear as soon as they are formed
- Umami Taste: High-quality matcha is lush and exquisite, with a rich umami taste, given from the presence of amino acids that developed in the leaves from shade-growing. Umami is generally savory or brothy in taste, and matcha’s distinct umami gives off notes that are vegetal and sweet. Low-quality matcha tastes more earthy and lacks a natural sweetness, often overwhelmed with bitterness
- Price: Like with anything, you get what you pay for. Low-quality matcha will be available at a steal, however good-quality matcha should be around $27-32 for a 30g tin
- Packaging: Matcha is light-sensitive, so anything that is packaged in clear pouches, jars or tins should be steered clear of.
Amoda Tea offers authentic, high-quality matcha that has been personally sourced by the owner from her travels to Japan. Finding a matcha supplier that was of high-quality and one that was reputable was a non-negotiable for Tegan. Her entire line of matcha powders are ceremonial grade, superior in quality, and exquisite in taste.
How to Make Matcha:
- Use a shallow bowl or specific matcha-bowl
- Add ½ a teaspoon of ceremonial grade matcha to your bowl
- Add 2oz of hot water to the bowl. The water should be cooled from boiling, ideally at 80ºC/175ºF. The bubbles should be the size of crab eyes!
- Make a W motion with the whisk, moving your wrist rapidly. The key is to not move your entire arm, but rather keep your wrist moving. Whisk for about 15-30 seconds until bubbles form and a froth or foam develops on the surface
- Sip and enjoy!
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