What Is Matcha?
Most know it is tea. But do you know what type of tea it is and the benefits of drinking it?
The name "matcha" originates from Japan where green teas are some of the best. The trees for matcha are shade grown for three to four weeks before the leaves are harvested. This allows for more natural production of theanine and caffeine. It is because of this that matcha contains the highest amount of caffeine out of all teas. I myself was raised on the assumption that darker teas had more caffeine, much like coffee. This is wrong. Green tea at its lower elevations and higher amounts of insects on the plants contain higher amounts of caffeine.
After being harvested, the leaves, known as tencha, go through a few stages of being processed. The stems and veins are removed and the tencha is dried out. This is preferably done in the shade outside, yet as time has changed, the drying process has moved more inside. Most tencha dried outside in the shade tens to have a brighter green color. This is not how you can tell the quality of the tea.
The quality, or grade, of the matcha is determined by where the leaf is on the plant when it is harvested. Tencha located at the top of the plant tends to be soft and supple. As you go down towards the bottom of the plant, the tencha becomes more developed and are harder. The harder leaves are the lower grades; this is what causes a grainy, sandy-like texture. So, don’t judge the tea by its color.
After having the stems and veins removed, then being dried, the tencha are then developed into a version of sencha. Sencha is a smaller cut leaf green tea that I will discuss in another post later. Cutting the tencha down to the smaller size allows for the leaves to be ground up easier. This is commonly done in granite stone mills. When not ground correctly, the tea can become burnt and loose immense amounts of quality. Also be careful about how much air you allow your matcha to receive. Too much oxidation can ruin the tea and make it brown.
Even though most teas do not have a real shelf life there are times when they reach their peaks. These are the times to enjoy them the most. Green teas like matcha tend to be best for about three to four months before they start their decline. They won’t go bad, they just won’t taste as amazing.
Now that you know where this green powder comes from and how it ends up that way, let's get into some of the increased fun. Since matcha is a powder form of tea, it is brewed differently. You don’t steep the leaves. You whisk them into either warm water or milk. The tea floats in the liquid and gives it more body. This makes for amazing milkshakes and ice cream. Not only does it combine well with dairy, but with other flavors as well. Peach matcha slushes tend to be one of my favorites. The options of how to consume matcha are endless. Since it is a powdered substance, it can be mixed with any powder type ingredients: flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, the list can go on for quite some time.
My favorite thing about matcha is it works better than coffee at waking me up. The high amounts of natural caffeine wake me up and keep me awake longer than coffee ever could. Why? There is no downward crash; caffeine from tea goes up and then levels out. Also, the amounts of theanine from all the time in the shade allows the non-protein amino acid to stay alive in the leaves. This helps to reduce stress and keep the mind relaxed while waking up. Perfect for an all-night cram session or an early morning meeting.