Matcha green tea is all the rage at the moment with a massive global rise in consumption over the last few years. So I thought it would be a good idea to share my research and experience to increase everybody’s knowledge about Matcha, especially those who are new to the joys and benefits of drinking or consuming it for the first time.
What is Matcha Green Tea?
Matcha or maccha is a finely ground, vivid emerald green tea powder. It is a natural, organic green tea which has been at the centre of the famous Japanese tea ceremony for over 900 years. Buddhist monks revered matcha tea as the ‘health elixir’ for its potential to heighten concentration and improve the metabolism.
Originating in China in the 9th century, Matcha was primarily used as a medicine for curing various ailments. It was only after the Zen Buddhist monks from Japan realized its true potential at the end of twelfth century, the perfection in the cultivation of matcha was perfected and refined. Matcha is still sparsely grown accounting for just 0.6% of total tea production.
Matcha is not just any old green tea. To qualify as Matcha it has to go through a rigorous process. It starts with choosing good green tea varietals. Most Matcha is made from the Yabukita although you get very good Matcha made from the Okumidori, Asahi and Samudori varietals as well. The area that it’s grown in is obviously very important too and the best quality teas come from the prefectures such as Aichi, Kyoto and Shizuko.
Making Matcha Powder:
The tea to make Matcha is normally hand picked in early to Mid-May. Around 20 days before they pick the leaves they start to shade them from the sun. Then gradually
increasing the amount of shading towards harvest time, so the leaves are kept in increasingly low light conditions. As a result of this the plant responds by increasing the levels of chlorophyll, and the theanine present in the leaf doesn’t break down into other compounds such as Tannins. This has huge health benefits as we shall see later.
So, a really dark leaf full of chlorophyll and theanine is picked in early May then steamed for between 15 and 20 seconds to stop the oxidation. It is then dried and the mid-point of the process is reached at which time the tea is called Aracha. The stem and veins are then removed and graded for size, leaving the soft and supple dark green leaves which are then dried for the second time, at which stage the tea becomes Tencha.
The teamaster then steps in and tastes the Tencha from different fields and different plantations, eventually mixing the blend according to the flavor profiles he is looking for.
The next stage of the process is the grinding using round stone mills with a central hole. The tea is introduced repeatedly into the central hole until the tea is finely ground – typically to under 10 microns. The process of grinding should be done at low temperature to avoid denaturing the tea and ruining the texture and flavour. The whole process is very slow and methodical with as little as 30g of tea produced an hour.
Grade of Matcha:
Ceremonial grade organic Matcha is the premium choice, shaded for at least 15 days, properly de-veined and ground to a vivid green less than 10 micron dust at low temperatures to produce a micro-fine powder creating a very smooth drink.
Standard grade Matcha is a decent Matcha made from Tencha but with less attention to detail in the process of production.
Cooking grade, as the name implies is suitable for those delicious recipes: how about ice cream or as a sprinkle over your favourite cakes?
Antioxidants & Theanine:
So why drink Matcha? Because with Matcha you are getting the whole leaf, 100% of its
power and 100% of the nutrients, unlike ordinairy steeped teas where you get a maximum of 35% to 40% of the nutrients extracted into the drink. This means that you are consuming supercharged tea with all its health benefits.
If we compare a good quality steeped green tea with Matcha, we find that Matcha has about 10 to 20 times greater antioxidant levels. So one cup of Matcha or 20 cups of green tea – a simple choice!
It’s not just high anti-oxidant levels that we get from Matcha, but high levels of vitamin C, vitamin B and high levels of the nutrients present in green tea.
The only way of obtaining the wonders of theanine naturally is by drinking tea; theanine is an amino acid which not only contributes to the vegetal and lingering sweet taste of Matcha, but is able to cross the blood brain barrier leading to a sense of awakened calm. It also increases cognitive levels making you more aware, more creative and along with it boosts your immune system.