What is Matcha?
Matcha is green tea leaves that have been ground up into a powder. Out in the tea fields, the leaves that are marked for matcha get shade cover for three weeks before they are harvested. This makes the tea plant produce more theanine, the calming component, and caffeine, the awake component. After the leaves are plucked, they have their stems and veins removed before drying to make for a super smooth powder.
Matcha is super potent: like drinking 10 cups of green tea in 1. So be careful if you are caffeine sensitive. The flavor can also be quite intense, but not in an uncomfortable way. If you are not a fan of green tea, though, then this probably isn’t the tea for you.
When sourcing your matcha, you want to look for a bright green color. Because it is ground into a powder, it stales very quickly. You can tell stale matcha from fresh by color alone; bright green is fresh, anything else is stale. I beg of you, please do not ever buy your matcha from a bulk bin. I’ve seen it in glass jars where new has been poured on top of old and you can see definite color striations right through the jar. You might find some matcha that is ceremonial grade and some that is cooking grade. For drinking, you for sure want ceremonial. For baking, either is fine.
History of Matcha
While matcha is pretty trendy right now, it has been around since the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907). Even though it has evolved over the past couple of millennia, the concept is certainly nothing new.
Tea was one of the world’s first currencies; it was pressed into bricks and then scored at several points so that pieces could be broken off to make change. These bricks were made by roasting and grinding the tea leaves. Once you broke off a piece of the tea brick, you would stick into hot water to dissolve the tea. A little while later, someone got smart and started whipping the tea powder and water together to give it some body and froth.
As time went on, preparing matcha became a ceremony in and of itself. Zen Buddhist monk, Eisai, brought the concept of the tea ceremony from China to Japan in 1191. It was the thing to do if you were a monk or someone high up in the echelon of Japanese society. The Japanese Matcha Ceremony is not something to be rushed, but celebrates the preparation and drinking of the tea.
What is matcha now? Today it is a celebrated drink, within and out of ceremony. People love it for its verdant color and mood enhancing qualities.
How to Use Matcha
What is matcha used for? There are plenty of other options for consuming matcha if you don’t want to do the full ceremony each time, or ever.
The simplest way is to dissolve the tea powder into some hot water and drink it. You can use the traditional matcha bowl and whisk, or your favorite mug and a fork. For an iced matcha, dissolve the tea in a bit of hot water, then pour over ice, adding some cold water if needed.
You can also add matcha powder to your morning smoothie or shake.
There are tons of recipes out there for baking with matcha. It gives anything you make with it a bright green color. I’ve done a matcha poundcake that was delightful. Be careful, though, if you’re using it as a natural food coloring as the caffeine levels might make it unsuitable for children.
What is matcha? It’s tea that is simple or complex depending on your mood. It’s always bright green and mood lifting. It’s rich in history and modern in use. It’s an experience to be tried at least once.