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Making Matcha: I break down the toys, tips & tencha tricks for the perfect cup

Making matcha sounds hard if you don’t know what it is.

About 6 months ago I broke down and created a daily matcha ritual.

I was resistant because I already had a ritual, and it seemed to be working for me. But I couldn’t deny all the good things I was hearing about matcha.

I’d tried it a couple years ago, but I wasn’t a huge fan. I’ve learned that there are different ways to make matcha, and I just hadn’t tried one that tasted good to me. Until recently…

I’ll show you what I’ve learned below about making matcha and about the tea farm in Japan that changed my mind about it.

Matcha is its own animal when it comes to tea…

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Making matcha powder is done painstakingly (if it’s done right).

It’s made from the same leaves as other teas – Camellia sinensis – but instead of brewing the leaves in a cup of hot water, we’re drinking the tea leaf itself in the form of a fine powder.

Tea leaves destined to become matcha are covered for several weeks before they’re harvested to decrease photosynthesis in the leaves. This forces the leaves to fight for sunlight, so they become thinner, greener, and sweeter to taste.

Once harvested, the leaves are de-veined and de-stemmed to make the grinding process easier. Once de-veined, the remaining leaves are steamed. The steamed leaves are called tencha. This tencha is stored  just above freezing for 5 to 6 months to allow the leaves to mature.

Once matured, the tencha is ground. To create the finest matcha powder (resulting in a smoother and creamier cup) tencha is traditionally ground between flat stones. It takes a long time to do this because if the stones grind too quickly, the heat from the grinding process changes the flavor of the leaf. (Just like when you heat your green tea with boiling water, you’ll create a bitter tea.)

It takes about an hour to grind about 50 grams of matcha!

How’s matcha supposed to taste?

It should have a slight sweetness to it. You’ll also notice a broth like or savory quality to it called umami.

Making matcha at home doesn’t have to be hard.

There are several ways I’ve heard, and I’ll share one of the most common with you. Then I’ll tell you how I make it. You can choose for yourself what tastes best to you. But first, toys!

So what’re the toys…erm…tools of the trade?

In India, tea shops serving matcha may use a spoon to take their time blending the water and matcha. Then they use something like a metal sauce whisk to create the froth you get on top. This is not the traditional way to do it, but it got the job done when I tried it.

In Japan, the three tools you need are a chawan, a chasen, and a chashaku.

A chawan is a wide bowl where you can whisk the matcha without it spilling. I use a super wide teacup.

A chasen is a whisk usually cut from the same piece of bamboo. The tines at the tips are curled inwards.

A chashaku is a scoop for you to scoop your matcha. It’s not necessary, but it’s fun to use.

The chasen and the chashaku are usually sold together. You can get them on Amazon.

You can (and maybe should, I haven’t decided if I NEED to do this step yet) use a small fine strainer to sift the matcha powder into the chasen. Static electricity sometimes binds the powder together. I have another tip to grind out the powder in my personal ritual outlined below.

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Making matcha!

Heat your water to about 175-185 degrees (or you can boil your water and let it cool for about 5 minutes). You’ll want your water hot because the more you whisk your matcha, the cooler it’ll become.

Traditional directions.

  1. place two small scoops (about 1 level teaspoon) of matcha in your chawan.

  2. pour about 1/4 cup of water over the tea.

  3. Whisk briskly in a “W” shape using the chasen. Don’t push the chasen into the chawan because it will hurt the chasen over time. Whisk for about 90 seconds to create a froth on top.

Making matcha my way.

  1. place two large scoops (about 2 level teaspoons) of matcha in your chawan.

  2. You’ll need a 1/2 cup of water, but before you pour the whole 1/2 cup in, pour just a few drops into your matcha.

  3. Move your chasen in circular motions to make a muddy matcha at the bottom of your cup. Yes, you’re going to damage your chasen over time, but I’ve been doing this for 6 months now, and I’ve only lost one tine so far. Creating this smooth muddy concoction helps break up the lumps. And it’s fun.

  4. Slowly add the remaining water while whisking. Once the water’s all added, whisk briskly in a “W” motion for about 90 seconds to create a frothy top.

I may change this ritual over time, but so far it’s working for me. The goal is to eliminate/reduce lumps and to froth the matcha for the best sipping experience.

You might be asking, why do I need to froth my tea?

The froth is an indicator that the tea is aerated. When the tea’s aerated, the sweetest flavors tend to come out.

Sometimes it’s difficult to get a froth going. It may be because there wasn’t enough matcha to water ratio or that it needs to be whisked a bit more. Just keep trying until you get a feel for it.

It’s still good when it doesn’t froth, but it doesn’t seem quite as delicious to me when it doesn’t.

How healthy is it?

CAFFEINE

When we sip matcha, we’re sipping 100% of the tea leaf’s antioxidants and vitamins. We’re also getting more caffeine which gives us better mental focus. Yes, coffee still has more caffeine than matcha, but thanks to an amino acid (L-Theanine), it regulates how quickly caffeine is absorbed into our bodies. This means the caffeine in tea is absorbed into our body over a longer period of time than coffee, so we get that mental boost without the jitters.

ANTIOXIDANTS (AND MILK)

If you’re not so much into drinking matcha by itself, but you want the health benefits or caffeine, then place a couple teaspoons into a daily shake. BUT make sure it’s not a milkshake. The casein in milk prevents your body from absorbing all of tea’s health benefits. So if you’re drinking that matcha latte or milkshake, just know you’re drinking it for the taste and not the healthy goodness.

LEAD CONTAMINATION

A FB Group Tea Peep asked me whether matcha is safe to drink because she’d heard about high lead content in matcha. The research that’s out there isn’t specific to matcha. There was research on tea plants in China that were close to highways that showed increased levels of lead. The safest bet when buying matcha is to buy it from Japan and to make sure it’s organically grown.

What do you need to look for when you choose a matcha?

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1. Ceremonial Grade

There are different grades of matcha: ceremonial grade and culinary grade. Culinary grade is the least tasty and is used mostly to color foods like cookies. It’s often mixed with sencha tea leaves and isn’t as finely ground. Ceremonial grade is the best tea for drinking because it’s made with great care.

Ceremonial grade matcha, as you might guess, is used in tea ceremonies. Although originally sipped in China, in about the 12th century, ground teas were introduced to Japan. While China abandoned ground teas (until fairly recently), Japan made them an art.

The Japanese tea ceremony, Chanoyu, is a traditional meditative tea ritual using matcha. There’s formal and informal ceremonies with the former lasting 4 hours! In that ritual, you’re also served an elaborate 4 course meal.

Chanoyu is an integral part of chado – the Way of Tea. Put simply, the Way of Tea is an ethical and meditative quality of life extending from your daily tea ritual into your daily life.

2. Organic

Because you’re consuming the entire tea leaf, it’s important to choose an organically grown matcha when you’re making matcha.

Japan produces most matcha, but China has started making it to keep up with consumer demand.

Neither country is known for its organic teas. Unfortunately, most Japanese tea gardens are still using chemicals to grow their teas. And China has had tests done on some teas showing lead contamination in teas grown near highways.

Matcha is safe to drink if you get it from a good source.

3. Fresh

Your matcha should be a bright green color rather than forest green. It goes stale faster than other teas, so buy it in smaller amounts than you would when you buy loose leaf teas.

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The farm that changed my mind about matcha.

Hattori Farm is located in low lying and temperate Shizuoka, Japan which is one of the centers of tea growing in Japan.

Tea maker and farmer Yoshiaki Hattori creates specialty matcha because he does what most farms don’t – and can’t – do which is craft small batches of matcha.

The process of making matcha powder is usually left to large factories where leaves from multiple farms are trucked in to make giant batches. These farms often use conventional farming techniques, which means that they’re not all organically grown.

Mr. Hattori decided that he wanted to make high quality, small batch, single origin matcha from his own farm.

His farm is completely chemical-free, and he uses leaves from his own gardens. While he uses modern steaming techniques to create the tencha (the raw tea material we talked about earlier), he keeps with the traditional practice of stone milling the tencha into a fine powder.

He’s also using solar energy to power his farm! (How cool is that?)

Interested in sipping one of Yoshiaki Hattori’s matchas? Click here.

Are you already sipping matcha? Tell me if you’ve ever sipped matcha in the comments below!

Lots of love to you,

Dina

Founder & Tea Addict

Sicilian Tea Company

P.S. Isn’t this tea stuff cool? Here’s another pic of Hattori’s tea farm below.

P.P.S. Making matcha doesn’t have to be a solitary sport. Hit up the free FB Group if you have questions.

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