Uniquely grown in Japan, matcha has been making waves to the sea of headlines recently for being one the healthiest drink in the world. You can’t miss its solid green color which resembles fine leaves from trees and can even make you feel like you’re one with nature when you drink a cup of it. This finely ground tea leaves has become an overnight sensation, many thanks to it healthy benefits, beautiful visual appeal, and delightful, distinct flavor that soothes the soul. But what is it all about matcha that made people fall in love with it?
Originated in China during the Tang Dynasty, it was done as a practice to mill the leaves into a fine powder and whisk it into the water to be taken as a drink. The leaves were actually steamed and formed into little bricks so it could be stored properly. During this time, the preparation of leaves was done by roasting and pulverizing them, then dissolving the powder into water and salt was added for taste. However, during the Song Dynasty, the idea of mixing the fine powder and water together into a bowl became popular. Preparing and consuming tea became a regular and sacred drink during special ceremonies after the Zen Buddhists formed it into a ritual. This method was only brought to Japan during the 11th century by a monk named Eisai.
It was believed that the best tea leaves are found in Japan and most of the southern part of the country, where workers meticulously pick only the best buds. Depending on whether the leaves are rolled out flat or laid out dry produces two different kinds of green tea leaves. When the leaves are rolled out flat, it produces the premium type of leaves which is called gyokuro while when it’s laid out dry, it produces tencha, which is the one used for making matcha. Because of its growing popularity, matcha has been used in many things. You can find it being mixed with your regular order of coffee, green tea flavor ice cream, in cakes, and even on savory food. It only goes to show that matcha is a versatile ingredient that can be used whether for cooking or drinking. But the contrast to its popularity, matcha is traditionally used in chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremonies) where the main focus is preparing and making matcha, where everything counts.
Grades of Matcha
An invigorating take on a traditional tea, matcha is packed with health benefits and antioxidants that uplifts your soul, enhance your mood and brings your energy level up. Though there are a lot of other tea leaves in the market, matcha is probably the most popular one with its bright green color and distinct flavor. Most tea leaves are loose and packed in bags but matcha is made of fine powder that you can easily mix with hot water and consume right away. Matcha actually has three different grades which are:
- Ceremonial Grade – with its lively and vibrant green color, extremely fine texture and delicate taste, ceremonial grade green tea powder is considered the highest quality of matcha used in ceremonies. It is also the most expensive one. Made by using the youngest tea leaves with its stems and veins removed. It is then grounded using stones which most Japanese people say produces the subtle tones of an umami taste. You can easily recognize if someone is using a ceremonial grade because of its bright green color, which is one of the most unique feature of the ceremonial grade. Because of its quality, it must be consumed right away once it’s mixed with water. It shouldn’t be mixed with other ingredients such as sweeteners or milk. Ceremonial grade has a particularly natural sweet and delicate taste. Most unschooled tea drinkers would easily notice the big difference of using ceremonial green tea powder from the rest.
- Premium Grade – ideal for everyday drinking, premium grade green tea powder is a great blend of green tea with a much more reasonable price. It is an excellent choice if you have just begun drinking green tea. Unlike ceremonial grade, the premium grade has a less vibrant green color but just as satisfying. It easily mixed with water because of its very fine texture and produces one of the freshest and most subtle taste. Best for daily consumption, the premium grade is packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which is good for the health.
- Culinary Grade – used for cooking and baking, culinary grade green tea powder has a slightly different profile of taste. Though vigorous in flavor, it has a more bitter taste than most green tea powder. Like premium grade, it has a less vibrant green color and has a grassy and fresh smell which feels soft and smooth to touch. It enhances the flavors of other ingredients when it is mixed with food and beverage.
Traditional Preparations of Matcha
Chanoyu, or Japanese tea ceremonies, has been a fundamental part of the Japanese culture for centuries. It is a celebration not only about Japan’s rich history but also about its people and traditions. Performed with refinement and exquisiteness, it is a sacred and religious experience that is able to get your mind and soul at ease.
Matcha is usually made and prepared using two methods: usucha and koicha. Now, in usucha, which is thin tea, is the most common way of preparing the tea. These are what cafes and restaurants usually use as a way of making the tea. Usucha produces a lighter but bitter taste of tea which is actually best mixed with other ingredients. Koicha, which is thick tea, is made twice the amount of matcha and half amount of water. Made with the highest quality of green tea, it is used in traditional tea ceremonies. You can’t simply interchange the usage of usucha and koicha in preparing your tea because of their different tastes.
There are actually three important utensils needed for a successful preparation of tea. These are: chawan (tea bowl) which is a special bowl used in making matcha. It has rounded edges that plunge down and only has a small room for a limited amount of liquid so there will be more space for whisking; furui (sifter) which is used to sift the tea leaves. It is important to sift the leaves first to remove any sort of debris and prevent it from clumping. It is a highly designed sifter used especially for matcha with a fine mesh strainer; chasen (tea whisk) which is the most important utensil use in making matcha because there is no substitute for it. It is made of bamboo with soft, fine tines and lastly; chashaku (tea scoop) which is used for measuring the green tea powder and for scooping.
Now, for the preparation, of course, you need the important utensils. Using chashaku, scoop the right amount of matcha and sift it using furui. Once okay, pour the measured matcha into the chawan which already has hot water (measured correctly as well) and using chasen, rapidly whisk the matcha into the water using a zigzag motion. It will produce a hot, frothy concoction with small bubbles around the edges, with a grassy but bittersweet taste. Of course, the flavor of the matcha depends on the quality of the matcha powder itself so always opt to find the best there is. It usually depends on the drinker’s preferences but once you get the art of making matcha, you can clearly see and taste the difference between a good and bad quality matcha.
Health Benefits of Matcha
Japanese people only pick the best leaves there is and because of this, matcha comes with a lot of health benefits. Most health-conscious people swore that matcha is their go-to drink. It acts as a natural antioxidant which helps alleviate harmful free radicals and helps good digestion. Its tea leaves contain natural elements and nutrients. It boosts memory and concentration because it contains dopamine and serotonin, two elements which improve good memory and better concentration. It is also perfect for people who are trying to lose weight because it increases one’s metabolism and helps burn body fats faster without experiencing any side effects. Matcha also helps detoxification, which removes any harmful chemicals and heavy metals from our bodies. And because drinking tea is believed to help soothe the mind and soul, it’s actually perfect for people who are in need of peace and serenity. After all, drinking tea helps and enhances calm, meditates your body and mind and brings peacefulness to you.
Where to Drink Matcha
Though you can make and prepare matcha at home, it’s best to try it out first in well-known restaurants to help you learn more about it. List down are five of the restaurants which serves one of the best matcha drinks in the city:
- Nana’s Green Tea – started in their first branch in Jiyugaoka, Nana’s Green Tea has now several other branches in the city. Locals and tourists claim that they serve some of the best matcha drinks in town, ranging from the basic combination of plain matcha with a Japanese-style sweets to matcha macchiato, and even matcha soda. Besides that, they also serve other green tea concoctions like genmaicha, which is green tea with brown rice, and houjicha, which is roasted green tea, at reasonable prices. If you’re not into drinks, you can eat your way out by ordering desserts like matcha parfaits and matcha cakes. Nana’s Green Tea is located in Jiyugaoka 1-29-18, Meguro-ku, Tokyo.
- Ujicha Gion Tsujiri – originally from Gion, which is Kyoto’s famous geisha district, Ujicha Gion Tsujiri is said to be the real deal when it comes to matcha. More than a matcha café shop, they sell green tea powder in pretty packages and sell matcha drinks and soft-serve ice creams at affordable prices. If you’re just starting to drink matcha and clearly enjoys it, you shouldn’t miss this wonderful café shop. Ujicha Gion Tsujiri is located in 6/F Tokyo Sky Tree Town Solamachi, Oshiage, Sumida-ku, Tokyo.
- Cha no Ikedaya – built in 1945 and has been in the business for more than 70 years, Cha no Ikedaya serves more than a cup of steaming, hot tea. They have a menu with a wide selection of dish, ranging from teacakes, roasted coffee, and their most popular item on the menu, their soft-serve matcha flavored ice cream. With a hint of bitterness that comes from the green tea, this ice cream has the perfect balance of flavor that doesn’t leave an over-sweet aftertaste. Cha no Ikedaya is located in 160-0023 Tokyo, Nishishinjuku, 1 Chome−1.
- Streamer Coffee Company – with its perfect location and selection of great dishes on the menu, it’s no wonder that Streamer Coffee Company is the place where the cool kids hang out. Their baristas are the best latte artists and make the best latte in the restaurant, which is called Military Latte. It is a matcha latte with a shot of strong espresso and laced with high-quality white chocolate. Streamer Coffee Company is located in 1-20-28 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo.
- Yojiya Café – not a lot of people know this but this famous cosmetic brand shop actually houses a café. With their elegant and slick décor in their shop, it’s no wonder that most people stay here because of the comfort it brings to them. They offer great food and great drinks, of course, serving great matcha lattes which taste out of this world. Their matcha drinks are thicker, richer, and are very each to drink. They actually put their logo in their matcha and coffee drinks, which is particularly impressive and stunning. Yojiya Café is located in Shibuya Hikarie ShinQs B1F, 2-21-1 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo.
She’s cooking and baking for her family and friends. She finds grocery shopping therapeutic, always takes the longest time in the Asian section and debates with herself whether she needs that extra pack of instant ramen. A lover of sweets, she dreams of owning a patisserie and publishing her book but most of the time, she’s just really thinking of what to eat for breakfast the next day.