Most people know green tea, but the special kind of green tea called matcha is a new experience for many – although quickly gaining popularity due to the many health benefits esp. the brain support.
Camellia sinensis is the plant that is used to produce tea – the common black tea, the green tea and the matcha tea.
For matcha the tea plant is being covered during the final weeks of growth, with a shade cloth (traditionally bamboo mats). This slows the photosynthesis process and increases the chlorophyll content in the leaves. The leaves produce more nutrients – and more caffeine – than regular green tea.
Then the matcha tea leaves are hand-picked – no wonder they are so expensive. Their stems and veins are removed and then they’re quickly steamed in order to stop fermentation. Finally, the leaves are dried and ground into a fine powder.
The word, matcha, is from the Chinese for powdered tea. It involves consuming the entire tea leaf, as opposed to other teas that are steeped and then the leaves are removed. For this reason, matcha provides the many benefits we get from drinking green tea, maximized by consuming the whole leaf.
The dense chlorophyll content and amino acids in matcha give it a unique taste, initially strong and then resolving into a sweet aftertaste. This is known as umami, or “pleasant savory taste.”
Matcha originated in China, but now its home base is generally Japan, where the traditional way of preparing matcha tea has been cultivated for centuries.
Although it is best known as a tea, matcha can be used in cooking and baking. It’s appropriate for many recipes, both hot and cold, sweet and savoury.
The quality of tea that you purchase is crucial when it comes to matcha. That which is used for traditional Japanese tea ceremonies is high-quality, so-called ceremonial grade matcha; while lower-quality, culinary grade will work fine for cooking. This is important, because matcha is expensive, and a cheap price could mean an inferior product.
Take care to look at the label when you purchase matcha. Does it list just the one ingredient, or is it a mix – with added sugars and powdered milk? It’s best to buy organic, non-GMO, ceremonial grade matcha for tea.