The preparation and consumption of powdered tea was first formed into a ritual by Zen Buddhists. They cultivated the green tea plant, initially called "sencha", by growing it under "shade conditions." This unique technique maximized the therapeutic benefits of their green tea, which eventually became known as "Matcha".
Since it was "discovered" some 700 years ago, matcha has since been a central part of Japanese culture. One of the most notable examples of its incluence can be see in in their notorious matcha green tea ceremony. Buddhist monks have long honored matcha as their 'elixir for health', and after a few encounters with the frothy beverage, you'll start to see why.
Matcha literally means "powdered tea." When you order traditional green tea, components from the leaves get infused into the hot water, then the leaves are discarded. With matcha, you’re drinking the actual leaves, which have been finely powdered and made into a solution, traditionally by mixing about a teaspoon of matcha powder with a third cup of hot water (heated to less than a boil), which is then whisked with a bamboo brush until it froths.
Some say the secret to matcha tea is in the shade. Matcha farmers cover their plants with heavy shade cloths three weeks before harvesting the leaves. A lack of light prevents the leaves from getting brittle and scorched and also causes the shrubs to grow large, thin leaves with a deep green hue and a robust flavor. Only these most delicate leaves are harvested for premium quality matcha green tea.
These leaves are briefly steamed, dried and aged until their flavor peaks, usually after six months. The leaves are then ground by stones into a fine powder to achieve the perfect texture for matcha.
Caffeine addicts, rejoice! Matcha has three times as much caffeine as regular green tea, putting it in the same level as a cup of coffee. However, unlike the often unpleasant buzz and headaches that coffee can cause, matcha creates an “alert calm” due to its I-theanine levels and its slower absorption into your body. This gives you a sense of relaxation without drowsiness, making matcha the perfect pick me up before practicing yoga or meditating.
Not only is matcha a perfectly balanced beverage, it's also a versatile ingredient for innovative cooks. There is no limit to the culinary uses matcha can be put to, from muffins and puddings to soups and stir fries. There are specific blends of matcha to use for cooking which are often made from the older, slightly tougher tea leaves in order to make it more cost effective for adding to your matcha recipes.
Matcha has a potent taste that is often described as 'natural tasting' or spinach-like. Some people enhance their enjoyment of the beverage by adding sugar or brewing it with milk instead of water. For the creative tea-drinker, the opportunities for adjustments to matcha are endless.
The way matcha is harvested changes the quality grade it is given. Top grade powders come from the youngest leaves and produces delicate flavors, while lower grade matcha comes from older, coarser leaves found farther from the branch tips. All grades of matcha are useful for different purposes, from elaborate tea ceremonies to mixing in your favorite muffin recipe.