by ali on January 14th, 2014
This week we’re drinking matcha tea. Many of you will have heard of this delightful Japanese infusion. (It has entered popular awareness through romanticised images of tea ceremony and because of its popularity in the contemporary health-food market). But, for those who need some introduction, here’s a brief overview.
Matcha (抹茶) is tea that comes in powdered form. However, it’s not akin to what you’d find in a teabag, nor is it simply a high quality green tea ground to powder. It is produced by a highly specialised process, one that evolved over centuries:
Up to three weeks before harvest, the tea bushes are shrouded from direct sunlight. In this period of shade-growth, the leaves turn dark green and the plant produces the amino acids which give matcha its unique flavour. The finest leaves are rolled and dried to make gyokuro (玉露; lit. ‘Jade Dew’). The leaves which crumble during drying are de-stemmed, de-veined and stone ground into fine, bright green powder.
The Japanese have long consumed matcha for its health benefits and modern science is confirming these claims. Matcha is packed with antioxidants. These compounds fight free radicals which damage cells and cause aging. ORAC analysis demonstrates that matcha contains ten times the levels found in antioxidant rich foods such as pomegranate or blueberries.
As if this wasn’t enough, matcha purportedly aids weight loss. This, alongside the presence l-theanine – an amino acid found in green tea (commonly used as a pre-workout supplement), is making matcha a popular addition to smoothies for body-builders and fitness fanatics.
In Japan, matcha consumption can be highly ritualised. Powdered tea was first used in a religious context in the 13th century and the ceremony became imbued with Zen concepts of wabi and sabi (understanding of which is a prerequisite for the attainment satori, or sudden enlightenment). From these foundations developed various schools of chadō (茶道; ‘way of tea’), and many are still active today.
Matcha can, of course, be consumed in a more relaxed way. Wiping up a bowl is as easy as making coffee and the effects are just as invigorating. To make the perfect brew, simply combine 100ml of water (freshly brought to 75°C) and 1-2 tsp of powder and whisk to a light froth. Traditionally, exquisite bamboo tools are used, but electric whisks are now a convenient alternative.
Let us know what you think: do you have any good matcha recipes? Is matcha your cup of tea? We’d love to hear from you.