Recently, several of the teas I reviewed contained Matcha in the ingredients. As I am new in my tea journey, I had no clue what the term Matcha meant. I erroneously believed that teas containing matcha might be an inferior tea. To end my personal confusion, I decided that it was time to proactively research Matcha for myself. Considering that I was yet to glean this information from my general reading about tea, it is time.
After consulting Wikipedia, I was pleased to discover that Matcha is a fine, powdered green tea used particularly in Japanese tea ceremony, as well as to dye and flavour foods such as mochi and soba noodles, green tea ice cream and a variety of wagashi (Japanese confectionery).
The preparation of matcha starts several weeks before harvest, when the tea bushes are covered to prevent direct sunlight. This slows down growth, turns the leaves a darker shade of green and causes the production of amino acids that make the resulting tea sweeter.
After harvesting, the leaves are laid out flat to dry causing them to crumble somewhat. This is known as tencha – which is then de-veined, de-stemmed, and stone ground to the fine, bright green, talc-like powder known as matcha. Only ground tenchaqualifies as matcha, and other powdered teas are known as konacha ( lit. “pulverized tea”). The most famous Matcha-producing regions are Uji in Kyoto (tea from this region is called “Ujicha”), Nishio in Aichi (tea from this region is called “Nishiocha”) both on the main island of Honshū; Shizuoka, and Northern Kyushu.
The flavour of matcha is dominated by its amino acids. The highest grades of matcha have more intense sweetness and deeper flavour than the standard or coarser grades of tea harvested later in the year.
Grades of matcha are defined by the following characteristics:
- Location on the tea bush where the leaves are picked.
- Treatment prior to processing – either indoor or outdoor as well as the amount of exposure to sunlight, which should be none.
- Utilization of the proper stone grinding technique.
- The amount of oxidation – exposure of matcha to oxygen causes deterioration.
Powdered tea, also known as Matcha, was brought to Japan in 1191 by the monk Eisai. Slowly forgotten in China, Matcha continued to be an important item in Japan at Zen monasteries. Additionally, it became highly appreciated by others in the upper echelons of society during the 14th through 16th centuries. Along with this development, tea plantation owners in Uji perfected techniques for producing excellent tea for matcha. The cultural activity called the Japanese tea ceremony centers around the preparation, serving, and drinking of matcha. The 16th century tea master Sen no Rikyu is regarded as the person who perfected this cultural activity. The kind of Japanese tea ceremony that he conceived is called wabi-cha or sōan-cha.
Based upon my research, my next tea purchase will purposely include an order of matcha. I would like to taste the differences in quality and discover the impact matcha has on tea leaves when blended or infused with it. If you have a favorite matcha, let me know.
Until then…Happy Tea Drinking!
Reference: Matcha. (2008, April 6). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12:00, April 23, 2008, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Matcha&oldid=203747318