Matcha is a powdered green tea that is whisked rather than brewed, and is made from leaves that have been shaded from the sun for several weeks prior to harvest. The main differences between Matcha and most loose leaf green teas are that the leaves have not been allowed to photosynthesise in the weeks before harvest, and that the tender young leaves used for Matcha are ground into a fine powder. In this short guide to matcha, we answer some of the questions that customers ask us when they visit our shop.
How matcha is produced
- Shading: Before harvesting, the plants used to make matcha are covered. Depending on the producer and the way the plants are grown, the shade can be either a black synthetic cloth covering the plants or a kind of canopy, where the shade is added gradually, allowing the plants to adapt to less sunlight. The process of shading plants before harvesting forces them to produce more chlorophyll in order to survive. This chemical change in the leaves gives the finished tea a green colour, more umami and less bitterness. More details on the chemical composition and a summary of the health benefits of Matcha can be found in the article “Health Benefits and Chemical Composition of Matcha Green Tea: A Review” published in the journal Molecules in 2021.
- Harvesting: The best – ceremonial quality – matcha is harvested by hand. Harvesting takes place early in the year, typically in May. Only the youngest, most tender leaves, two leaves at the tip of each new shoot and a bud, are picked.
- Kill-Green: After harvesting, leaves are steamed for about 20 seconds. This step in the production, known as kill-green, prevents the leaves from oxidising and helps preserve their vibrant green colour and nutritional components. The leaves are then passed through a blower to eliminate moisture.
- Sorting, de-veining and grinding to powder: After sorting and, depending on the quality, de-veining of the leaves (at this stage known as tench) are ground into a powder using either a traditional grinding stone or more modern equipment.
- Ceremonial quality: The best of the best, ceremonial grade matcha consists of young buds and leaves from the first harvest of the year. The tencha used to make ceremonial grade matcha has the veins and stems removed and is milled to an extremely fine powder. Ceremonial grade matcha has a fresh, delicate, sweet flavour, is suitable for drinking as koicha or usucha and is suitable for preparing as koicha (see below) and is best enjoyed pure. Uji Shohokuen 5-Star Matcha is a great example of a ceremonial quality matcha at a price which is affordable for everyday drinking.
- Premium quality: Next in quality to ceremonial grade, premium grade matcha contains all the goodness and nutrients found in ceremonial grade, but is likely to be harvested later and use leaves from lower down on the plant. Premium grade is generally more bitter than ceremonial grade and is sometimes mixed with juices such as elderflower or apple to sweeten it.Organic Morimoto Matcha Kabuse 2 and organic Kirishima Midori Matcha are good examples of premium quality matcha.
- Culinary quality: While a good culinary quality matcha will still have a vibrant green colour and the distinctive matcha flavour profile, it is really only suitable for use in drinks such as lattes, cocktails and recipes. As matcha does not keep well once it has been opened, we recommend that you buy small quantities if you are only going to use matcha for cooking occasionally.
How to prepare matcha
There are two different ways to prepare matcha.
To prepare “thin” matcha (usucha) in a matcha bowl (chawan):
For “everyday” drinking most people prepare matcha as usucha.
- Put 1.5 – 2g (2 matcha scoops) into your matcha bowl. If necessary, sieve the matcha into the bowl to remove lumps.
- Add ca. 80 ml of water that has been heated to 70 – 80℃.
- Whisk using your matcha brush until small bubbles appear – your Usucha will have the consistency of a strong espresso with a nice foam on top.
To prepare “thick” Matcha (koicha) in a matcha bowl (chawan)
Because matcha in such a highly concentrated form as koicha takes some getting used to, and because only true premium teas reveal their sweet and complex character when prepared in this way, we recommend that only the highest quality teas be prepared as koicha.
- Put 3.5 – 5g (3 heaped matcha scoops) into your matcha bowl. If necessary, sieve the matcha into the bowl to remove lumps.
- Add ca. 20 – 40 ml of water that has been heated to 70 – 80℃.
- Stir the matcha into the water using your matcha brush until it has the consistency of thick, melted chocolate.