January 9 2016
What is Matcha?
Bright, grassy, bursting with umami, a little astringent, and all with the hit of a double espresso… Matcha is the traditional Japanese stone-ground green tea powder, and forms the central part of the Japanese tea ceremony – Chanoyu.
The history of Matcha stretches back to the year 1191, when the Zen Buddhist Monk, Eisai, brought powdered tea to Japan from China. From here, the practice of Matcha drinking was embraced by the Shogunate, and spread through Japan’s Buddhist Monasteries, becoming closely aligned with Zen Buddhism, where the ceremony was honed over generations to take the form that we recognise today.
How is it made?
Ceremonial grade Matcha goes through a quite incredible process to take it from leaf to powder, which begins before the leaves have even been picked.
In the last few weeks before the tea bushes are ready for harvesting – between 2 and 6 – the tea growers will cover the bushes, shading the plants from around 60% of the sunlight. In response, the tea plants work double-time to reach up to the light, producing higher amounts of chlorophyll and amino acid L-theanine than your usual tea. The finest, most tender leaves and buds of these are plucked when the time is right, and the leaves continue on to be processed. Normally these leaves would be rolled at the beginning of their process, but leaves destined for Matcha are let to dry flat (Tencha) where the purest part of the leaf from between the vein and the stalk is removed, and ground in specialised granite mills to produce the iconic green Matcha powder.
In essence, there are two different kinds of Matcha: ceremonial and culinary.
Matcha has become a bit of a celebrity lately in the field of health, and it is certainly with very good reason. When you enjoy Matcha, you are drinking the whole leaf, rather than an infusion from it as with normal tea leaves – this makes it naturally high in minerals and vitamins, especially A, C and E, and up to 100 times more antioxidants than your usual cuppa. Add into that its amino acids and beta carotene, and you soon have a bowl of tea that will pack quite a punch.
How can I make it at home?
In a word, easily! Matcha can be quite daunting and seem a little confusing at first glance, but once you get the hang of it, it really is nice and simple. Being a powder, Matcha is incredibly versatile, but first we’ll look at the traditional way to infuse and serve it:
Things you will need:
- Matcha Bowl (Chawan)
- Matcha Whisk (Chasen)
- Matcha Scoop (Chashaku)
- Matcha Tea – it helps to sieve the tea first
- Water between 65-75 degrees C. If you’re in a hard water area, use spring water instead, as Matcha struggles to foam in your usual tap water.
Take one scoop of the sieved Matcha powder (approx 1/2 a teaspoon) using the Chashaku, and place it in the bottom of the bowl. Pour on the water to fill the bowl to a little over a third. Then, take your Matcha whisk in hand and gently stir the powder in the bowl. Make your action faster and faster in a ‘W’ shape, slowly lifting the whisk until a satisfying foam appears on the surface. Your Matcha is ready.
While a daily ceremony of your own can be absolutely wonderful, there are other ways that you can enjoy your Matcha, too. Being a powder it can have many uses, so go ahead and get a little creative… Why not use it in a Matcha Latte, stir it into your morning juice, or make some Matcha ice cream? While Japan is the home of the tea ceremony, you’ll see it everywhere there in Pocky sticks, sweets, patisserie, Kit Kats… even Oreos!
So go ahead and dive in
scroll down for our Matcha FAQs
Help! My Matcha is clumpy!
Aaah, relax! This is perfectly normal – Matcha powder will naturally clump together when it comes into contact with the air. Simply sieve your Matcha before using for a good, even infusion.
Should I store my Matcha in the fridge?
Yes and no. Yes, if you can guarantee that it is stored in a completely air tight package away from fridge condensation and strong smells (like cheese, for instance). Otherwise, the back of a cool, dark cupboard will be ideal.
How can I make my Matcha foam?
If your Matcha feels a little lifeless, don’t worry. First, be sure that you’re using a high grade – then, check your water. If you’re using hard tap water or mineral water, you probably won’t have much luck developing a good foam. Use bottled spring water heated between 65 – 75 degrees C. And when you’re whisking, really go for it.
Why can’t I use boiling water on Matcha?
Matcha’s Goldilocks zone is between 65 and 75 degrees C. Adding very hot water will bring out bitter compounds in the tea – while we are looking for some bitterness in Matcha, we also want to appreciate the full depth of flavour that it has to offer, so anything too hot will simply obliterate this complexity.
So I can make iced Matcha?
Absolutely! It’s delicious.
CATEGORIES: Guides. Japan. Uncategorised
August 1 2015
In the area of Miyazaki on the island of Kyushu in Southern Japan, there is a small family of organic tea farmers making something absolutely outstanding…
Kamairi Cha Tea
High on the steep mountain sides near the coast, the Miyazaki family’s tea garden benefits from excellent soil and lower temperatures than lower-lying tea gardens. These other gardens begin their first harvest of the year around the middle of April, whereas the higher altitude garden begins six weeks later towards the end of May.
The Miyazaki family specialise in a particular kind of tea – they produce Kamairi-Cha (dry heated tea) – a tradition that is almost lost in modern tea making. In the early 20th century, Kamairi-cha as fairly popular, and steamed tea – the most popular method today – was made only in small quantities. By the mid-20th century, the split for Japanese tea was around 50/50, but today Kamairi-cha makes up just 1% of Japanese tea production.
The Miyazaki family have preserved this tradition with what could very well be the best Kamairi-Cha in the country, drying the leaves either by hand or using their old tea machine made in the 1950s (now the last of its kind). Usually, dry heated leaves ‘Kama’ loose much of their intense green colour after heating and develop a most roasted flavour compared with steamed tea. However, thanks to this family’s years of expertise and experience, they have produced a Kamairi-Cha that keeps the beautiful vibrant colour with bright green notes and soft, rounded character.
Inside the garden itself, the family grow a diverse range of eighteen different types of tea plants. For their stand-out Kamairi-Cha they use a varietal called the Sae Midori, a relatively rare member of the tea family known for its deep green colouring, sweetness and overall softness of flavour. (You’ll sometimes find it used for Gyokuro production).
I’m thrilled to say that we have procured a small amount of 500g from the family. On the first tasting it absolutely blew me away. I can only summarise its flavour as being a very well rounded, sweet grassy ‘hit’, tasting very much like a shade-grown Japanese green, followed by a sweet, bakey finish synonymous with Oolongs or pan-fried Chinese green teas. Its complexity reveals the astounding skill behind its production, and it gives me great pleasure to welcome it to our tea shop.
July 5 2015
This spring we were lucky enough to be invited to a special tea day in Wazuka, Japan. Wazuka is a beautiful mountain valley between Kyoto and Nara, and is home to hundreds of tea fields. Taking the bus through the valley, as you look up at the mountains and down beside the streams, you see tea fields dotted all over the place – hugging the sides of mountains, and sitting in back gardens.
Wazuka is home to a cooperative of tea growers working together to harvest and process their tea. Rather than send their tea away to be processed, or each family having to buy expensive processing equipment, they put together to make their own tea factory where all their teas are steamed, rolled, and dried.
The process of making tea hasn’t changed all that much over the centuries. The only difference today is that the work once done by many hands has been passed to incredibly specialised machines.
The cooperative had a big community day, where locals can come and pick tea by hand in the fields in the morning, then process them in the afternoons using traditional hand methods, helping to keep the old crafts and skills alive. No tea-steaming machines here – just dry heat (Kamairi-cha), bamboo baskets, a giant wok, and lots of elbow grease!
April 9 2015
The Spring tea harvest season is upon us – one of my favorite times of year in the tea calendar. After laying dormant for the winter (rather like you and I) the tea bushes in Japan are waking up with the change in the seasons, producing their fresh spring growth.
On the 20th of April we’ll be boarding a plane and heading back to Japan once again ready to sample this year’s harvest from Wazuka, one of the original tea growing areas just outside of Kyoto. We’ll also have the opportunity to hand pick and process the tea using centuries-old traditional methods, explore the different varietals grown in the area, and catch up with old friends.
But we’ll be putting together a little extra something for you too. I say little… it is a story that we have been researching for the past few months, and decided that, rather write it as a series of blogs, it would be much, much better as a video. So, as well as fresh tea, we’ll be bringing back with us the story of Sen no Rikyu – arguably the most famous Japanese tea master who ever lived. Some of you may be familiar with his work and the tales that surround his life, or you may never have heard of him! Either way, we’ll be delving underneath the traditional telling of his story to explore the upheaval, paranoia, and charged political landscape of 16th Century Japan, where Rikyu’s Chanoyu (way of tea) was formed and developed.
Our trip will begin with a chance to shake our jet lag in Tokyo before heading to Osaka and Rikyu’s birthplace, Sakai. From there we’ll be heading to Kyoto for two tea ceremonies and a rather special temple visit, before visiting Wazuka. Then we will wave goodbye to Kyoto and spend a night in Kanazawa – a town that played a role in a quite spectacular tea room that we’ll look at in our video – and explore their old streets lined with chayas and samurai residences. Owing to its heritage, Kanazawa has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so I am very much looking forward to visiting this beautiful town. After boarding the new Shinkansen line that opened last month, we’ll head back to Tokyo for a few days, before retuning on May 6th. And somewhere in all of this is my 30th birthday…
We’ll be sharing what we find (and eat) on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages, such is the wonder of technology. If you have any recommendations for things to see, eat and explore while we’re there then do let us know! I’m particularly fond of wagashi… (hint hint)