All about Matcha – the magical green tea powder
If I have to name one single food item as the absolute number one, I would over and over again give it to Matcha – the beautiful bright and fine green tea powder from Japan that is renowned for its anti-oxidant and nutritional contents, as well as thousands of beautiful drink and food photos associated with it. I learned about Matcha at a traditional Japanese tea ceremony in my first trip to Japan 16 years ago. Back then, I was only a teenager but the memory that I was carrying throughout the years about it was a beautiful green and sacred tea powder that was symbolic of Japanese culture, hospitality and spiritual values. So when my healthy food journey began, matcha quickly became an inspirational ingredient that sparks up endless food ideas in my head and creations in my kitchen, yet keeping me in a state of mindfulness while I’m at it.
What is matcha?
- Matcha is finely-grounded green tea powder from whole tea leaves. These are no ordinary tea leaves but the finest ones from very young buds grown in spring that have been shielded in the shade to avoid exposure to direct sunlight. This ensures that the young leaves grow thin and wide while developing up an exceptionally high amount of chlorophyll that gives it a vibrant green colour. Such shaded growth also controls the astringency of the distinctive vegetal taste while giving the tea a full-bodied character. In Japan, this process begins in the middle of April and takes about 88 days until they can be harvested
- The finest leaves are hand-picked and steamed at very high temperature to stop fermentation and oxidisation. They are then dried by whirling (i.e. without rolling) to retain the vivid bright colour and the strong fragrance throughout the process. Once all moist has been dried out, stem and veins of the tea leaves are removed. Only the soft leave bodies are then grounded in a stone mill into very fine powder – ♦ matcha ♦
- Because of such unique artisanal production method, matcha is produced in a very limited quantity compared to other types of tea and, therefore, comes at much higher price tags.
Health benefits of Matcha
- Matcha is made from the entire tea leaves while most others from different parts of the leaves, making it far more superior in nutrient contents. It contains the highest amount of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) – a natural antioxidant present in green tea, up to 10-15 x compared to ordinary tea.
- As reflected in the vivid bright green colour, matcha carries an exceptionally high level of chlorophyll – the substance that gives plant the green pigment and acts as one of the most powerful anti-oxidants and detoxifiers to human bodies.
- The anti-oxidants present in matcha are argued to be associated with abilities to prevent various cancers and diseases
- L-Theanine and thermogenic amino acids in green tea is found to heighten the concentration and enhance the metabolism as well as associated with abilities to prevent various cancers and diseases
- It is a rich source of vitamines A, B, C, E, K, minerals, and dietary fibers
Matcha story en brief
- Green tea and the culture of tea drinking is original to Chinese people more than 5000 years ago. It was introduced in Japan iaround the 7th-8th century by the Buddhist monks who went to China to study and brought back to Japan. It then became an exclusive item, known only to priests and noblemen. Not until the 12th century was green tea leaves (known as Tencha) were imported from China and became a drink for the mass population. Tea cultivation soon gained popularity across Japan.
- There were many regions with tea plantation but only a few with unique climate conditions that are suitable for the production of matcha. The largest being Kyoto’s Uji, Aicho’s Nishio, and Fukuoka’s Kyushu thanks to their their mild weather and fertile soil conditions. From sources that I found online (not proven!), Nishio was arguably affected by the radiation contamination following the historical earthquake in 2011; and thus quality likely be compromised. Kyushu region, over time, has shift its focus on large tea production due to its economies of scale and therefore loses its quality in matcha. That leaves Uji as the largest and oldest tea growing region for premium matcha in Japan. Being in Kyoto where the first tea arrived from China to imperial city in 800s, Uji was also the first cradle to Japanese tea cultivation in general
- Matcha was originally used in tea ceremony (also known as “cha-no-yu” or “Way-of-tea”) dated back to 1300s which focuses on the formal tea preparation and drinking practice by the hosts in front of their guests.
- Nowadays, matcha has transcended the tea drinking culture into the world’s gourmet scenes: from matcha soba, desserts, ice-scream, to pastries. And the creations still go on….endlessly!
Where to buy Matcha
If you are lucky enough to reside in Japan, matcha can be found in various stores in major cities. In my recent trip to Japan, I managed to buy some small amounts (Yes, they are expensive!) from two most established brands in their Kyoto and Tokyo shops – Tsujiri and Marukyo-Kyoamaen, both native to Uji in Kyoto. They all have limited shelf-life unlike the variations bought here in Europe due to the fact that once open, matcha gets oxidisation over time and will lose its quality. Not that it cannot be used past this date, but the quality is no longer at its best, and therefore regarded by Japanese virtue as “expired”.
You can also buy it online via Amazon (I use UK store), Ebay, or various online stores available in your countries. However, from my personal experience, their qualities (colour, fragrance, and taste) are nowhere close to the one I just bought from Japan.
Some of the sources used in this post: