The youngest, most tender leaves are gently plucked from a tree immersed in shade. These leaves are meticulously de-stemmed, de-veined, and laid flat to dry. The dried leaves, or tencha, is painstakingly ground to a fine powder using a granite stone mill. That is the time-honored method of making the decadent matcha tea.
Although many attribute Japan for matcha’s creation, the above process originated in 10th century China under the Song Dynasty. It wasn’t for another century that the Japanese would rediscover tea and adopt this matcha-making style. Now hundreds of years later the Chinese no longer grind tea; this revered practice is solely used by the Japanese for the tea ceremony. This ceremony, also referred to as chado or “way of tea” stemmed from the Japanese principles of mindfulness and ichi-go ichi-e, which translates to “one time, one meeting”. In essence, this refers to the idea that every single encounter is unique and can never be reproduced. As such, drinking each cup of matcha is an experience to be cherished because that exact moment is unlike any one before or since.
For those who have never encountered matcha themselves, its vibrant green hue belies a subtle sweetness and characteristic vegetal quality. This complex balance of flavors is a result of the cultivation process, thus slight differences in the harvesting timing account for variations in the matcha itself. The highest quality matcha is the first harvest of the season. It boasts a telltale darker green, a result of languorous growth over months of hibernation. Yellow-green matcha is from the second harvest, a fusion of optimal and mature leaves.
The harvest ritual makes for matcha’s ebullient color, but it factors into the taste as well. By limiting the plant’s exposure to sunlight for the 5 weeks prior to harvest, its leaves see a boost in the production of L-theanine, a naturally-occurring amino acid that suffuses a sweet taste. L-theanine dovetails with matcha’s latent caffeine content to impart a calm alertness. The caffeine content is a fraction of that present in a cup of coffee, so matcha delivers a much more mild stimulation free of jitters.
The preparation of matcha itself plays a key role in the enriching experience of each cup. Since the entire leaf is ground into powder and whisked into water rather than steeped as most teas are, matcha-drinkers enjoy this superfood’s full spectrum of health benefits in much higher concentrations. Boosted metabolism, disease-fighting antioxidants, and improvement in mood are just some of the merits matcha has to offer.
In fact, matcha’s health benefits are second only to its versatility. Due to the superfine texture of the milled powder, matcha is suitable for use in baked goods, savory dishes, and even cocktails. Matcha’s slight astringency and understated sweetness lend a depth of flavor to whatever form it takes.
To make a classic cup of our matcha, follow this 4 step ceremony of your own:
Step One: Using your chashaku and a small sifter, measure out 2 scoops of matcha and sift them into a tea bowl.
Step Three: Whisk vigorously back and forth for 15-20 seconds, or until the tea is frothy.
Step Four: Savor your matcha tea straight from your tea bowl.
You can get everything you need for your very own tea ceremony here. If you’re feeling more adventurous, try adding one tablespoon of matcha for every cup of dry ingredients in baked goods, or a teaspoon to your morning smoothie.
With matcha, the positives – and possibilities – are endless.
Image credit: Mirko Stoedter