Matcha for Beginners
Matcha is the powdered form of green tea leaves used in the Japanese tea ceremony. With a few simple tools and a little preparation know-how, you can skip the ‘ceremonial’ and lose yourself in a deeply green, richly aromatic bowl of matcha at home, anytime. Sipping the steaming emerald elixir may feel like a luxury, but it just might be the very best thing you can do for your health.
What is it?
Matcha comes from the same plant as all other tea (Camellia sinensis). Grown under shade to boost chlorophyll production, the young leaves are plucked by hand, flash-steamed to prevent oxidation, then quickly dried and ground to a fine powder.
Unlike steeped teas, which deliver only the water-soluble components of the leaf, when you drink matcha, you ingest the entire leaf and therefore access all of green tea’s nutritional treasures. Most of tea’s flavor and many of its health perks come from L-theanine, an amino acid that induces relaxation without drowsiness and significantly increases alertness and attention. It counters the relatively high level of caffeine in matcha in two ways: its rich umami flavor combats the bitterness of the caffeine, and its relaxation effects balance caffeine’s stimulation. Also abundant is the anti-oxidant catechin called EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), an anti-cancer powerhouse that also regulates cardiovascular and metabolic systems. Matcha also has high levels of potassium and vitamins A and C, is a good source of dietary fiber, and has significant anti-bacterial properties to boot.
To prepare matcha, you’ll need a fairly wide-mouthed bowl and a bamboo whisk (chasen), which has 100 to 200 tines – exponentially more than a standard kitchen whisk, and necessary to get a fine froth to crown your matcha. In the Japanese style, you might use a thick pottery bowl in the winter, and a clear glass bowl in the summer, to give a sense of coolness. You’ll also need to sift the matcha for best results, as it naturally tends to form clumps, and even the most vigorous whisking can’t eliminate them all.
First, pour some hot water into the tea bowl and soak the tines of the whisk for a moment, swishing it gently through the water a few times to warm the bowl and soften the whisk. Pour this water out, dry the bowl, and add 1 ½ heaping scoops of sifted matcha to the bowl with a tea scoop (chashaku). This equals about 2 grams, or a generous teaspoon. Add about 2 to 2 ½ ounces (69-70 cc’s) of hot water that is around 170°F (75°C). It’s easy to cool boiling water to the right temperature by either adding a bit of cold water to the kettle or by pouring boiling water into a separate cup first, then pouring into the tea bowl. Whisk slowly at first, carefully incorporating all the dry powdered matcha into the liquid and breaking up any lumps, then increase speed and whisk rapidly back and forth in a slight zig-zag motion, keeping the wrist loose and flexible. Whisk to desired frothiness, slowing your whisking at the end to produce fine bubbles.
Take a moment before you drink to savor the feel of the warm bowl in your hands, gazing at the different shades of green and inhaling the sweet, mellow aroma. Then as you drink, and the rich liquid fills your mouth and your senses, the warm emerald wave will gently electrify your entire body.