A Matcha Love Letter

Matcha is delicious. REALLY delicious. It is creamy and velvety and DELICIOUS. Not only that, it is AMAZING for you. It is said to boost your metabolism, enhance weight loss, detoxify your body and prevent premature aging. Research is even being carried out into its anti-cancer benefits. Oh, and it’s delicious. Go get a cup RIGHT NOW and read on about this magical powder. Here is my little love letter to Matcha.

What is Matcha?
Matcha comes from the same plant that all true teas come from; Camellia Sinensis. The leaves from this plant can be made into green tea (unfermented - simply steamed and dried), into oolong (partially fermented) and black tea (fully fermented). Matcha is a true green tea, but growth style, harvest and production are different.  This plant does have different varieties, some of which produce higher grade Matcha, the best coming from Samidori, Okumidori and Yabukita.

Why is Matcha so bright?
Three weeks before harvest the tea plants are covered with bamboo mats or tarp, depriving them of sunlight. This increases the chlorophyll content and turns the leaves a dark green which gives Matcha it’s color. The leaves are then harvested, steamed and air-dried. They are then sorted for grade, destemmed and deveined. It is at this point that the leaves become “tencha”. Once the tencha is ground it becomes Matcha.

What grade of Matcha should I choose?
If you want to reap the full health benefits of Matcha, look for ceremonial grade or hyper-premium. These best grades are ground on a stone mill. This process is slow, keeping the temperatures low to preserve high nutrient levels. It also produces a molecule with a specific shape which influences the taste and feel of the Matcha. Lower grade Matcha, such as culinary-grade, is ground by machines and can taste bitter when made into a tea. When buying Matcha, look for the uber-vibrant green color provided by the overproduction of chlorophyll. If it is duller (like moss), don’t expect best quality.

What does it taste like?
Matcha has an umami taste (a Japanese term for the fifth scientific taste meaning “rounded, rich, savory”). It tastes quite different from other teas. I was never a big fan of steeped green tea, but I love Matcha.

Why should I try Matcha?
Matcha has a different effect on your body than coffee. The caffeine from Matcha delivers a calm energy rather than an urgent, jittery restlessness. Matcha has long been used by Buddhist monks to help their daily meditation due to the combination of caffeine (which fights off drowsiness) and L-theanine (which sharpens focus and concentration).

L-theanine, present in Matcha at around 5 times the levels when compared to a regular cup of green tea, is an amino acid which is reported to have a calming, relaxing effect, reducing anxiety. Whilst espresso delivers an instant effect, the l-theanine in Matcha is released slowly, keeping your energy levels up longer.  

What else can Matcha do for me?
Matcha is rich in epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG, also known as catechin). Because you are taking the whole leaf, instead of just steeping and throwing them away, one cup of Matcha can deliver the health benefits equivalent to 10 - 20 cups of regular green tea. EGCG is said to prevent cell degeneration and premature aging. It can boost your metabolism, assisting your body’s ability to utilize energy.

How to make a great cup
·      Source the best quality possible, making sure it is from a Japanese farm.
·      Place a small amount, around 1 teaspoon, Matcha into a cup or bowl.
·      The water you add should be hot but not boiling - between 150 and 170 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer, after boiling the kettle, remove the lid and let it stand for a minute or two before using.
·    Add a small amount (a few tablespoons) of this water to the cup, whisking into a soft paste, adding more as you whisk to reach the consistency you desire. The ratio of Matcha to water is up to you - the more Matcha the thicker and frothier the tea. You can use the traditional chasen (a bamboo whisk) or an electric milk frother wand but if you don't have either, begin by using a teaspoon and mix in the same way as you would cocoa powder, ie small amounts of liquid until a paste is formed, adding a little more at a time. For a teaspoon of Matcha I would suggest a cup around the size of a macchiato (longer than an espresso, shorter than a (true!) cappuccino).
·      If you like, replace some of the water with a small amount of foamed milk. I use ⅔ water ⅓ unsweetened almond milk.
·      If you really need, add a drop or two of (best quality!) stevia. I did this in the beginning but now prefer the taste without.
·      Matcha is also delicious served iced.

If you haven’t tried Matcha yet, please don’t let your first experience be from any old cafe. Do it yourself or search out somewhere that serves the best quality. I have experienced some terrible versions out there, often low quality, overly sweetened or just drowned in a store-bought milk which takes over the taste. Of course, this isn’t true of all cafes, there are a few who serve a truly good version. If you make it for yourself at home, try it the traditional way, with only water, and then if you like, add a little steamed (non-dairy is best) milk and (best quality) sweetener only if you need it.

Leela Le NouryComment