Matcha (抹茶, Japanese: [mat.tɕa], English // or //[i]) is finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea leaves, traditionally consumed in East Asia. It is special in two aspects of farming and processing: the green tea plants used for matcha are shade-grown for three to four weeks before harvest, and the stems and veins are removed during processing. During shaded growth, the plant Camellia sinensis produces more theanine and caffeine. The powdered form of matcha is consumed differently from tea leaves or tea bags, as it is suspended in a liquid, typically water or milk.
|Other names||抹茶, "fine powder tea"|
|Quick description||Stone-ground Chinese-style green tea|
"Matcha" in kanji
The traditional Japanese tea ceremony centers on the preparation, serving, and drinking of matcha as hot tea, and embodies a meditative spirituality. In modern times, matcha is also used to flavor and dye foods such as mochi and soba noodles, green tea ice cream, matcha lattes, and a variety of Japanese wagashi confectionery. Matcha used in ceremonies is referred to as ceremonial-grade, meaning that the powder is of a high enough quality to be used in the tea ceremony. Lower-quality matcha is referred to as culinary-grade, but no standard industry definition or requirements exist for matcha.
Blends of matcha are given poetic names known as chamei ("tea names") either by the producing plantation, shop, or creator of the blend, or by the grand master of a particular tea tradition. When a blend is named by the grand master of a tea ceremony lineage, it becomes known as the master's konomi.
In China during the Tang dynasty (618–907), tea leaves were steamed and formed into tea bricks for storage and trade. The tea was prepared by roasting and pulverizing the tea, and decocting the resulting tea powder in hot water, then adding salt. During the Song dynasty (960–1279), the method of making powdered tea from steam-prepared dried tea leaves, and preparing the beverage by whipping the tea powder and hot water together in a bowl became popular.
Preparation and consumption of powdered tea was formed into a ritual by Chan or Zen Buddhists. The earliest extant Chan monastic code, titled Chanyuan Qinggui (Rules of Purity for the Chan Monastery, 1103), describes in detail the etiquette for tea ceremonies.[better source needed]
Zen Buddhism and the Japanese methods of preparing powdered tea were brought to Japan in 1191 by the monk Eisai. In Japan, it became an important item at Zen monasteries and from the 14th through to the 16th centuries was highly appreciated by members of the upper echelons of society. Although powdered tea has not been popular in China for some time, a global resurgence is now occurring in the consumption of matcha, including in China.
Matcha is made from shade-grown tea leaves that also are used to make gyokuro. The preparation of matcha starts several weeks before harvest and may last up to 20 days, when the tea bushes are covered to prevent direct sunlight.[better source needed] This slows down growth, stimulates an increase in chlorophyll levels, turns the leaves a darker shade of green, and causes the production of amino acids, in particular theanine. Only the finest tea buds are hand-picked. After harvesting, if the leaves are rolled up before drying as in the production of sencha, the result will be gyokuro (jade dew) tea. If the leaves are laid out flat to dry, however, they will crumble somewhat and become known as tencha (碾茶). Then, tencha may be deveined, destemmed, and stone-ground to the fine, bright green, talc-like powder known as matcha.
Grinding the leaves is a slow process because the mill stones must not get too warm, lest the aroma of the leaves gets altered. Up to one hour may be needed to grind 30 g of matcha
The flavour of matcha is dominated by its amino acids. The highest grades of matcha have a more intense sweetness and deeper flavour than the standard or coarser grades of tea harvested later in the year.[better source needed]
Tencha refers to green tea leaves that have not yet been ground into fine powder as matcha, as the leaves are instead left to dry rather than be kneaded. Since the leaves' cell walls are still intact, brewing tencha tea results in a pale green brew, which has a more mellow taste compared to other green tea extracts, and only the highest grade of tencha leaves can brew to its fullest flavor. Tencha leaves are half the weight of other tea leaves such as gyokuro and sencha, so most tencha brews require double the number of leaves. About an hour is needed to grind 40 to 70 g of tencha leaves into matcha, and matcha does not retain its freshness as long as tencha in powder form because powder begins to oxidize. Drinking and brewing tencha is traditionally prohibited by the Japanese tea ceremony.
Commercial considerations, especially outside Japan, have increasingly seen matcha marketed according to "grades", indicating quality.
Of the following terms, "ceremonial grade" is not recognised in Japan; "food grade" or "culinary grade" certainly are.
- Ceremonial grade supposedly designates tea of a quality sufficient for its use in tea ceremonies and Buddhist temples. Almost always ground into a powder by granite stone mills, it is expensive (around US$100–140 for 100 g). The unschooled drinker is unlikely to notice a large difference between ceremonial and premium grades. There is no distinct set of flavour characteristics designating the highest grade of matcha; some matchas are conspicuously sweet, some can be comparatively bitter with other characteristics to 'compensate'; the full suite of aesthetic properties such as flavour, colour, and texture are important in the grading of matcha. All must necessarily be of a quality that can support the making of koicha (濃茶), the "thick tea" with a high proportion of powder to water, since this is the form of tea that defines the traditional tea ceremony.
- Premium grade is high-quality matcha green tea that contains young tea leaves from the top of the tea plant. Price point is around US$50–80 for 100 g. Best for daily consumption, it is characterized by a fresh, subtle flavor, usually perfect for both new and everyday matcha drinkers alike.
- Cooking/culinary grade is the cheapest of all ($15–40 for 100 g). Suitable for cooking purposes, smoothies etc. It is slightly bitter due to factors such as its production from leaves lower down on the tea plant, terroir, the time of harvest, or the process of its manufacture.
In general, matcha is expensive compared to other forms of green tea, although its price depends on its quality. Higher grades are pricier due to the production methods and younger leaves used, and thus they have a more delicate flavour, and are more suited to be enjoyed as tea.
Like other forms of green tea, all grades of matcha have the potential health benefits and risks associated with the Camellia sinensis plant (the human clinical evidence is still limited), while the nutrient content varies depending on climate, season, horticultural practices, plant variety, manufacturing methods and the age of the leaf, i.e., the position of the leaf on the harvested shoot. Catechin concentration is highly dependent on leaf age (the leaf bud and the first leaf are richest in epigallocatechin gallate), but catechin levels also vary greatly between plant varieties and whether the plants are grown in shade.
Chemical compositions of various grades of matcha were studied, with the results showing that the contents of caffeine, free amino acids, theanine, and vitamin C decreased with the decreasing price of matcha.
Another study examined the chemical components of tencha (from which matcha is made), and showed that higher grade teas contained greater amounts of total amino acids, theanine, and other individual amino acids. On the other hand, the high grade teas contained lower amounts of total catechins than lower grade teas (epigallocatechin (EGC) and epicatechin (EC) contents were greater in lower grade teas, while those of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and epicatechin gallate (ECG) did not seem to correlate with tea grade), with the conclusion that the EGCG/EGC ratio reflected the quality of matcha more effectively than the EGC or total catechin contents. The relationship between the grade of tencha and caffeine contents seemed low. The chlorophyll contents were greater in the higher grade teas with a few exceptions, likely related to the strong shading used to cultivate high quality tencha.
The study also examined the chemical components of ceremonial grade matcha, industrial grade matcha (referring to powdered teas used in the food industry and cooking, and labelled matcha), and other powdered green tea samples (like sencha and gyokuro). The prices of industrial matcha were ＞600 Yen/100g, and the prices of ceremonial matcha were ＞3,000 Yen/100g. On the other hand, prices of powdered green tea were ＜600 Yen/100. The prices ranged from 8,100 Yen/100g (ceremonial grade) to 170 Yen/100g (powdered sencha). Samples of matcha for tea ceremonies were characterized by high contents of theanine (＞1.8g/100g), and high ratios of EGCG/EGC (＞3.2g/100g). On the other hand, for the industrial grade matcha samples and powdered green teas, the theanine contents and EGCG/EGC ratios were ＜1.7g/100g and ＜3.3g/100g, respectively. The contents of chlorophyll of matcha for tea ceremonies were ＞250 mg/100g, and of most of the other samples were ＜260 mg/100g. Although no difference was found between the theanine contents and EGCG/EGC ratios of industrial grade matcha and powdered green teas, the chlorophyll contents in industrial grade matcha tended to be higher than those of powdered green tea.
Location on the tea bushEdit
Where leaves destined for tencha are picked on the tea bush is vital for different grades of matcha. The young developing leaves on the top of the plant, that are soft and supple, are used for higher grades of matcha, resulting in a finer texture and flavour. For the lower grades, older more developed leaves are used, giving them a sandy texture and slightly bitter flavour.
Treatment before processingEdit
Traditionally, sencha leaves are dried outside in the shade and never are exposed to direct sunlight; however, now drying mostly has moved indoors. Quality matcha is vibrantly green as a result of this treatment.
Without the correct equipment and technique, matcha can become "burnt" and suffer degraded quality. Typically in Japan, it is stone-ground to a fine powder through the use of specially designed granite stone mills.
Oxidation is also a factor in determining grade. Matcha exposed to oxygen may easily become compromised. Oxidized matcha has a distinctive hay-like smell and a dull brownish-green colour.
The two main ways of preparing matcha are thin (薄茶, usucha) and the less common thick (濃茶, koicha).
Prior to use, the matcha often is forced through a sieve to break up clumps. Special sieves are available for this purpose, which usually are stainless steel and combine a fine wire-mesh sieve and a temporary storage container. A special wooden spatula is used to force the tea through the sieve, or a small, smooth stone may be placed on top of the sieve and the device shaken gently.
About 2-4 g of matcha are placed into the bowl, traditionally using a bamboo scoop called a chashaku, and then about 60–80 ml of hot water are added.
While other fine Japanese teas such as gyokuro are prepared using water cooled as low as 40 °C, in Japan matcha is commonly prepared with water just below the boiling point, although temperatures as low as 70–85 °C or 158–185 °F are similarly recommended.
The mixture of water and tea powder is whisked to a uniform consistency, using a bamboo whisk known as a chasen. No lumps should be left in the liquid, and no ground tea should remain on the sides of the bowl. Because matcha may be bitter, it is traditionally served with a small wagashi sweet (intended to be consumed before drinking), but without added milk or sugar. It usually is considered that 40 g of matcha provides for 20 bowls of usucha or 10 bowls of koicha:
Usucha, or thin tea, is prepared with about 1.75 g (amounting to 1.5 heaping chashaku scoop, or about half a teaspoon) of matcha and about 75 ml (2.5 oz) of hot water per serving, which can be whisked to produce froth or not, according to the drinker's preference (or to the traditions of the particular school of tea). Usucha creates a lighter and slightly more bitter tea.
Koicha, or thick tea, requires significantly more matcha (usually about doubling the powder and halving the water): about 3.75 g (amounting to 3 heaping chashaku scoops, or about one teaspoon) of matcha and 40 ml (1.3 fl oz) of hot water per serving, or as many as 6 teaspoons to 3⁄4 cup of water. Because the resulting mixture is significantly thicker (with a similar consistency to liquid honey), blending it requires a slower, stirring motion that does not produce foam. Koicha is normally made with more expensive matcha from older tea trees (exceeding 30 years), thus, produces a milder and sweeter tea than usucha; it is served almost exclusively as part of Japanese tea ceremonies.
It is used in castella, manjū, and monaka; as a topping for shaved ice (kakigōri); mixed with milk and sugar as a drink; and mixed with salt and used to flavour tempura in a mixture known as matcha-jio. It is also used as flavouring in many Western-style chocolates, candy, and desserts, such as cakes and pastries, including Swiss rolls and cheesecake, cookies, pudding, mousse, and green tea ice cream. Matcha frozen yogurt is sold in shops and can be made at home using Greek yogurt. The Japanese snacks Pocky and Kit Kats have matcha-flavoured versions. It may also be mixed into other forms of tea. For example, it is added to genmaicha to form matcha-iri genmaicha (literally, roasted brown rice and green tea with added matcha).
The use of matcha in modern drinks has also spread to North American cafés, such as Starbucks, which introduced "green tea lattes" and other matcha-flavoured drinks after they became successful in their Japanese store locations. As in Japan, it has become integrated into lattes, iced drinks, milkshakes, and smoothies.
Matcha nitro cold brew topped with whipped cream
Basic matcha teawareEdit
The equipment required for the making of matcha is:
- Tea bowl (茶碗, chawan)
- Large enough to whisk the fine powder tea around 120 millilitres (4 US fl oz)
- Tea whisk (茶筅, chasen)
- A bamboo whisk with fine bristles to whisk or whip the tea foam
- Tea spoon (茶杓, chashaku, also called tea scoop)
- A bamboo spoon to measure the powder tea into the tea bowl, not the same as a Western teaspoon
- Tea caddy (棗, natsume)
- A container for the matcha powder tea
- Tea cloth (茶巾, chakin)
- A small cotton cloth for cleaning teaware during the tea ceremony
As matcha is a concentrated form of green tea, it has been long reputed by enthusiasts for centuries that matcha possesses stronger health benefits associated with green tea, and such effects have been scientifically proven. Caffeine is more concentrated in matcha, which Japanese Zen monks have used to stimulate awakeness, but the main matcha constituent expected to have a stress-reducing effect is theanine. Theanine is the most abundant amino acid in green tea, and together with succinic acid, gallic acid and theogallin is what gives matcha its umami flavor. Compared to traditional green tea, the production of matcha requires the tea leaves to be protected from sunlight. Shading results in an increase in caffeine, total free amino acids, including theanine, but also reduces the accumulation of flavonoids (catechins) in leaves.
Theanine's stress-reducing effects were tested at Japan's University of Shizuoka, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, where studies show that laboratory mice that consumed more than 33 mg/kg of matcha had significantly suppressed adrenal hypertrophy, a symptom that shows sensitivity to stress. The School of Pharmaceutical Sciences also tested the stress-reducing effects on university students and confirmed that students who ingested 3 grams of matcha in 500 ml of room-temperature water had reduced anxiety (state-trait anxiety inventory or STAI), than students who consumed placebo. Green tea leaves also contain the catechin, epigallocatechin gallate, an antioxidant found to be able to mildly prevent cancer, diseases, and aid in weight loss.
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Matcha used to be sold in packages of 10 monme (ancient measure of about 3.75 g, or 37.5 g for the package) and most tea masters considered that one package provided for 20 usucha (about 1.8 g each) or 10 koicha (about 3.75 g each). This is why today's traditional packaging is 40 g (the closest to 10 monme)
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- Media related to Matcha at Wikimedia Commons