The method of grinding tea leaves into a powder originated in China during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), but fell out of favour in the centuries to follow. It was not until the practice reached Japan by way of Zen Buddhist monks that it developed into the drink we know today.
Image courtesy of Japan Centre Online
Matcha is traditionally made by stone grinding green leaves of shade-grown tea. Before grinding the leaves are dried, de-veined and de-stemmed, in this state they are known as tencha. Craig Coulton, founder of Bloom Tea, explains that while first harvest yields are much lower than later ones, ‘the quality is superior and makes a smoother and creamier matcha’.
There are two main ways of preparing a cup of matcha to drink. Purists first sieve the matcha to remove clumps. For koicha (thick) matcha place 4 grams (about a teaspoon) into the bowl, top with 40 ml hot water (80 °C is best; boiling water will scald the tea) and whisk. For usucha (thin) matcha use half the amount of matcha and twice as much hot water.
In Japan, a chasen – a specialist whisk made from bamboo – is used to mix the drink. Says Stephen Pereira, founder of Matcha Factory, ‘making matcha with a chasen is part of the experience of matcha and they do look and feel cool. But now that I have kids, I’m all about the speed and convenience of the modern electronic whisks. It’s truly a matter of personal preference.’
Many matcha suppliers sell more than one grade. Lower grades, sometimes sold as cooking or drinking matcha, are often made from late harvest tea and have a less delicate taste. These are ideal for mixing into a smoothie or latte and work well in a variety of recipes. In some cases, ground tea sold as matcha is made from sencha (sun-grown green tea) rather than tencha, but this lacks the distinctive flavour of true matcha.
Jameel Lalani, founder of Lalani & Co reveals what to look for in premium grade matcha such as his Matcha Gold. ‘A good matcha has a deep and bright green colour. The powder should be fine, rising like smoke with a gentle tap. Look for a mellow depth of flavour. Too much bitterness indicates lower quality. A very good matcha has subtle hints of nuttiness and cocoa butter. The texture is thick and the flavour lasts on the palate for many minutes.’
One of the first to sell imported Japanese food and drink in the UK, Tak Tokumine is the founder of the much-loved Japan Centre Group and Shoryu (ramen) restaurants. He agrees that ‘a vivid green colour is important as it suggests freshness and proper preparation of the tencha’. He points out that ‘matcha is delicate and age affects its quality’, which is why he appreciates the freshly ground matcha milled every day in Japan Centre’s Piccadilly store. Tak recommends storing in an airtight container in the fridge, and using within 8 weeks of opening.
Growing tea in shade slows down the growth of the plant, stimulating an increase in chlorophyll levels. This turns the leaves a darker shade of green and causes the production of amino acids, in particular L-Theanine, which not only provides a distinctive umami flavour but is also claimed to reduce stress, sharpen cognitive performance and improve mood (when combined with caffeine).
Tak finds Matcha, ‘the perfect beverage with which to begin the day, as it is relaxing but also gives one clarity of mind’.
After suffering an immune system illness some years ago, Craig found his recovery naturally boosted by antioxidant-rich teas. Whereas for most teas, we infuse and discard the leaves, with matcha the ground up leaves are ingested, providing much higher nutritional benefits. In his collection, Craig blends matcha with other beneficial ingredients such as guarana, peppermint and milk thistle. Varieties with mango and grapefruit appeal to customers who don’t like un-adultured matcha.
For those who aren’t keen on drinking matcha the traditional way, it is wonderful in shakes and smoothies. Craig loves mixing his ginger and ginseng Mindpower Matcha with soy milk and manuka honey. Jameel suggests a breakfast smoothie of matcha, bananas, dates, oats and almond milk. Stephen and Tak extol the virtues of matcha ice cream, the perfect treat on a hot summer’s day.
Easy matcha ice cream
Banana, matcha and prune smoothie
Matcha and white chocolate cake
Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!32 Comments to "A Taste For… Matcha"
I’ve never even tried matcha. I know, kinda weird. But it’s true. I totally want to try it, and I think I’d love it. I do love green tea, and all the green tea treats like ice cream, so I need to get some!
On a different note, I thought of you yesterday. We were watching a movie that showed a svastika and compared it and showed how it morphed into the hate symbol that so many people are familiar with. That comparison made me think of the post you wrote about the peace symbol. Thanks again for writing that one. 🙂 Have a wonderful weekend!
It’s a kind of grassy taste, a little like regular green tea, but much more intense, and with more freshness and vegetable greenery to it as well, a faint touch of bitter (more for cheaper matcha than the good stuff).
Love that you remembered my post about the swastika and it’s true meaning. Thanks for letting me know, that made me really happy!
I like matcha powder need to try it my baking. Love this article as it explained very well.
What a great primer on matcha! I love it (and I’m especially enamored of its gorgeous green color). Thanks for all the great info!
Yes the colour is just gorgeous isn’t it?
I’ve never tried Matcha but have been seeing a lot of recipes with it lately. Need to try it.
It’s been a popular ingredient, particular on recipe blogs, for many years as it really lends itself to use in cooking, especially baking.
I found your post fascinating! I’m a big tea drinker but I didn’t know anything about Matcha or the effort that goes into it! Wow! It makes me appreciate tea much more! Thanks for such a great article!!
Thanks Amanda, it’s a fascinating drink indeed.
How informative! I love matcha. Thanks for sharing.
I have never had Matcha, you will have to make it for me one day..
You write so well 🙂
Sure, I will bring some, ma. Ta.
I really need to find some matcha. I’ve never tried it but it always sounds so interesting, and I’m totally intrigued by that stunning colour!
The colour is just jewel-like isn’t it? Definitely one to try – I know it’s not for everyone but those of us who love it really love it!
I love the colour of matcha, and the idea of it, but have not yet found a way to imbibe it that suits me. My husband, on the other hand, absolutely loves it straight up and has had a few odd looks at his very green tea when at work!
It’s great in smoothies, mixed with sweet fruit to balance the taste.
You’ve reminded me I have a tub of matcha in my fridge, ,must whizz it up with some juice for a pick me up. It was a drink I got into after surgery a few years ago and it always gives a boost to energy.
Yes, I love matcha in a smoothie type drink. So good.
I love matcha! Thank you for sharing such an informative post 🙂
I’ve never tried Matcha, but now I want to!
Hope you can try it soon.
One of my favourite new discoveries is matcha latte, even as a coffee addict it rates up there as one of the best drinks there is. I love the Claearspring variety especially.
I love a matcha latte, it just works so well. And an iced matcha latte is a thing of beauty!
Interesting stuff! Buying matcha online is a tricky business not knowing what quality you’re buying. Just because it’s highly priced doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good quality. I guess the only way you can tell is by having numerous brands side by side and tasting and testing each one.
Yes indeed. And once you identify the brands you like and trust, it becomes easier too.
I have still yet to try matcha and being the British tea drinker I am, I need to change this. This post is also a lovely read, thank you for sharing.
It’s very different to black tea, and even to regular green tea, so it’s not to everyone’s taste but hope you can try it soon and that you like it too!
I’m so in love with matcha since I tasted it for the first time in a cake in a café, I had to buy some. Since I’ve tried it in smoothies, tiramisù, muffins and there even is a Matcha Café in Paris, OMG, if I could I would go there everyday!
This is a nice article you wrote for those who haven’t tried it yet!
Yes, so many wonderful ways to enjoy it!