On the market today, you will find white matcha, black matcha, peppermint matcha, etc. These are not matchas but powdered teas or infusions. Japanese green matcha is the true matcha and come from the main matcha producing regions in Japan: Kyoto Prefecture, and Nishio in Aichi Prefecture. Only leaves from the camellia sinensis plant are used. Other countries may produce powdered teas using Japanese specifications, but if not followed rigorously, the quality may not be there. Matcha is now being added to puddings, frosting, ice cream, chocolates, cookies, milkshakes and lattes, to name but a few.
Typically, matcha is produced using Gyokuro leaves, a tea bush that is shaded for 3-4 weeks prior to plucking and is considered the best tea in Japan. Shading forces the plants to produce a higher chlorophyll content which contributes to the green color; and also produces theanine, an amino acid. Only the finest buds are picked and if they are rolled flat, they are called tencha and will be de-veined and de-stemmed and then stone ground to become a fine, bright green tea powder - matcha. The grinding process is done by machine today, but each machine can only grind 40 grams of tencha per hour.
Matcha is quite expensive in comparison to other teas and is graded according to the quality of the matcha. Typically, there are two main grades: ceremonial and food-grade and is determined by certain factors: the best matcha has leaves picked from the very top of the plant while they are still supple. They cannot be exposed to direct sunlight, the equipment for grinding must be correct, and matcha cannot be exposed to oxidation or the color will turn brownish green and look dull. The finished product should also feel silky between the fingers, along the lines of eye shadow.
By drinking the entire leaf, health benefits are multiplied since no nutrient is being lost by infusing. Some say that matcha is actually eaten rather than drunk. Some studies suggest that the amino acid theanine in matcha helps improve mental focus by counteracting caffeine. Others show that the level of catechins, especially EGCG (the most important anti-cancer catechin), is reported to be higher than any other food and can also aid in lowering blood sugar.
Matcha has a higher level of caffeine than other teas, primarily because the entire leaf is being imbibed. One teaspoon of matcha to 8 oz of water is equal to 70mg of caffeine. The Japanese have given names to two types of brewing: koicha (thick tea) used for special occasions and which doubles the amount of matcha powder and usucha (thin tea) that is used for every day drinking and typically uses half a teaspoon to a full teaspoon of matcha. Koicha would produce a thicker paste that is not frothed and would have twice the caffeine of its counterpart.
How to make a matcha drink
Place half to one teaspoon of matcha into small bowl, add 2-3 ounces of hot water (180°) and whisk to a froth using an M or zigzag style Add more water only AFTER whisking. Drink immediately or some matcha may settle.
Matcha has a short shelf life but if kept in the fridge and away from direct light, moisture and strong odors, it will last about 2 years. Remember to bring the matcha up to room temperature after removing from the fridge.
Common Japanese Tools:
Bamboo whisk (chasen)
Bamboo tea spoon (chashaku)
Tea bowl (chawan)