Dubbed as a ceremonial delicacy and a natural panacea of modern time, matcha (抹茶) green tea, has been gaining popularity in the west due to its unique flavor profile and remarkable health properties. Here are the top 10 facts you should know about matcha from the people at Matchæologist.
1. Matcha was Developed by Accident
Matcha was brought over from China to Japan around the end of the 12th century. However at that time, matcha was simply prepared by roasting and pulverizing tea leaves. It was not until the invention of the oishita (shade-grown) cultivation method that matcha was refined to have a richer taste and a deep green colour. This discovery occurred during one harsh winter when tea farmers decided to cover their tea plants with reed and straw to prevent damage by frost right before the harvest. They realised that the shading made the plants compensate for the lack of sunlight by producing more chlorophyll within the new shoots to help facilitate photosynthesis, thus enhancing the amino acid content of the new tea buds. It is these young buds that are subsequently hand-picked and processed into richer tasting matcha as we know it nowadays.
2. World’s only Suspension Tea
One of the key characteristics of matcha that makes it unique is the fact that this tea is consumed in a powdered form, whisked into warm water. Given that matcha is not soluble, it simply suspends in water and is meant to be consumed immediately after preparation before the tea settles at the bottom of the cup. This makes matcha the only suspension tea in the world.
3. Matcha — Liquid Meditation
Starting off as a meditation tea by Zen Buddhist monks, matcha is known as a calming stimulant. Matcha has about a third the amount of caffeine compared to a regular cup of coffee. However, as opposed to the nervous jittery effects produced by coffee, matcha gives you a state of calming euphoria — a sensation of mental alertness and deep relaxation similar to the effect of meditation. For this reason, matcha is sometimes referred to as liquid meditation and has been used by Zen Buddhist monks to help concentrate during long meditation sessions. Many people nowadays also drink matcha before a yoga or meditation session.
4. Samurai Warriors Drink Matcha Before Battles
The Samurai learned the fine art of brewing matcha from Zen Buddhist monks back in the 13th century. They learned that drinking Matcha could restore them physically and prepare them mentally for the battle. Drawing on their strict code of conduct, they developed an elaborate framework called wabi which detailed how to brew and consume Matcha. Over the centuries, this philosophy gave birth to the Japanese tea ceremony we are familiar with today. It is in reverence to their noble way of life that we present this amazing tea.
5. Matcha — the Elixir of the Immortals
Besides the cultural context, matcha is naturally healthy. The catechin polyphenols inside matcha — or compound antioxidants — have been shown to help protect us against cancer, cardiovascular diseases, reduce cholesterol and blood pressure. Matcha also helps burn fat, increasing metabolism and promoting weight loss. In terms of the level of antioxidants, matcha contains 137 times the amount of antioxidants found in a cup of regular green tea. Above all — it’s 100% natural, which, to many, is mind-boggling.
6. Blueish Green > Yellowish Green
The green hue of matcha is usually a tell-tale sign of its quality. Higher grade matcha will have a blueish green hue, whereas in lower grade matcha a brownish yellow hue is more common. In Japan, we use a simple rule of thumb to classify matcha colour into that of pine tree green (dark, bluish green) or bamboo green (lighter, yellow-ish green), with pine tree green being more superior. This distinction results from the fact that only the topmost, youngest pair of leaves on the tea stem are handpicked to produce premium matcha in a method called Niyou Tsumi (two leaf picking), making it electric green in colour.
7. The ‘Oika’ Aroma
Another key feature of higher grade matcha is the oika (覆い香) fragrance, or the characteristically refreshing, greenish aroma of shade-grown green tea. The oika aroma of fine matcha is captivating, almost buttery, inviting the drinker to further explore by tasting it. It is said that this oika fragrance is only present in high-quality gyukuro and matcha — the only two types of Japanese green tea that are grown under shade.
8. The Mysterious Umami Taste
Higher grade matcha is marked by the famous umami (うま味) taste. Umami is sometimes called the mysterious 5th flavour (along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty), synonymous with a sweet-savoury, brothy taste. It is the high concentration of theanine, glutamate, and ionone-related compounds from carotenoids (organic pigments aided in photosynthesis) found in young shoots of shade-grown tea trees that are responsible for this umami taste in high grade matcha.
9. Matcha is Highly Sensitive to Air, Light, Heat and Moisture
As you may already know, green teas are characterised by minimal oxidation and remain closest to their pre-plucked state (as evidenced by their greenness). After plucking, they are quickly de-enzymed by steaming to prevent further oxidation (which turns the tea brown in a similar manner to how a sliced apple turns brown after being exposed to the air). When oxidation is allowed to run its course, tea leaves will start to undergo a full transformation and exhibit a completely different aroma and taste profile. Due to its small particle size and hence large surface area, matcha is particularly susceptible to the effects of oxidation, which can occur as a result of exposure to air, sunlight, moisture, and heat (oxidation occurs best between 27-30°C). Therefore, always avoid matcha that comes in transparent or non-airtight packaging. After opening, matcha should always be stored in a cool, dry place away from moisture, sunlight and strong odours.
10. Water Temperature and Softness Can Greatly Affect its Taste
The three key elements that constitute matcha’s flavour profile are theanine (mellow, sweet taste), catechin (astringent taste), and caffeine (mildly bitter taste). Since these elements are extracted at different temperatures, the flavour profile of matcha can be calibrated by adjusting the temperature of the brewing water. While theanine is extracted equally well at low and high temperatures, catechin is extracted best over 75°C and caffeine at high temperatures. Thus, if you would like a softer, mellower flavour, lower temperature water (less than 65°C) should be used, as more theanine is extracted while less catechin and caffeine is extracted. In addition, soft water (water that contains fewer minerals) is recommended for brewing matcha as certain minerals found in hard water can spoil the delicate flavour elements of the tea. We also recommend dechlorinating tap water by first boiling it for more than two minutes, then letting it cool down to around 70°C before brewing matcha.
We hope that this article invites you to further explore the fascinating world of matcha and the art of making this ceremonial delicacy. To learn more about matcha and the latest updates from Matchæologist, visit Matchaeologist.com or follow them on social media @matchaeologist.
Matchæologist® ( 抹茶オロジスト) is an artisanal matcha green tea specialist that develops award-winning ranges of Japanese matcha with an aim to define the ultimate #MatchaRitual experience. Our approach is to introduce a modern perspective to the ancient tradition of the Japanese tea ceremony by preparing matcha in a minimalist way for an epicurean tasting experience not unlike that of fine wine, while providing education on the joys and benefits to be found in the daily drinking of this ceremonial delicacy.
March 20, 2018 | Lifestyle
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