What’s in matcha?
Matcha contains a relatively high stimulant content compared to other teas which gives us a refreshing energetic lift. This is also why a lot of people enjoy matcha in lieu of coffee first thing in the morning. Like all stimulants in Camellia sinensis, they are absorbed slower into the body and, in general, produce alertness and energy rather than the jitters. Although delicious, the general recommendation is one or two small (two or three-ounce) cups of matcha per day. As always, remember that stimulants impact individuals differently. Because the total leaf is consumed, higher levels of catechins and vitamins are also consumed so matcha has slightly higher levels of all that is good in green tea, especially the amino acid, L-theanine which not only provides alertness, it is the primary element that gives matcha its unique taste.
Part of the uniqueness of matcha is that it includes the entire leaf. For all other tea, no matter where it is grow and no matter how it is processed, one infuses tea leaves in water, discards the leaves and drinks only the tea-flavored water. In matcha, we drink leaf and water because it is brewed from a dried, powdered full leaf; we discard nothing. This, more than anything else, is why the flavor and the naturally-occurring elements are more intense and more healthful.
How does gyokuro become matcha?
In mid-April, the tea plants receive conscientious, even tender, care including being shaded with bamboo reed mats or tarp, gradually reducing the amount of sunlight allowed to reach the bushes. This is done for about 20 days to two months to help increase the levels and intensity of color and flavor of the very element that makes the gyokuro a deep hunter green, chlorophyll. (Some growers add increasing amounts of cover, from reed screens to rice straw, to reduce available sunlight, and some growers shade leaves once more, up to one month or longer.)
The plucking begins, usually on hachijuhachiya, the 88th day after the first day of spring (risshun), which varies slightly from year to year, but always arrives in early May. The tea leaves picked by hand. These harvested leaves are not rolled or shaped like other green tea leaves but steamed to prevent immediate oxidation and retain the green color. Steaming varies from processor to processor but is usually a mere 20 seconds or slightly longer. This step is always done within 12 to 20 hours of plucking.
The leaves are then gently air dried and cooled first by hand tossing then, in some areas, in a hoiro or brick oven to completely remove the moisture. What remains is called tencha. It is stored in large wooden boxes and refrigerated and processed as needed. To prepare these leaves to be matcha, the dried leaves are first graded and cleaned. All the stems, twigs and even the veins of the leaves are removed (usually by machines). When the leaves are even in size and in color. It is only then that the tencha is ready to segue into its final product, matcha.
Tencha is stone ground into the micro powder consistency of talcum. Stone grinding has been the key to fine matcha for more than eight centuries. Some manufacturers still use hand operated stone mills to manually grind the tencha; others use an automated stone mill. Both methods will provide a matcha that has a very fine texture and brilliant green color. The finest of these are used for traditional tea drinking; Ingredient or Café Grade matcha is made from lesser-quality leaves and it is ground by machines not quite as fine because it is used for matcha drinks like lattes where the delicacy of finer grades would be overwhelmed by the addition milk to the beverage.
Talking Tea - Mouthfeel
- Delicate or light
- Heavy or dense
- Creamy or milky
- Drying or astringent
- Whetting or moistening
- Tingly or bubbly