A Blog Series for Serious Sippers!
In this blog series, I will answer the question “what is Matcha green tea?” and help you discover how to find genuine matcha, how best to store it, and the ways to prepare this vivid green health elixir from Japan.
The recent boom in matcha means you now see it everywhere – from ice cream, cakes, and savory dishes; to lattés, smoothies, and exotic concoctions like Starbucks’ new Pineapple Matcha Drink. Just peek at Pinterest and Instagram to see the creativity on display in the daily use of this bionic superfood.
But as these new uses for this beautiful, vivid green powder flourish, it’s all in stark contrast to its traditional consumption by meditating monks and generations of tea connoisseurs in Japan who whisked it in hot water and drank straight from the bowl, ensuring no loss of the highly subtle flavor notes, textures, and feeling of calm contentment it delivers.
Matcha cream puff
Many people outside of Japan have heard of the tea ceremony and matcha’s role in that, but few understand the meaning behind the ritual, the importance of the quality of the matcha, and the complexity associated with its cultivation and processing. Much has been lost in translation when it comes to what matcha really is and all the various claims of health benefits that surround it. Many people are confused by all the different terms and types of matcha now available to buy online and in shops.
In this blog series, I will try to provide some clarity, though some things may surprise you!
What is Matcha Tea?
In a nutshell, matcha green tea or simply matcha (sometimes spelled maccha), is a very specific and distinct Japanese tea, made from intensively cultivated and processed tea leaves, called tencha, that are micro-milled into a vivid green powder with particles finer than smoke. But be careful please, because not all micro-milled green tea is matcha! You can also find micro-milled sencha known as funmatsucha, or if you go to a sushi restaurant you will almost certainly see konacha (powdered tea), that’s usually served at the end of a meal. There’s even milled hojicha roasted green tea (also spelled houjicha).
So what’s the difference?
Is Matcha Green Tea?
Yes, matcha is a green tea, but first, let’s define what constitutes actual TEA. (Apologies to the many readers who are beyond this step!)
In order to be considered ‘tea’, the leaf must come from the camellia sinensis plant. No other plant produces tea and certainly won’t have the superfood health benefits of matcha or any other green tea. You might argue that your cup of peppermint tea — which said it was ‘tea’ on the box — is in fact tea, but it’s not…it is an infusion or a tisane.
To further clarify, herbal tea is not a proper tea either, though often mislabeled as such – particularly on cafe and restaurant menus. An herbal tea is made with herbs or other plant extracts. It is not made from camellia sinensis leaves.
But in the case of matcha, it’s milled from tencha, which are leaves picked from the camellia sinensis plant and processed a certain way. So it is definitely a tea, as are all Japanese green teas.
How Does Matcha Taste?
Matcha gets its superfood status and incredible health benefits from two distinct processes: The way the tea plant is cultivated and how it is processed. Imagine a tea farm in Yame Kyushu, high up in the misty mountains where the stars shine brightly at night. This is where one of the best matcha production regions rule and from where Chiki Tea matcha hails.
Precious matcha demands a perfect place for cultivation. This factor alone dictates so much of the flavor components adorning this nearly luminescent, silky green powder. It’s the same with fine wine which takes on particular flavors and subtleties based on a region, the characteristics of its soil, steepness of the hillside, and orientation to the sun.
Most people in Japan and elsewhere easily recognize matcha from Uji in Kyoto Prefecture — which is the most famous area due to its history as the birthplace of the tea ceremony — as well as how the region has branded itself. But nowadays, much tea destined to become Uji matcha is actually grown outside of this area — in Nishio, Aichi Prefecture for example — then shipped to Uji to be milled and branded as coming from Uji.
The Yame region is so special not only because of the growing conditions but also its rare and nearly extinct, traditional technique of shading the plants before harvest. Shading is vital to the cultivation because the leaf is altered when it struggles for light, therefore delivering maximum antioxidants and theanine as well as incredible umami and a backend lingering sweetness.
What is Umami?
Umami is the fifth taste sensation.
It’s not salty, sweet, sour, or savory; nor some combination of these.
It’s a unique taste and sensation that happens on the tongue with anything containing natural glutamic acid or glutamates.
Natural glutamates develop when some foods are fermented, aged, cooked, or processed (steamed in the case of matcha and many Japanese green teas).
Other foods containing umami include some cheeses, aged meats, certain mushrooms, miso, dashi, truffles, and more…
To learn more about umami, check out my recent T Ching article on it.
A Chiki Tea matchaccino for the road!
Next month I will explain how matcha is produced…but if you can’t wait that long and want to dive straight in and try whisking a bowl of this vivid and delicious health elixir, you can find matcha from Yame at www.chikitea.com.
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