The Wild Foods Guide To Matcha
Everything you wanted to know about green tea matcha.
What is Matcha?
The word "matcha" means "ground tea" in Japanese. Matcha is made by slowly grinding the entire green tea leaf into a powder, which allows it to be easily added to drink or recipe.
Compared to traditional green tea that uses water to extract nutrition from tea leaves, matcha is "eaten" whole.
By ingesting the entire tea leaf, you get far more nutrition than traditional green tea--matcha is like drinking 10 cups of brewed green tea!
Once learning how matcha is made, many assume you can take any green tea and grind it into a matcha powder, but that's not the case. Matcha is specialty grown and requires a specific climate, plenty of labor and an expert farmer.
This is why the best matchas in the world are always expensive; there's simply no way to produce good matcha cheaply.
A few weeks before harvest, tea plants are covered in shade. This causes the tea leaves to increase their chlorophyll and amino acid content. Glutamate molecules are concentrated, which increases the umami flavor profile.
Some matchas are introduced into a set level of shade for the last few weeks before harvest while other matchas, almost always higher quality, are introduced to more shade on a gradual basis leading up to the final harvest. By gradually reducing the exposure to sun, the tea leaves are constantly coaxed into developing more of the beneficial compounds, which results in developing more flavor and nutrition. Some of the best matchas in the world are in near darkness by harvest time.
Good matcha requires tea plants that are at least 50 years old, with many in the 75-100 year old range. In Fact, the farm where Wild Matcha grows has been growing matcha for 109 years!
Matcha comes in various "grades" or "harvests." The problem with these grades is there is no regulation in labeling, nor any set guidelines for grades. Typically, a "1st harvest" is a "ceremonial" grade, and is considered the highest quality grade of matcha.
Next usually comes a "2nd harvest" and sometimes a third--at which point you start getting into the realm of "culinary" matcha.
Harvest relates to the timeline that the leaves are removed, usually by hand, in the tea growing process. The leaves that are harvested first (first flush) are considered the best tasting and usually consist of the small and delicate leaves picked from the tips of a leaf shoot.
Once the leaves are picked during a harvest, they are preserved through steaming then drying. After the leaves are dried, they are sorted into grades. The smallest, greenest leaves end up with the highest rating. Next the leaves must be destemmed and deveined--a process that is very labor intensive.
All matcha destemmed and deveined tea leaves that make it through this process are now called "tencha." Tencha is kept refrigerated until the grinding process.
Tencha is ground using granite wheels that rotate slowly to avoid burning the tea leaves.
It takes about an hour to grind only 30 grams of matcha.
The ground matcha is then ready for sale.
Matcha Flavor and Cost
If you are new to matcha, yet know a bit about regular tea, you might experience sticker shock when you first encounter the cost of a premium matcha. This makes sense considering matcha is a form of tea, and you will probably compare it to the average price of regular loose leaf tea.
Of course, comparing matcha to loose leaf tea is like comparing oranges to apples.
Matcha is similar to wine in that each wine is unique and the quality determined by the multitude of variables including terroir--the conditions of local climate and soil--crop quality and attention to processing and growing methods.
Like wine, a matcha producer will produce a distinctive product. And just like wine, you'll find good, bad and average matchas.
The color of matcha is your first method of determining quality. Matcha should be as bright and grassy green as possible. Matcha that is brackish, dark green, and in some cases brown, is usually going to taste exactly how it looks; bitter and yucky.
Next comes taste. Good matcha will have a sweet grassy profile with an absence of bitterness. The lower in quality you go, the more you will get a bitter, astringent flavor profile and a lack of sweetness.
Not only does bright green matcha taste better, it also includes more amino acid and antioxidant content.
Drinking one cup of matcha is like drinking 10 cups of brewed green tea.
Matcha is also a natural fat burner and metabolism stoker! Matcha contains the rare polyphenol ECGG, a thermogenic ingredient known to boost metabolism.
Matcha is a natural mood and energy enhancer. With ~35mg of caffeine per cup (espresso is ~60mg), the caffeine in matcha is unique because it releases into the bloodstream slowly, providing a sustained release of energy that can last from 4 to 6 hours.
The amino acid L-Theanine that is prevalent in Matcha helps the production of alpha brain waves, which makes it great for working and studying. Monks have used it for centuries to aid in meditation and prayer.
Matcha is full of vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, chromium and selenium, all of which promote overall health while fighting inflammation.
Matcha is a natural detoxifier rich in chlorophyll and fiber. Chlorophyll is the green in plants and is a natural detoxifier that helps remove chemicals and heavy metals from the body.
How To use Matcha
It's best to sort matcha use by grades.
Typically, the highest grades are best saved for tea ceremony, which for us Westerners basically means drinking straight with hot water.
Because the highest quality matchas taste the best--and because they cost more--we recommend drinking them the traditional way and not for baking or other recipes that will mask the flavor of the matcha.
There's no reason to use a ceremonial grade matcha for making a matcha smoothie when you won't be able to decipher the higher quality flavor profile anyways. For baking and making matcha recipes that include sweetener or other ingredients such as cream or milk, it's best to use a 2nd harvest or culinary grade matcha.
Matcha is very sensitive to heat, moisture and light. We recommend you store matcha in a dark container in a cool, dry place if you plan on using it often.
If you plan to use your matcha only occasionally, it would be best stored in the freezer sealed and placed inside a ziplock bag. Then, before opening, let the bag come to room temperature to thwart any condensation from getting into your matcha.
Matcha is a superfine powder that will clump when it comes into contact with liquid. The best way to avoid this is to gently press the matcha through a fine sieve into your bowl before adding water. Or you can use a matcha whisk to carefully stir it in a bowl like here.
Hot Water and Cold Water
First things first, never add boiling water to your matcha!
If you pour water that is too hot over matcha, you'll destroy all the beneficial nutrition in the matcha. You'll also make it taste bitter.
We recommend water that is 165° - 175°. Use a thermometer or remove your boiling water from heat and let sit for at least three minutes.
Another way to protect your matcha from being damaged by hot water is to use cold water to make the initial matcha paste called for in the traditional way preparation. The cold water helps temper the hot water that will be added later.
- It takes an hour to stone-grind 30g of matcha (that's 1.05 ounce!).
- A teaspoon of matcha is ~2.5 grams.
- We recommend 1.5g (~1/2 TSP) to 4 ounce water for preparing traditional matcha.
- what we recommend for a traditional cup of matcha tea.
- The laddle scoop used in a traditional matcha set is made of bamboo and called a "chashaku."
- The hottest water you should ever use to make matcha is 175°. Anything hotter will destroy the wonderful nutrition in the matcha!
- L-theanine stimulates alpha brain waves, which induces a state of alertness. L-theanine is abundant in matcha.
- A cup of matcha contains about half the amount of caffeine that a cup of espresso does (65mg), but that caffeine is released slowly compared to coffee, making the benefit seem longer lasting.