Matcha powdered green tea is famed for the Tea Ceremony. Tea bushes of Matcha are carefully grown under the shade for about one month prior to harvesting in order to protect them from sunlight. This brings out an extraordinarily sweet taste with no bitterness. The manufactured leaves are ground like flour to produce a fine green powder. Matcha has a wonderful aroma, silky froth, and rich mellow taste.
Matcha is also popular as a food seasoning just like herbs. There are numerous recipes using this flavorful powder, the simplest of which is sprinkling some over vanilla ice cream.
Grades of Matcha
Matcha grades are determined simply by quality and there is no standard definition for the often quoted grades of ceremonial, premium, cooking or restaurant grade. So what is good and not-so-good quality? Good quality Matcha has an Umami taste, has less bitterness, is a finer powder and brews a vibrant green cup (not yellowish). These attributes are affected by the origin, tea farm and producer. Matcha is broadly graded in a range that goes from a food ingredient to being suitable for the formal tea ceremony. Generally ceremonial grade is produced with only first flush teas and contains more Umami and less bitterness. The other grades are made with the 2nd flush or mixing the 2nd and 1st flush matcha and its color is a little darker. Within the ceremonial grade Matcha, there are two types: Koicha and Usucha.
Koicha and Usucha
There are two ways to prepare and drink Matcha - Koi-cha and Usu-cha. Koi-cha is usually translated as thick tea and Usu-cha as light (or thin) tea. For an equal quantity of hot water, twice as much Matcha is used in the preparation of Koicha than Usucha. For Koicha, you slowly knead the tea into the water using a chasen (bamboo tea whisk) then whisk a little faster to produce a creamy and thick liquid. To achieve the taste and sweetness appropriate to Koicha you need to use the highest quality Matcha. Making Koicha with anything else will result in a bitter drink. The terms Koicha and Usucha are also used for the Matcha that is appropriate for each.
What Matcha should I buy?
Koicha and Usucha are used for the tea ceremony. Both Premium Restaurant and Restaurant Matcha are usually used as an ingredient in beverages and pastries. So we do not call them either Koicha or Usucha. Premium Matcha is richer, brighter green and less bitter than Restaurant Matcha. Our other Matcha, Chiyo-no-shiro, is higher quality than Premium Restaurant Matcha and often used as a practice Matcha for the tea ceremony.
At Den's Tea, Matcha Miyabi is Koicha, Kaze and Chiyonoshiro are Usucha and both are ceremonial grade. Restaurant and Premium Restaurant Matcha are restaurant grade. We recommend that you use ceremonial grade for a good tasting cup of Matcha, and don't use it for cooking because it's simply very expensive. Our restaurant grades of Matcha are less expensive and still great enough for ingredients. If you want to enjoy a Matcha latte or smoothy frequently, restaurant grades are great, though you can also enjoy them as a straight drink.
Health Benefits: Is Matcha healthier than the other green teas?
In a word, yes. In the early history of tea, the leaves were chewed for their health benefits. Today, we receive the health benefits of loose leaf green tea by drinking the tea infused liquid. Brewed green tea is a very healthful drink but since we don't consume the leaf, we miss out on two additional benefits, Vitamin E and fiber. When you brew green tea, you extract most of the healthy ingredients. However, only a very small amount of the Vitamin E and fiber in green tea is extracted in the brewing process. Powdered teas such as Matcha are ground to a specific size and stay suspended in the liquid. As you drink either of these teas, you also consume the ground leaves getting all of the Vitamin E and the fiber that the tea plant has to offer. It's important to note that since you are consuming the leaf, be sure to select only powdered teas that are grown in a safe environment.
Matcha and Powdered Sencha
There are two differences in these teas. Matcha is made from Tencha (see below). Tencha is grown in the shade for about a month before harvest. This adds sweetness to the tea and gives Matcha its characteristic taste. Our powdered Sencha is made from quality first flush Sencha, not Tencha. The second difference is the fineness of the grind. Matcha is ground finer than Powdered Sencha and is intended to be whisked into a frothy liquid as you see in the tea ceremony. Powdered Sencha is designed to release its entire flavor when it is gently mixed with water in a cup or shaken in a water bottle. Which is healthier? Matcha contains more L-theanine (amino acid) while Sencha contains more catechin (Polyphenol). Usually Matcha contains more caffeine. No matter which one you enjoy, either one is good for you.
Tencha is the raw material of Matcha. Tencha is grown in the shade for about a month before harvest. The shading reduces photosynthesis resulting in leaves with a high level of chlorophyll, responsible for Matcha's deep green color, and theanine, the amino acid responsible for its sweet full-bodied flavor. To produce Matcha only the top youngest leaves are used. Once picked, the leaves are steamed, dried, and cut. Unlike Sencha or Gyokuro, Tencha is not rolled or kneaded because it is made for grinding into Matcha powder. Dried leaves are refined to remove the stems and veins leaving only the meat of the leaves. The leaves are ground into Matcha powder using a granite wheel. The stems are used for one of our specialty teas Tencha-Kuki Houjicha.
Tencha is considered to be the highest grade of Japanese green tea and is somewhat expensive due to its intensive labor process. It all seems worthwhile when we see the resilient green color and taste the sweet flavor of Matcha.
Yes, Den's Tea considers Matcha a superfood, although we understand that "superfood" is just a marketing term. We think superfoods can be even more super if you consume them often. As well as the health benefits mentioned above, Matcha tastes good and can be easily consumed every day with variations.
- Soak the chasen in warm water before use. This way the tips become soft and bend easily when whisking the matcha. The bamboo may break if not soaked before each use.
- Place one bamboo tea scoop of Matcha powder into the Matcha bowl. If you have a strainer, you may want to put the matcha into the strainer and sift it into the bowl to breakup any lumps. You can use the chashaku to push the matcha through the sieve.
- Pour 2oz of the boiling water into a cup and then transfer it to the matcha bowl. This will cool the boiling water to the right temperature for matcha. You can adjust the strength of your Matcha by increasing the amount of Matcha powder or hot water.
- Whisk the matcha with a quick up and down motion resembling the letter W. The chasen should be kept just off the bottom of the bowl. There should be no lumps of matcha powder at this point. Try to develop a fine froth for a smoother taste.