People say that Britain is a nation of tea drinkers and we love a cup of cha (although we don’t really call it these today), rather the process of the actual drinking I think. Well, we’re certainly used to black or brewed tea. Some trendy teas, fruit teas and decaf teas are becoming more popular, but we’re lagging behind a bit when it comes to green tea. From our strong historic links with India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), tea was once only available to the fashionable, now that vital, everyday drink.
We get the word cha from the Cantonese chàh of Guangzhou (Canton). Also the ports of Hong Kong and Macau, where it spread to India in the 16th century by the Portuguese. The Korean and Japanese pronunciations of cha, however, are not from Cantonese, instead borrowed into these languages, during earlier periods of Chinese history.
A recent ‘new kid on the block’ (in the UK anyway) is Japanese matcha green tea. Yes, we are used to green tea, being served in Japanese restaurants and often as a post-massage detox at decent boutique salons. But the word is out and people are drinking this in increasing numbers at home. Yes there are Chinese varieties too, but my research has led me to Japanese varieties.
Matcha tea is just like other types of loose leaf tea, right? Wrong! We must not get it confused with black tea like English breakfast, earl grey, ceylon etc) which are predominately from Sri Lanka and India. Japanese matcha green tea as the name suggests, is grown in Japan.
High quality match tea is different from the low-quality powder for two reasons. Regular green tea powder is put under pressure, crushing the leaves. This causes friction and can ‘over-cook’ the leaves, leaving them a yellow-brown, not an emerald green. This is such an easy test to the quality, just by sight. The other point is that when grinding into fine powder, where granite, slow moving grinders are use, the friction is vastly reduced and therefore the leaves are not burned, retaining the chlorophyll found in leaves, which leaves the ‘greenness’ in the powder.
How to store tea
Green teas are easily damaged by heat, humidity, light, air and smells from other substances. That statement makes it sound like very complicated to store matcha. Not really, just bear in mind that it easily loses its colour and quality so quickly when exposed to these elements. My advice is to store the matcha powder in a tea caddy, or metal tin and keep to a constant temperature in the fridge. Scoop out what you need and allow to come to room temperature. If you wish to store matcha for long periods of time, keep it in the freezer. To prevent the powder from becoming wet when exposed to air, it should be thawed up to room temperature, before opening the package. I have not tried this trick, but it was told to me.
Perfection to preparing the tea
1. For each cup, use between 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of matcha powder (personal preference on how strong you like your matcha).
2. Add about 50ml of ‘off the boil’ boiling water – this is important, as you don not want to burn the powder, otherwise it will taste bitter. Err on the side of caution and make it cooler than too hot!
3. Using a kitchen whisk or a fork, make sure you whisk well and get rid of all lumps. It’s important to prevent lumps, otherwise your matcha will taste chalky or lumpy.
4. Once you have a liquid paste texture top up your cup with more ‘off the boil’ water, stirring as you go.
5. As an alternative, you could use orange juice or milk (hot or cold) instead of water in step 4 (yet to try this myself).
Grades of tea
Typically ceremonial grade is the highest grade and the most expensive. In Japan it would be served at special tea drinking ceremonies and brewed to be drunk straight.
Premium grade is more of your everyday cup. It is still considered of good quality and is much easier to find.
Ingredient grade as the name suggests is only really suitable for adding to cooking, baking or as a supplement to a drink, such as a smoothie.
There are two types of tea, in addition to the different grades. They are koicha and usucha. Koicha has a mellow, sweet flavour and as a thick tea, it is only used with very little water to make a thick green brew and is used in Japanese tea ceremonies. Usucha is not as sweet and whisked vigorously with more water and creates a frothier, thin tea.
Reasons for drinking matcha tea over other varieties
One of the major health benefits of matcha tea is the high dose of antioxidants. Yes, we hear a lot about foods with antioxidants these days, but in one recent research projects into antioxidants, it showed that matcha is actually packed with more antioxidants than any other ‘superfood’. How do we know? The research has shown that matcha has 20 times more ORAC (I’ll come to that in a minute) compared to pomegranates, broccoli, spinach and blueberries, all of which are considered ‘superfoods.’ Matcha also has 10 times the amount of antioxidants of brewed (loose leaf) green tea.
ORAC (Oxygen radical absorbance capacity), the actual testing method for antioxidants has shown the rating of matcha to be 1573 per gram, whereas broccoli is only rated at 31 and pomegranates 105. Source: ORAC Analysis on Ceremonial Matcha Green Tea ME17916 Lot#D1805: Brunswick Laboratories
It sounds all very scientific. Does it really matter to ‘joe public?’ Actually, yes. Antioxidants are chemical compounds (the body’s defensive mechanism) that prevent ageing and chronic diseases. Rich in amino acids which is part of the body’s make up. Basically, the more you have, the better equipped your body is in the fight against infections and disease.
In short, matcha tea can be seen as a mood-enhancing and antioxidant powerhouse. A natural weight-loss tool and detox agent. It is also seen as a sugar-free, low caffeine alternative to coffee.
Other uses for matcha
It’s uses are not just confined to tea making, but also in lattes, smoothies and iced drinks. In fact it has become on trend to use in baking, such as cupcakes, biscuits and pastries. Desserts, such as cheesecake, mousses or even ice creams. I have heard that it is being incorporated into liquers and even beers.
|Nutrient||Per 1g Matcha|
|Total Amino Acids||34 mg|
|Vitamin A||291 units|
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be seen as medical advice in any form. As always, if you are making lifestyle changes, including dietary alternatives, you should seek medical advice first from your GP or health professional.
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