抹茶 Matcha.


Matcha: A high grade, milled Japanese green tea

Matcha is a very high grade powdered green the from Japan most famous for it's use in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony known as Cha-no-Yu. Matcha came from China by way of Zen monks who found the tea ideal for supplying them with the energy required for marathon sessions of zazen meditation. Matcha is produced in 3 major regions of Japan: Uji (the most famous producer), Nishio (the largest producer by volume) and Yame (the up-and-comer). To this day, Uji, which is just south if Kyoto, is the cultural home of matcha and the culture surrounding it.

HISTORY

The teas plant made its first pilgrimage from the shores of china somewhere around the year 805AD during the first cultural exhange between Japan and China. Saicho, a zen monk, is credited with ferrying the first seeds to Japan and planting them in a mountain in Saga prefecture. But it wasn't long before the tea plants continued north and settled in the town of Uji, just south of Kyoto. It was here, in Uji, where tea began its life in Japan in earnest. But at this time, the tea being manufactured was not matcha - it was in fact a rough brick tea similiar to Chinese Maocha or Puerh.

The current of the famous Uji River

The current of the famous Uji River

Once again 1191AD, a gift from China arrived in Japan in the form of Matcha. This powdered tea was at the time considered an elixir, a medicine, a stimulant, and a gift from the earth.

"Tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and has the ability to make one's life more full and complete."

- Eisai, monk and author of Kissayojoki, a treatise on tea

 

Eisai, a Buddhist monk took this powdered tea and the secrets of it's production directly to Uji this time. Matcha was widely being used by monks in China as a stimulant to keep them focused and awake during their long hours of meditation practice. Eisai saw great potential for use in Japan and his enthusiam lead him to pen the famous Kissayoujouki, a treatise extolling the benefits of tea not only on physical betterment, but spiritual and mental too. Thus, the culture surrounding matcha in Japan was born out of Zen Tradition. As both the quality and popularity of tea rose Kyoto, the Capital of Japan, adopted tea as a new cultural focal point. It was Kyoto where the the visual austerity of the tea tools, the tea room, and movements of the "tea ceremony" were developed. Uji to the south became famous and was soon supplying Matcha to all of Japan.

Above: The visual identity of Japan's tea culture and tools were codified in Kyoto

MATCHA TODAY

Matcha is one category of Japanese tea. Japanese tea is almost always referinig to green tea as 99% of tea produced in Japan is green. To understand matcha, a basic overview of Japanese green tea is necessary. Japan's green teas are unique for a vareity of reasons. The major factors being:

1.Tea is produced by using a steaming technique. Why unique?: Other countries use primarily "dry heat" like a wok. Difference?: Japanese teas are deep green in color.                2. Japanese teas are produced by creating Aracha, and then blending the leaves to create balance.                                                                                                                             3. Japanese technological prowess means automated machines and high quality packaging.                                                                                                                                        4. Extensive tea research and development                                                                                                                                                                                                                          5. Cultural attention to detail.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 6. Unique terroir and microclimates.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      7. Highly evolved and structured cousine.

WHAT IS ARACHA?

 Aracha is a crude tea that is made from a single varietal. This tea bush is picked and the leaf is processed soon after picking. After processing, Japanese tea has the unique benefit of being able to be cold stored. Why does that matter? It affords Japanese tea producers to keep fresh product frozen until they need it. Once needed, the crude tea is unfrozen, processed into and finished state and then blended to guarantee absolutely fresh tea all year round. Remember, tea is only harvested in Japan during a limited window of time.

Tea plants grown for matcha are shaded for roughly twenty days prior to harvest. A simple structure is built around the tea bushes — a combination of netting and hay used to block direct sunlight. Shading the leaves causes a disruption in normal photosynthesis, causing the tea plant to produce chemicals like Theanine that intensify the plant's green color, sweetness, and umami. After an appropriate amount of shading, the best leaves are handpicked and processed into Tencha, broad, flat leaves that are top-loaded into a stone mill and finely ground.

Above: A traditonal shading structure built around tea plants used for harvesting matcha

Above: Tea growing in the shade

The stone mills used to make matcha are almost unchanged from their original design. The only difference is that they are now operated by an electronic motor instead of the original hand crank. Each mill slowly spins clockwise; slow being the key word — too fast, and heat from friction will damage the flavor of the tea. The grinding process is what separates matcha from other Japanese green teas. A single mill typically produces about twenty grams of matcha per hour. The powder is superfine with individual particles measuring just a few microns.

 

True matcha is separated into two categories: Usucha and Koicha. Usucha, the most popular preparation of matcha, means thin (usu) tea (cha). It is a style and a grade — leaves are grown and processed expressly to manufacture thin tea. Usucha is prepared with two grams of tea in about two ounces of water, whisked vigorously with a bamboo Chasen (whisk) until a fine foam appears on top. It is served in a traditional tea bowl, savored, but drunk quickly — three sips, and it should be gone. Flavors are deep, creamy, grassy, and nutty. The mouthfeel is thick and velvety, similar to fine espresso.

Usucha, the most popular preparation of matcha

Usucha, the most popular preparation of matcha

Koicha (thick tea) is made with four to five grams of high-grade matcha made specifically for this style with two ounces of water, which is slowly added to the bowl and mixed into a tea paste. The consistency of koicha is very thick, like paint or buttermilk. Flavors are reminiscent of melted chocolate with a tangy umami finish. Drinking koicha is an extraordinary experience not soon forgotten.

Koicha, a thicker less well knowm preparation of matcha  

Koicha, a thicker less well knowm preparation of matcha

 

Varieties of culinary matcha are available for use in everything from smoothies and cakes to ice cream and lattes. Culinary-grade matcha is produced from coarser green tea leaves of the later harvest and generally has higher astringency and lighter green color.

 

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO MAKE MATCHA?

Avoid shortcuts and modern matcha "accessories" If you want to make matcha correctly you'll need three things.

1. Chasen. A bamboo whisk used to froth the tea into a fine foam. Trust us, nothing works better.

2. Chashaku: A bamboo scoop used to portion out the powder.

3. A Chawan: A ceramic bowl used to prepare and drink matcha from. There are endless styles and variations. Invest in one you love and use it daily. You will form a beautiful relationship to it through the ritual of use.

Above: Chasen, Chashaku, Chawan

PREPARATION

Usucha MATCHA
Preparing matcha is easy. Essential items as mentioned are a chasen bamboo tea whisk,  Scoop, and a chawan matcha tea bowl, and of course a tin of high-quality matcha. Take care storing matcha: Always keep tea in an airtight container away from light, heat, and moisture. The refrigerator works best. Matcha should also be consumed quickly. It's at its freshest for two weeks after opening.

1. Preheat the tea bowl by filling it with a small amount of hot water.

2. Pour off the water and pat dry the bowl.

3. Add 2 g. of sifted matcha powder.

4. Slowly pour 70 g. of hot water (190 °F) over the tea powder.

5. Use bamboo chasen to vigorously whisk the tea in a Z motion for 20 seconds.

6. Once a fine foam develops, drink directly from the bowl as soon as possible.

Koicha MATCHA

1. Preheat the tea bowl by filling it with a small amount of hot water.

2. Pour off the water and pat dry the bowl.

3. Add 5 g. of sifted matcha powder.

4. Slowly pour 70 g. of hot water (190 °F) over the tea powder.

5. Use bamboo chasen to knead the water into the tea until you form and even paste free of lumps.

6. Savor the color and aroma before drinking. The tea will slide down the side of the bowl into your mouth like melted chocolate. Once you've drank the majority of the tea, add 70g of hot water to the left over Koicha and whisk into an usucha to enjoy the leftover tea.