What is this mystical, green beverage?
Matcha (抹茶): It’s fun to prepare, has a cool history, tastes awesome and is also pretty healthy.
First off, what’s it made of? Matcha is made from finely ground, high-quality green tea leaves. The same stuff used to make gyokuro green tea. A few weeks before harvesting the leaves, the bushes are covered to prevent direct sunlight. This causes an increase in chlorophyll levels and amino acids (where the green tea gets its taste from).
The finest buds are selected to become matcha, and are painstakingly ground up (a very slow process) until they’re a fine powder which resembles green flour.
Fun fact: even after grinding, matcha remains incredibly photosensitive as well as vulnerable to oxidation. It should be stored in a dark, airtight container.
The technique for making matcha was originally brought over to Japan from Chinese monks in the late 12th Century, but over time its use in China has diminished, while its importance and popular use for Japanese Tea Ceremony (sado/chado – 茶道 lit. ‘the way of the tea’) has made it flourish in Japan.
Luckily for photographers (and pop culture), Its beautiful green hue makes it a ridiculously photogenic beverage.
Here is a small confession: I actually made this matcha ‘wrong’ in these two photos above, with too much water so that I could photograph the pretty transparent gradient colour that it makes. Actually, this way, it almost resembles koicha (thick) matcha.
Next history lesson: there are two kinds of matcha.
The first is usucha (薄茶 lit. ‘thin tea’). This matcha is made from younger tea bushes. It’s what you see at most tea ceremonies, and is probably what you’ve had if you’ve ever tried matcha. It is by far the more popular and more consumed kind. It forms a nice, light green froth at the top when you whisk it. This is the kind of matcha I’ll be talking about making today.
The second, koicha (濃茶 lit. ‘thick tea’), is made form older tea bushes, and thus has a milder flavour. You mix it with much less water, and it kind of resembles a green face mask goo sludge (Google ‘koicha matcha’; you’ll see what I mean). Pretty much the only place you will find this is at longer, traditional Japanese tea ceremonies.
Now, to make up for my incorrectly made (but fun to photograph) matcha above, here is a picture of properly made matcha (drink it when it looks like this!) in the same cup:
See the nice light green froth with tiny bubbles on the top? Mmmm.
Why Would You Drink This?
Other than being freaking delicious (the Japanese have EVERYTHING matcha flavoured), matcha is also just really good for you. Similar to regular green tea, it boosts your metabolism, contains antioxidants (I’ve been told), and it just makes you feel good. It contains all the same organic compounds as regular green tea, just a bit more intense. As with regular green tea, the concentration of the amino acid theanine counterbalances the caffeine, so you don’t get the same jittery feeling as with coffee. It’s also widely known and used as a mood-booster.
If you Google ‘green tea health benefits’, you get all kinds of crazy buzzword-filled diet and healthy lifestyle website. I’d take it all with a grain of salt. I’m not a biochemist, but I do love the way tea makes me feel, which is pretty happy on the inside.
Partaking in tea ceremonies in Japan (as well as China and Korea) is also an important social event, and a community-builder. You share a bond with the people you share tea with.
Do you remember Plato’s Symposium, circa 370 B.C.?A bunch of dudes sitting around drinking wine and philosophizing? Japan was all over that same thing, just a bit later. Tea houses were originally places where men would go to talk of war, or philosophize on nature, life, and the like. Sen no Rikyū is the most famous tea guy in Japanese history. He was a huge political and cultural influencer in the late 16th century, and his tea houses were like war chambers- secret retreats for the elite to plot their next moves. He’s also really cool, and I recommend you read up on him a bit, if you’re into that sort of thing.
A little bit of water with the matcha powder in the mug so you can see the colour difference between the wet and dry powder.
Matcha tools! (What You Need to Make Matcha)
- No. 1: Matcha powder
- No. 2: A Chawan (茶碗)
- traditional Japanese tea drinking bowl. If you’re fresh out of chawans, a latte mug will do.
- No. 3: A Bamboo whisk (茶筅 – chasen)
- This is actually pretty important. Regular whisks don’t do a very good job of blending up the superfine matcha powder. These bamboo ones cost $10-$20, and are well worth the investment. You can find them at David’s Tea, on Amazon, or just around. I’ve seen these at Winners.
- No. 4: A Measuring Utensil (optional)
- I like my matcha pretty specific, but there’s no logical reason you can’t eyeball it. Traditionally, bamboo scoops are used in Japan.
How To Make Matcha Tea (A Step-by-Step Guide):
- No. 1: Boil your water.
- We don’t want to use super-hot water here. We’re aiming more for like 70˚- 80˚C. The reason being is that the amino acids in green tea dissolve at 60˚C, and tannins dissolve at 80˚C. The tannins are the compounds that make tea taste bitter. Good tasting green tea should always taste slightly sweet, green, and be made using water between 50˚– 80˚C (depending on which kind of green tea you’re making). Without going on too much of a scientific tangent, basically we aim for water in this range so that we don’t have too many tannins sneaking out and ruining the taste of our tea. It is also one of the many reasons why green tea made from instant-cup-type machines always tastes horrible.
- No. 2: Once your water boils, pour some of it into your mug.
- Fill it half way. We’re preheating our mug for the tea the same way you do when you’re making proper espresso. I also sit my bamboo whisk in the warm water so it’s the same temperature as well.
- No. 3: Wait for your water cool down a bit. Listen to a song.
- If you’re really fancy, you can stick a thermometer in your water to make sure you get the temperature exactly right. I usually wait about 4-5 minutes after my water boils, and that seems to be just right.
- If you’re looking for song recommendations, Spotify has this Indie Brunch playlist that I’m pretty into right now.
- No. 4: Dump the heating water out of your mug – dry it – SIFT in .5 TBSP of matcha.
- Similar to icing sugar, matcha clumps together due to static electricity. Sift that powder to break it up and deliver a smoother cup of matcha. Also, you get to feel like a wizard while you’re sifting green powder and little green poofs of smoke are drifting up over your mug. I measure my matcha and dump it into the sieve, then jiggle it back and forth until all the matcha falls through.
- No. 5: Add the hot water.
- I’ve found that about 1/2 a cup of water per half tablespoon is the right ratio for me, but fool around until you find something that works for you.
- No. 6: Whisk!
- Whisk in a “W” shape, up and down from left to right, quickly and lightly, using your wrist and not your whole arm. You’ll know you’re done when a light green froth with tiny bubbles forms.
- No. 7: Drink and enjoy <3
- You did it! Drink up. Traditional Japanese wagashi (sweets) make a great compliment, but so do kit kat bars, gingerbread cookies, or bananas and peanut butter.
Matcha Troubleshooting Guide:
- No froth formed? Or not enough?
- Try adding less water. Or if you’re already invested, try adding more matcha.
- Too bitter?
- The water might have been too hot;
- You might have used too much powder (if it’s kind of chalky tasting);
- The matcha powder might be past its best before date, or lost its prime due to environmental factors. You can tell when matcha has gone ‘bad’ because it’ll have a dull greenish/brown colour. Good, fresh matcha is bright, bright green.
- Chunks of powder in your drink?
- Try sifting it more beforehand, and making sure you whisk it thoroughly for an even blend.
So there you have it! I hope you found this useful and I hope you make lots of matcha! I spent some time gathering everything I thought was useful, but if you have something extra to share, or more questions, please do so in the comments!
If you have trouble finding any of the tools or matcha powder itself, shoot me a line in the comments and I’ll try to help you out. I want this to be the best matcha guide ever, so if I think of things to add I’ll update them into post.