Monday April 10, 2017 | 2 comments
Way back (20 years ago), I studied the tea ceremony in the States. In truth, I did it to drink Matcha rather than sit in seiza, keeping pace with the choreographed routine for mindfulness. So when my teacher headed to Kyoto and offered to bring back as much Matcha as I wanted, I ordered 100g cans, and I ordered 12 of them!
But I forgot one very important point…
Of all tea in the Japanese tea world, Matcha has the shortest use-by date. My stash was equivalent to 400 servings that needed to be sipped within 6 months!
If this ever happens to you, my teacher gave me a great tip: “Store the unopened cans in your freezer. When you open a fresh one, put it in the refrigerator in the airtight container it comes in.”
Nowadays, Matcha is sold in a lot of different containers, most of which aren’t airtight. We’ve seen clear paneled bags, zipper bags, cans with pull-rings and plastic lids, foil pack refills, plastic bags in a box, heavy blue glass jars, regular cans and high-grade cans.
Because Matcha is perceived to be so expensive, many western re-sellers are cutting corners to bring down the cost of their Matcha. With these cost-cutting measures, your dear Matcha has a much shorter life and nutritional value!
Chiki Tea’s Matcha producers have specially designed and engineered their container to make it super airtight. It has a rubber gasket built right into the lid. This ensures the lid locks down solidly, with no chance of coming open unless you grip and turn it. Their Matcha is so high quality, that they spent months designing and testing various methods to find the best one to ensure the tea stays perfectly fresh.
If you are concerned about the freshness of your Matcha, transfer it to an über airtight container, used only for Matcha. I would most certainly do this if you purchase one with a plastic lid over a pull-ring, if it comes in a bag, even a zippered one, or a container where you can see the Matcha directly. It’s simply not going to stay as fresh.
Why is Matcha so sensitive?
A single particle of Matcha is as tiny as a particle of smoke from a cigarette. When you pull the ring off of a can, it literally produces green “smoke”!
And Matcha goes “off” very quickly. It also absorbs like an odor eater. If you use heavy curry spices, or your kitchen smells like a coffee roaster, this is going to change the taste of your Matcha if you aren’t careful.
Get into the habit of scooping out your Matcha and immediately closing the lid. Do not use it near a kettle that is misting steam out of the spout either. Any moisture or oxygen zaps the freshness right out of your Matcha.
In Japan, the summers are so humid that moisture is held suspended in the air. Everything is wet. Book pages get rippled and your can of Matcha, removed from the fridge, has major condensation dripping down the side. In cases like this, it’s vital to let the container come to room temperature, wipe off the condensation, scoop the Matcha, and immediately return it to the fridge.
What to do with Loose Leaves
Matcha isn’t the only Japanese tea at risk of becoming old. Loose leaves are divas too! The same rules apply to loose as with Matcha. Strong odors, moisture, and oxygen all affect your tea’s freshness!
Luckily Japanese craftsman understand this and have created the “chazutsu”, a three-part container designed for tea. It has two lids, one inside to make it airtight, and one that fits over the inner lid, which is often used to measure leaves when a scoop isn’t available.
The cheaper chazutsu styles have a plastic inside lid, which isn’t exactly airtight, but does give some protection.
It’s the metal inner lid that you really want. A double-walled, handmade chazutsu from the 130-year old Kaikado company is the daddy with a price tag of around $190 for 200g size. Then there is the handmade sakura bark chazutsu from the town of Kakunodate for $1,000!
We found craftsmen with a 90-year history in the technique, and their chazutsu are handmade using one piece of tin. The inner gold-colored lid acts as a buffer to seal out the moisture and aromas, and also has a locking mechanism for the outer lid so the design lines up. They truly think of everything!
These chazutsu are covered with very special handmade Yuzen washi paper (traditionally called Chiyo-gami) from Kyoto. Inspired by kimono fabric dating back to the Edo period, each design is crafted by artists across Japan.
Washi is made using fibers from indigenous plants in Japan (Kozo, mitsumata, and gampi) to create a very durable and tactile paper that holds the pigment-based, fade-resistant ink for years.
Each color is silkscreened by hand, one at a time, onto the paper. This step requires considerable time as each color must fully dry before the next color is applied. The final layer is the gold or silver metallic overlay providing the shiny highlights to glisten in the light.
T-CHING sakura special!
For all you lovely T-Ching readers, we’re offering a discount to celebrate cherry blossom season! This discount will last until the last bloom falls…around April 18. Use the promo code TCHING for 20% off any washi-covered chazutsu at chikitea.com.