If you’ve ever sipped matcha tea or bought cooking supplies that feature the vivid green matcha powder, you may have wondered where this unusual ingredient originated. In recent years, matcha has become increasingly popular, and it is a fascinating vegan powder with an exciting history.
What makes matcha so unique?
Matcha has become an increasingly popular drink worldwide and is produced from de-stemmed and de-vined, finely ground green tea leaves that have been shaded from direct sunlight during the final weeks of their growth.
The high-quality matcha powder makes it ideal for use in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony and to make smoothies, lattes, and other beverages. Matcha has recently become popular in desserts, ice cream, doughnuts, and cakes. It is even added to soups and sauces to give them an extra boost of flavor and nutrition.
Depending on the variety, the flavor can range from savory to sweet; matcha of higher quality is often sweeter. Unlike traditional green tea, which is steeped in water and discarded, the entire matcha leaf is ingested. It is loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and catechins (which are potent compounds that help combat inflammation).
History of matcha
The intriguing history of matcha stretches back millennia. Matcha was initially favored by Buddhist monks in Japan around the 12th century for its stimulating properties and capacity to aid in contemplative activities. It is said to have originated during China’s Tang Dynasty and was drunk daily in Zen temples as part of a purification rite.
In Japan, during Zen rites, matcha was first consumed as a beverage in 1191 CE. Matcha tea continues to be served ceremonially with traditional delicacies such as wagashi (Japanese confections) during special events like weddings or seasonal activities such as hanami (viewing cherry blossoms).
To further explore the intricacies of Japanese culture and language, consider taking a course in traditional tea ceremonies or studying the Japanese language to better understand the customs and traditions that have shaped this fascinating country.
Matcha cultivation methods
Creating the ideal cup of matcha tea is a complex and labor-intensive process requiring multiple steps. Matcha begins as ordinary tea leaves before the nursery selects specific batches for the intricate cultivation procedure.
This green tea is grown in 80% shade, which reduces photosynthesis and forces the plants to work more to absorb nutrients, enhancing the flavor. The leaves are then collected and steamed to lock in their aroma, color, and flavor. The soft leaves are then conditioned, dried, stone-ground, and pressed into a fine powder.
Depending on the matcha being grown, sophisticated harvesting processes may create matcha variants ranging from sweet to deep and earthy. With such a complex process, it’s no wonder matcha is sought-after worldwide.
Types and grades of Matcha
The range available on the market has expanded in recent years thanks to matcha’s increasing popularity. There are five distinct grades, with the ceremonial grade being the highest quality and frequently used in traditional Japanese tea rituals. In contrast, the culinary grade is less expensive but ideal for seasoning a range of sweet and savory dishes.
Four distinct styles of matcha affect its flavor. Ummon is a mixture of coarse ground matcha and hot water, while Usucha is made with finer ground matcha and more froth. Koicha is a thick, concentrated matcha prepared using high-quality ceremonial-grade powder and less water than usual. Finally, Hojicha is a roasted version of matcha that has been toasted over charcoal until it turns a deep red-brown color.
Jess Grelle, SVP of Innovation at Safe + Fair states that matcha is naturally gluten-free, but it’s important to make sure you’re drinking 100% matcha. Grelle says, “Many match blends today are full of sweeteners, additives, flavorings and even extra ingredients, so check the ingredients first to double check your matcha is simply ground green tea leaves and therefore gluten-free.”
Benefits of matcha
Matcha is so much more than a tasty morning or afternoon drink — it’s also good for you, offering a range of health benefits.
So, whether you want to increase your intake of antioxidants, reduce your risk of chronic disease, or enhance your mood and concentration, matcha can help. This is because it contains beneficial plant chemicals, such as catechins, associated with numerous potential advantages, such as a reduced risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Regular matcha consumption can also help boost energy levels, increase metabolism, and aid weight loss by suppressing appetite and cravings. It is also rich in catechins and EGCGs linked to anti-aging benefits. Studies have also shown that matcha helps lower physical and mental stress.
Matcha has quickly become one of the most popular drinks in the world due to its distinct taste and many health benefits. With powerful antioxidants, energy and metabolism-boosting properties, stress reduction, and protection against certain diseases, you should make matcha a part of your daily routine. So, next time you feel like a cup of tea or coffee, try matcha instead. You’ll not only taste the difference, but you’ll also feel it.