Japanese Cuisine

Matcha – Japan’s Healthiest and Most Traditional Green Tea

healthy matcha

Japan is famous for its green tea. If you ever drink tea in Japan, it’s most likely green tea.
Among the famous types of green tea are Sencha, Genmaicha, Hojicha … but first and foremost Matcha (抹茶).

 

What is Matcha?

While matcha is green tea, the farming and processing is different from that of normal green tea.
About 2-4 weeks before the harvest the tea plants are kept in the shadow. After removing the stems and veins of the tea leaves, which are hand selected, they’re steamed briefly to stop fermentation. After that the leaves are dried and kept in cold storage which will deepen the flavor.

Specially designed granite stone mills will then ground the fine powder.
It can take up to an hour to produce about 30 g of matcha!

With normal green tea you soak tea leaves in water and then discard the leaves. With matcha you actually dissolve the powder in water (or milk) and thus drink the actual leaves.
Because it’s in powder form it can easily be added when cooking or baking. It’s often used in chocolate, ice cream, cake or even in smoothies.

Traditionally, matcha is being used in the Japanese tea ceremony.
However, the origins of preparation and consumption of powdered tea goes back to Chinese Zen Buddhists.

In 1191 the monk Eisai brought this tradition to Japan where it became much more popular than in China.

 

The health benefits of Matcha

In recent years Matcha has been proclaimed as so-called “superfood“.
However, people who’ve been interested in Japanese culture have known about the health benefits of matcha for a long time.

It goes without saying that by drinking the actual tea leaves, you get a lot more nutrients than with normal tea. You’d have to drink about 10 cups of green tea to get the same benefits.

Matcha is rich in vitamins (B1, B2, B3, A, C, E and K) and some minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium, zink).

matcha and wagashi

As we learned earlier, matcha is being grown in the shadows for a few weeks before harvesting.
During that time the tea leaves turn into a darker shade of green (more chlorophyll) and also produce more amino acids (esp. theanine) and caffeine.
Matcha is thus a very good and healthy alternative to coffee. It makes you awake without giving you the jitters. That’s because the l-theanine has a calming effect.

The antioxidants in matcha can potentially help against heart disease and cancer. They also could improve blood sugar regulation, reduce blood pressure and have an anti-aging effect.

Researches have shown that EGCG (another polyphenol in matcha) can boost metabolism, and slow or halt the growth of cancer cells.
Matcha contains 137 times more EGCG than normal green tea.

So, in a nutshell matcha can possibly:

  • fight cancer due to its high antioxidants levels
  • make you calm and awake at the same time
  • boost your memory and concentration
  • increase your energy level and endurance
  • boost your metabolism and thus burn calories
  • detoxify your body
  • strengthen your immune system
  • improve cholesterol

 

Attention:

Some people are worried about lead contamination. As you drink the entire leave, the lead contamination could be higher than with normal tea.
If you just stick to a cup per day, you should be totally fine, though. Just don’t serve it to kids and stay away from it if you’re pregnant.

Matcha contains oxalic acid which can interfere with the consumption of magnesium, calcium or iron. Some nutritionists therefore suggest not to consume matcha with your food, but at least 1 h before or after eating.

 

How to Prepare Matcha

Not everybody likes the bitter yet a bit sweet taste of Matcha tea.
If you eat it with wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) – or anything else that tastes sweet, it might be easier to consume.

Some people add milk and sugar or create other drinks such as Matcha Latte. Starbucks Japan’s Matcha Latte has become famous over the years and nowadays you can get it in other countries as well.

 

What tools do you need for preparing Matcha?

The standard equipment consists of chawan (tea bowl), chasen (bamboo whisk) and chashaku (bamboo spoon).

healthy matcha

The bamboo spoon is typically used to measure how much powder should be used. You could also replace this with a teaspoon, but keep in mind that the stated amounts of powder might be different then.

The tea bowl for matcha is usually flat and wide, so it’ll be easier to whisk the powder.

For whisking there is really no good replacement, so if you can only purchase one tool, I recommend getting a proper chasen!

You can also get a whisk holder for your chasen as displayed on above photo.

Additionally I tend to use a thermometer to make sure the water has cooled down to 80°C (see below for more information).

 

Preparing Usucha (薄茶) vs Koicha (濃茶)

Usucha (thin tea) is the standard way of preparing matcha.
Use about half a teaspoon (1.5 chashaku) for at least 75 ml of water. The water should be at around 80°C.
If it’s too hot, you could destroy all the good nutrients.

Koicha (thick tea) is traditionally only used for Japanese tea ceremonies. It’s high quality powder with a lighter and sweeter taste.
To prepare koicha you’ll need a lot more matcha powder (1 teaspoon or 3 chashaku) for 40 ml of water.

healthy matcha

Whisking properly is the most important step:

Whisking your matcha makes you feel like you’re a tea ceremony master yourself.

But it’s also important to get the movement down correctly to make sure the powder is dissolved completely. I can only shake my head if people try to use other tools to do that. The chasen really works best!

As a first step some people use a sieve to get even finer powder. Add a bit of water and gently whisk it into the powder. Then add the rest of the water and whisk it while forming a “W” with your hand. Do that for about 20-30 seconds until you see some foam building up at the top.

Here’s a short video how the pros do it:

Of course it’s up to you how you prepare your matcha. I usually add all of the water right away and then whisk it.
While I like to drink it pure, I sometimes make Matcha Latte.
And I still haven’t found the perfect mixture myself. It’s a learning process and possibilities are endless.

How do you like your matcha best? Feel free to share your recipes in the comments below!

healthy matcha

Once you’re done whisking the result should somewhat look like the photo above.

How to store your matcha:

Make sure it’s in an airtight container. Keep it in a dark, cool place. You can also store it in the fridge, but then make sure to get it out a while before preparing your matcha so that the powder can get back to room temperature.

 

Where to purchase Matcha tea:

As with everything in life, the quality can differ a lot. The higher quality matcha usually tastes sweeter and less bitter. Also, the green color is a lot more saturated. As for Matcha tea there are basically three different types of quality:

  • The lowest quality is typically used for cooking, baking etc.
  • The premium quality is what we all should use for our daily consumption.
  • The ceremonial quality is the highest quality and by far the most expensive. Probably only tea ceremony experts can tell the difference in taste.

If you don’t live in Japan or don’t visit often, it might be difficult to get good quality Matcha tea.
Since it has been proclaimed as “superfood” you can find it in various online stores, but what about the quality?
With some of the brands you can’t even be sure it was made in Japan. Is it organic? What about the color of the powder? The taste?

It’s probably better to purchase it in Japan directly!
But many Japanese websites won’t ship worldwide.

No, worries!
Have you heard of “MMU” (Material Matcha Uji 宇治) yet?

Uji is a region close to Kyoto City and is very famous for high quality tea in all over Japan.
Two young French expats in Japan wanted to share high quality matcha from Uji with the world and so “MMU” was born. Read about how they make sure you get the best quality matcha. It’s a very interesting and time-consuming process.

healthy matcha

On the left you see the MMU matcha, on the right one that I bought in Germany. You can clearly see the difference in quality. The Matcha tea I got from Material Matcha Uji has a saturated, healthy green. That’s how it should be.

After a very successful Kickstarter campaign they were finally able to launch their website with all of their products.
There are three different types of Matcha tea you can choose from and also all the necessary tools such as bamboo whisk or spoon.

healthy matcha

This set is called “MMU01 – Sharp and Intense – Limited Ceramic Edition, with All Accessories” which MMU kindly sent me for free. However, my opinion about their products has not been influenced in any way.

They were so nice to give my readers a special discount (10% off!) which is available until April 30!

If you decide to purchase something, please use the following discount code: ZOOMING10

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