This picture doesn’t do it justice. The emerald green of the powder whisked together with boiling spring water produces a frothy green bowl of thick tea. The flavor of the Tencha is there, but much stronger and with a bit of a bite. Try it with a piece of chocolate on your tongue!
Symptom: Post Lunch food coma
Remedy: Thick grade Senjunomukashi
Directions: 2 Bamboo scoops. Add 3 oz. water. Whisk the tea in brisk angular motions for approximately 30 seconds, repeatedly tracing out an M in the cup to form a thick, foamy broth.
Results: A thick frothy, opaque and bright green liquor, emitting aromas of honeydew melon and a base note of cooked spinach. The thick body is bracing, and dries the mouth. It fills the mouth with the flavors of Tencha, but exponentially, tasting of spinach and artichokes.
Heady and intense, Matcha offers a tea experience like no other. Dissolved Matcha yields smooth vegetal flavors with a surprisingly bitter but satisfying kick. The better Matchas balance the bitterness with sweet notes – especially in the aftertaste, which should linger long in the back of the mouth.
Matcha is made from Tencha. The leaves are shaded over a few weeks before harvest to boost their chlorophyll, amino acids and other flavor compounds. Then the leaves are steam-fixed, cut, and air-dried rather than rolled and fired. This gives them a lovely, clean vegetal flavor unvarnished with any roasted sweetness.
Unlike Tencha, which is left whole, Matcha is then milled into a fine powder. Today, traditional stone mills have given way to impressive high-tech operations. Visiting the factory, one must don protective clothing as if heading into surgery, as well as pass through an airlock where machines blow off any particulates that might contaminate the powder. In the production room, everything is covered in bright green dust, especially the rows upon rows of millstones whirring away. The millstones have their work cut out for them: After a full hour of grinding, they produce only two ounces of the powdered tea.
There are several levels of Matcha. The best is called koicha, or “thick tea”. Made from the best spring leaves harvested in Uji, koicha is ordinarily reserved for tea ceremonies. The next level down is called usucha, or “thin tea”. Usucha is less expensive, making it more suitable for everyday use. Last but not last, there is a commercial grade Matcha, used in lattes, ice creams, and other green tea flavorings. As with Sencha, the demand for Matcha is now great enough that some is made in China, a curious reversal of history given that powdered tea had not been made in China since the Ming dynasty, which ended in 1644.
The oldest type of tea found in Japan, Matcha is what Buddhist monks brought back with them Kyoto after visiting the Jin Shan monastery in the ninth century. After monks began cultivating tea in Japan, the Matcha they made was consumed mostly by monks and royalty, then trickled down only as far as the noble warrior class, the samurai. The preparation of powder Matcha became ritualized in the 1550s by a Japanese tea master named Sen Rikyu, who codified the practice of Chado. Literally translated as “the Way of Tea,” Chado is a form of religious observance as well as a tea ceremony. Influenced by Taoism as well as Zen Buddhism, Rikyu ritualized the tea service as a means of drawing attention to the beauty and purity of everyday objects. By indicating the proper tools and gestures to use while brewing and serving the tea, as well as the arrangement and architecture of the teahouse, Rikyu encouraged practitioners to focus on the elements involved in tea: water, fire and the green tea itself. After his death, his three grandsons developed their own schools: Omotesenke, Urasenke, and Mushanokoijisenke. each of these schools still exists in Japan sixteen generations later.