In recent years matcha, a green powdered tea produced mostly in Japan, has begun to take North America by storm. Everyday new people are discovering matcha and becoming fans of the frothy, flavorful and incredibly healthy drink. Renowned for its rich antioxidant capacity and touted as a superfood amongst many health and wellness advocates, matcha will only continue to grow in popularity as more and more people discover the wonderful experience it brings. With a long history steeped in tradition and ritual, let's take a look at this amazing tea!
Matcha tea was brought to Japan by a Buddhist Monk almost 1,000 years ago and it quickly became a key component of the Zen Buddhism practice and general Japanese culture. To this day it plays an important role in tea ceremonies, which are serene cultural celebrations that incorporate beautifully executed movements in dance form followed by a cleansing of the tea room and preparation of the matcha tea to drink.
The first known tea plants were thought to be grown in the Yunnan Province within southern China. While traditional green tea has been documented back to roughly 2700 B.C., Matcha tea on the other hand was developed by the Japanese around the year in 1191 A.D. Zen Monk Eisai, who introduced the Zen philosophy to Japan, was the first person to grind and consume green tea leaves in powdered form, thus making matcha tea. Powdered tea was slowly abandoned in China, but in Japan it continued to be an important part of the culture at Zen monasteries.
To this day, matcha is almost entirely cultivated in Japan and many farmers still use the traditional methods of growing, hand picking, and grinding the leaves. A few weeks before the plant gets harvested, farmers place bamboo tarps over the crops which limit the amount of sunlight they receive. This, in turn, forces the plant to increase its chlorophyll content making the leaves turn a distinctly dark green.
Once the leaves have been picked they are steamed and set out to air dry. Then, the individual leaves get sorted for their grade. There is a wide variety of matcha grades which also impacts the price point. Ceremony Grade matcha is generally picked from the top, younger leaves of the plant and has the most exquisite delicate vegetal flavor profile. Older leaves carry a more astringent taste and contain coarser veins. Leaves can range in quality from Ceremonial to Classic to Cafe to finally Kitchen grade, on a single plant.
Ceremonial Matcha prior to brewing
Matcha packs a serious dose of antioxidants and other well-being benefits in each cup. What exactly are antioxidants? They are a naturally occurring chemical compound that assists in disease prevention and anti-aging. A study conducted by Tufts University using oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) technology revealed that matcha contains a substantially higher amount of antioxidants per serving than any other classified superfood. The ORAC rating for one gram of matcha contained 1573 antioxidant units versus only 93 units in a gram of blueberries.
Another amazing property of matcha tea is the EGCg catechin content that it provides. Catechins are a potent class of antioxidants which help reverse the effects of free radicals from pollution, radiation and UV rays in addition to having cancer-fighting properties.
Matcha tea is the optimal beverage for those seeking to improve their overall wellness and maintain a healthy lifestyle. A single cup of matcha has more than 137 times the amount of antioxidants than a cup of regular green tea. Simply put, you would have to consume 10 cups of brewed green tea to receive the same health benefit.
Prior to a couple of years ago, many people in North America were unfamiliar with matcha. It has become a recent buzzword, mainly in part to people being encouraged by the health and wellness properties that it contains.
Matcha has a slightly malty and earthy taste to it, which may take a bit of time for your palette to adjust and learn to enjoy it. Be wary of trending coffee house chains that are now promoting their new matcha beverages and lattes. Many of these drinks have been laced with sugar or other flavorings to make the taste more ‘American Friendly’ and really contain very little matcha, making the health benefits and antioxidant content minimal.
Matcha Tea Latte
Matcha has also become a popular drink for coffee lovers that are trying to switch to a healthier option but still wish to get the caffeine boost that they are accustomed to. A cup of matcha contains 34 mg of caffeine compared to 60 mg in a single shot of espresso. The ‘buzz’ however lasts much longer than coffee because the leaves contain amino acid and L-Theanine which provides a slow consistent release of caffeine into the body over several hours versus all being absorbed in at once. This also avoids the caffeine crash that many coffee drinkers experience and is being embraced as a superior substitute with no negative side effects like jitters or nervousness.
It is important to use traditional bamboo tools when preparing matcha tea to create the proper taste and experience. By using western metal utensils, the tea generally does not have the balanced, delicate taste that it should.
Matcha does not actually dissolve, it just gets suspended in the water bubbles. Therefore, it needs to be consumed right after it is prepared otherwise the matcha powder will sink to the bottom of the bowl. Sometimes it helps to stir the matcha between sips to make sure it is properly distributed.
This could result from a few scenarios. The water used may have been too hot and scorched the matcha powder. It could also be a result of having not whisked the matcha enough. When done properly, the surface of the drink will be entirely covered in tiny bubbles. I always enjoy adding some sweetener, whether it is some agave, honey or cane sugar.
This is usually caused by having an incorrect matcha to water ratio. If it is too thick, add more water or if the liquid is not frothing at all add another small scoop of matcha to obtain the correct consistency.
Sometimes you may find clumps of matcha in a sip when drinking or have difficulty breaking up the clumps when whisking. It may help to gently sift your matcha to loosen the powder before preparing. It may take a couple minutes of sifting the matcha powder before it is ready to mix with the hot water.
It’s true, matcha does not have to just be used in tea form. It is a wonderfully versatile ingredient that can be used in smoothies, baking or as a seasoning. Add a scoop of healthy antioxidant goodness into a batch of banana bread or mix into a morning smoothie with almond milk, kale, and pineapple. For meats and fish, blend some sprinkles into your seasoning rub to add a pleasant earthy flavor.
Matcha Tea Banana Bread
When purchasing matcha, quality goes a long way. Japanese matcha is always considered to be superior and even then the quality can substantially vary between regions and growers.
At Green Root Tea, we only source Grade A Matcha that is all natural and organic. It is stone ground to produce a vibrant and slightly sweet taste. Grinding by stone ensures the proper molecular texture in the powder which impacts how matcha feels and tastes.
When properly stored, matcha powder will last and remain fresh for months. Place in an airtight container and keep in either a dark, cool cupboard or your refrigerator.
Now that you have discovered the amazing world of matcha and all the wellness benefits it offers, it’s time to get exploring! Try drinking straight or with a splash of steamed almond milk and enjoy the calming effect it brings to your mind while keeping you alert and refreshed. You may even look forward to the ritual of preparing your bowl of hot matcha and enjoy some down time and moments of reflection while drinking a delicious cup of green, frothy goodness.
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