25 Days of Tea: Day 22 (Matcha)

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Green tea powder: Matcha

Are you losing steam? Too much to do in the next 2 days to prepare for Santa’s visit down the chimney, gaggles of holiday visitors, cooking, cleaning, shopping, work projects, dog walking, cookie baking, present wrapping, sipping tea, reading blogs… your list is long.

Solution: Matcha.

I’m never more productive, focused and oddly calm then after a bowl of this green wonder. Matcha is gaining in popularity in the West for a heap of reasons with the obvious being its superior health benefits:

  • High antioxidants and EGCg (Epigallocatechin)
  • High in chlorophyll to aid wound healing
  • Anti-inflammatory, anti-aging properties
  • Lowers blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar
  • Vitamin C, selenium, chromium, zinc and magnesium
  • May boosts metabolism to burns calories
  • Protection against HIV
  • Gastrointestinal health
  • Cancer prevention from polyphenols
  • Helps Type-2 diabetes
  • Detoxification from high levels of chlorophyll
  • 100% of the leaf is ingested and has 137 times more antioxidants than regularly brewed green tea.
  • One cup of matcha = 10 cups of regularly brewed green tea in terms of nutritional content

and last but certainly not least, my favorite: It enhances mood level, mental alertness AND is calming.

How does it do that? One of the chemical components of this treasure is L-theanine, a heavy-hitting amino acid that has anti-anxiolytic properties which boost alpha brain waves which encourages relaxation, seriously profound mental clarity and an alert state of mind – all while making you feel calm and in control. What else offers that without the need for a doctors prescription? Studies suggest that theanine acts as a neurotransmitter on the brain which is where that sense of calm comes from. It is said to help aid in deep concentration during meditation which Buddhist monks have known about for thousands of years. The anti-stress properties of theanine inhibits neuron excitation which helps lower physiological and psychological stress.

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A nice frothy bowl of Matcha

So what exactly is the wonder brew? Matcha is made from the raw material (leaves) called Tencha. Tencha is grown in the shade for about a month or so before actual harvest. The shading of the tea plant forces a reduction in photosynthesis which creates a higher lever of chlorophyll (resulting in a deep green color), and theanine which is what gives it a very robust yet slightly sweet flavor. Any gardener knows that shade grown plants usually have darker, greener leaves. Same is true for the tea plant camellia sinensis. As is the case with most fine teas, to produce Matcha only the youngest leaves (two leaves in a bud) are used. After picking (which in Japan is often by machine), the leaves are steamed to stop the oxidation process, dried and cut. There is no need for Tencha leaves to be rolled or kneaded like Sencha or Gyokuro because the leaves (no stems or veins) will be ground into a powder using a granite wheel. A lot of work goes into producing Matcha and it is totally worth it once you see the rich, emerald green color and taste its distinct magical flavor.

There is a lot of history around Matcha, and many books and documents have been written on the subjest. A blog post could go on for days just discussing Matcha. Here is the super short version:

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Matcha tea labels

Tea was thought to have been introduced to Japan in the 9th Century CE by a Buddhist monk from China, where the custom of drinking tea for medicinal (and later pleasurable) reasons was already common. It didn’t take long for the Japanese to become smitten with tea. By the 12th century, Matcha, was introduced and used in religious rituals in Buddhist monasteries. By the 13th century, Samurai warriors got in on the action and started drinking Matcha which laid the foundation for the Japanese Tea Ceremony. It was during this period in Japanese history (Muromachi) that art and architecture when through a transformation to an extreme simplified style used by the Samurai. By the 16th century, tea drinking was widespread throughout all levels of society in Japan.

The Japanese tea ceremony (Chado), which means: the Way of Tea, is the ceremonial preparation and presentation of Matcha, a powdered green tea. It is practice meant to transform with order (rules) and refinement, humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, asymmetry, simplicity, and respect for the time and care it takes to engage in the practice of being present and sharing that time and a bowl of tea. Sen no Rikyu, one of the most well know historical figures in tea “introduced the concept of ichi-go ichi-e, (一期一会, literally: one time, one meeting), a belief that each meeting should be treasured, for it can never be reproduced.”  These principles still in practice in Japanese tea ceremonies today.

The tea ceremony (and just making an ordinary cup of tea) is a strong reminder to live in the moment, be present, and connect with others and with the earth. I can’t think of anything that tops that, especially this time of year.

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Matcha tools: scoop, whisk, bowl

So how do you make Matcha? Its actually quite easy and no need for an elaborate ceremony to enjoy. The classic way is to use a bowl and whisk, but as its gained in popularity many people are just putting the powder into smoothies. I’ve done that on occasion but still prefer to whisk up a bowl in the morning. A Japanese Tea Ceremony goes on for hours and no one has time for that in everyday life, so here is a shorted way to make Matcha with 3 tools: spoon, whisk, and bowl:

Step 1: Take a bamboo scoop (or measuring teaspoon) and scoop the powder into a bowl. A scoop or two is about right.
Step 2:  Heat water to about 175˚ – not boiling – and pour 2-4 oz of water into the bowl.
Step 3: Take whisk, called a chasen, (which ideally has been soaked in warm water to soften the bamboo) and using a back-and-forth motion whisk the tea until it is frothy. Ideally you want to keep the whisk straight and make like you are whisking the letter “W”. There should be no lumps in your final product.
Step 4: Sip your Matcha and enjoy the energy and serenity it will gift you. (If you are feeling cheeky, enjoy 1 simple butter cookie with your bowl of tea. The sweetness enhances the experience.)

Pearl Fine Teas offers 3 grades of Matcha, but below are some general notes on the tea overall:
• Overview:   An ancient tea made from Tencha leaves that are ground into a fine powder.
• Dry Leaf:    Ground, bright green powder
• Liquor (liquid):   Thick and frothy, also bright green
• Aroma:   Vegetal, melon fruit, very slight toast
• Flavor notes:    Intense, crisp, clean, tangy, vegetal, artichoke, strong and slightly astringent, sweet notes on the finish
• Brewing recommendation:     160-70˚F  for 1-2 minutes.
• Caffeine: Yes

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