Matcha is one of the more intricately manufactured green teas. Tea producers usually pack matcha in a foil pouch or a small tin. Generally, we can distinguish matcha between the “ceremonial” grade used in Chanoyu, and “culinary” grade, for cooking and baking. Ceremonial-grade matcha is exquisite in style and distinct umami flavour. In comparison, culinary-grade matcha is light in body and mild in flavour. It is a delightful product, but not as singular as ceremonial-grade matcha.
The source of the leaf, the expertise of the tea farm and the consistency of the grade will affect the intensity of flavour and the vividness of the color.
Read more: Matcha 101
Tea farmers will harvest more mature bushes for matcha, often more than thirty years old. This is to avoid the occasional harshness and underlying bitterness of most Japanese green teas. Three weeks before harvest, farmers enclose plants destined to produce tencha in a shade covering, which slows down growth. This stimulates an increase in chlorophyll levels and causes the production of amino acids, in particular theanine (known for its stress-reducing effect). Then, they steam the pluck to prevent oxidation, and individually destem and devein the tea leaf. Instead of rolling the tea leaf, they simply dry it which become known as tencha. It is then reserved for grinding into this highest-quality matcha.
Traditional tea farmers use stone mills for grinding matcha. They are designed to remain cool during the grinding process of the particles of tencha into matcha powder.
Japan is the country that continues the historic tradition of producing finely milled, emerald-green matcha powdered tea. Tea plantations in China and Korea produce it as well. However, neither of these countries can match the remarkable sophistication of flavour and aroma of Japanese matcha.
Currently, high grade matcha is produced exclusively in Japan. The highest grades of matcha comes from Yame in Fukuoka Prefecture, Uji, south of Kyoto, and Nishio in Aichi prefecture.
The region of Yame is famous for its outstanding gyokuro (jade dew). It is proud of its top production amount of gyokuro green tea (Highest Quality). As much as 45% of all gyokuro available on Japanese market comes from Yame Region. Hence, tea connoisseurs recognize Yame as one of the few production places of highest quality green tea in Japan.
Only gyokuro from Uji matches the superior quality of that from Yame. The gyokuros from both regions however bring out completely different taste notes and thus complement each other perfectly.
Yame is renowned across Japan for producing some of the finest high quality green tea in the whole country. Farmers work on small, remote plots of land high up in the mountains surrounding Yame. Kyushu’s largest plain receives 1,600 to 2,400 mm of rainfall per year. Temperatures are high during the day and drop drastically at night. These factors are important to grow rich and sweet tea in large amounts. The temperature, shade and mist creates the perfect environment to nurture delicate teas. The ethereal mist and fog often found blanketing the fields in the morning don’t just add an air of mystery and beauty; they protect the leaves from the sunshine’s harshest rays.
Award Winning Tea from Yame, Japan
Roleaf matcha is from Yame, Japan. Skilled tea artisans hand-pick the finest tea buds from shade-grown tea leaves. It is the same leaves that also are used to make their renowned gyokuro. After harvesting, they lay out the leaves to dry before grinding it. If they roll up the leaves before drying, the result will be gyokuro tea.
Yame Green Tea won Best Prize in the All Japan Green Tea Competition for 12 consecutive years from 2001 to 2012, as well as in 2014 and 2015. As of 2007, all of the top 26 ranked brands of Gyukoro Green Teas are from Yame. This shows its overwhelming excellence over green teas produced in other regions in Japan. In 2017, Yame Green Tea won the first place in the World Green Tea competition.
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Chanoyu – Matcha Tea Ceremony
From ancient times, Chan or Zen Buddhists have included the preparation and consumption of powdered tea in their ritual. In 1191, a monk Eisai brought the Japanese methods of preparing powdered tea to Japan. Since then, it became an important item at the Zen monasteries. From the 15th onwards, the elite members of society do seek and greatly appreciate these fine powdered tea.
In Chanoyu, tea masters prepare matcha in two ways. In the preparation, they use two specific types of matcha: koicha (“thick tea”) or usucha (“thin tea”). The Japanese serve Koicha in full-length Chanoyu gatherings. Koicha is an opaque, jade-green, slightly viscous and deeply flavored drink. It it traditionally offered in a communal matcha bowl, called a chawan. Each guest sips from the chawan and then wipes the rim of the bowl before passing it to the next guest.
Usucha is a light, refreshing and astringent drink. Although not as a popular for everyday tea drinking as sencha, many Japanese drink it regularly.
Although matcha and gyokuro share the same cultivation process, Matcha definitely has greater nutritional value. By drinking the whole ground leaf, you take in all the nutrients of the tea including the maximum Theanine. It is the richest amino acid in green tea. Together with succinic acid, gallic acid and theogallin, it gives matchaits umami flavor.
Matcha also allows you to take in the nutrients usually missed. This includes beta-carotene (which converts into Vitamin A upon ingestion), Vitamin E and dietary fiber.
Japan’s University of Shizuoka, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, conducted studies on theanine’s stress-reducing effects. Laboratory mice that consumed more than 33 mg/kg of matcha had significantly suppressed adrenal hypertrophy, a symptom that shows sensitivity to stress. The School of Pharmaceutical Sciences also tested the stress-reducing effects on university students. It is found that students who ingested 3 grams of matcha in 500 ml of water had reduced anxiety, than students who consumed placebo. Green tea leaves also contain the catechin, an antioxidant found to be able to mildly prevent cancer, diseases, and aid in weight loss.
Read more: Antioxidants – Why Do You Need Them?
- Scoop 1 ½ teaspoons of matcha powder (about 2 grams) for every 250ml cup of milk. For 475ml, that would be about 2 teaspoons of matcha powder.
- Sift your matcha powder into a tea bowl, swirling the powder with your ladle. This will ensure there are no clumps so that your tea will be smooth.
- Heat milk and carefully pour some hot milk into tea bowl with matcha powder.
- Using your chasen, whisk the tea in a gentle circular motion for thin and smooth tea for about 10-15 seconds.
- Use a frothing pitcher and pour remaining milk into the bowl. Add honey if preferred.
Read more: Dalgona Earl Grey Matcha Latte Recipe
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