Superfoods: Matcha Green Tea Explained
Thursday, 29 September 2016 | Maja Alice
An Ancient Japanese Superfood and Modern Foodie Fashion
Matcha tea has taken the world by storm. With matcha cafes, matcha soft-serve ice cream, matcha cakes, matcha curry and new matcha brands popping up every day - Britain (and the rest of the world) is mad about matcha. The healthy green tea powder is no new phenomenon - in fact, the Chinese were consuming a tea very similar to matcha over 1,000 years ago. So why has this tea suddenly become the new fashion within the Western foodie community?
|Matcha milkshake ||Matcha ice cream |
In this blog post, we explore matcha tea, its ancient history, its health benefits and its new rise to fame.
Let us travel back in time to the Tang Dynasty (circa 618-907) of China - the home of tea. At this time, the Chinese would steam tea leaves and shape them into tea-bricks. At the time, this made it easier to store the tea and made it more appropriate for trade. Tea was prepared by roasting and pulverising bits of the tea-brick and mixing the powder with hot water. These tea-bricks were similar to the Pu Erh cakes that we still consume today. During the Song Dynast (circa 960 - 1279) it became popular to whisk the tea powder into the hot water to create a foam on top of the brew. This process is very similar to how we brew Matcha tea today.
The process of brewing powdered tea was transformed into a ritual - or ceremony - by Zen Buddhist monks. In 1191, the method of brewing powdered green tea was brought to Japan by the Japanese Buddhist monk Eisai.
Read more about Eisai and Japanese tea history
The consumption of powdered tea eventually lost its popularity in China but remained an intrinsic part of Japanese Zen Buddhism and Japanese tea culture.
The Japanese Tea Ceremony
The Japanese Tea Ceremony is also known as 'The Way of Tea'. The ceremony is an intrinsic aspect of Japanese culture that centres around the preparation of matcha green tea.
Zen Buddhism was a key influence in the development of the tea ceremony. The focal point of the ceremony is serenity, calmness and health.
In modern day culture, many people associate matcha consumption with "me time". Preparing matcha is a peaceful activity during which you can take a breather from the rush of life.
The first documented evidence of tea consumption in Japan dates back to the 9th century and the monk Eichu who brought tea back from a trip to China.
However, it was the monk Eisai who introduced the process of Matcha preparation in the late 12th Century.
Matcha preparation and consumption was initially a religious ritual carried out only by Buddhists monks.
But by the 16th century, tea consumption had spread to all levels of Japanese society.
It was the tea master Sen no Rikyu who famously perfected 'The Way of Tea' and introduced the principals of harmony, respect, purity and tranquillity that are still central to the Japanese Matcha Ceremony to this day.
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|The Japanese Matcha Tea Ceremony ||Ceremonial Japanese Matcha Tea |
Let us travel to modern day Japan - more specifically the Ise Bay area of the Mie Prefecture. From ancient times, Ise Bay has been very rich in natural resources. Due to this abundance of natural produce, Ise Bay contributed largely to the fast economic recovery in Japan after the Second World War.
It is from this wonderful area that we source our Japanese green teas - many of which have won coveted awards for their outstanding quality and flavour complexity. Amongst our award-winning green teas from Ise Bay is our Ceremonial Matcha Green Tea Powder that won two stars at the 2016 Guild of Fine Food Great Taste Awards.
Tea - especially green tea - is the most commonly consumed beverage in Japan and represents a large part of Japanese food culture as well as playing a major role in Japanese fine cuisine. Japan produces nearly 100,000 tons of tea a year. But only one percent of that is Matcha.
|Beautiful vibrant green Camellia Sinensis leaves from Ise Bay ||Camellia Sinensis growing in Ise Bay, Japan |
One reason for Matcha tea’s popularity is its proven health benefits. Matcha is said to contain ten times the number of antioxidants of a regular cup of green tea. But Matcha is actually made from the same Camellia Sinensis plant that is used for the production of other green teas, white teas and even black teas. So what makes Matcha tea different from any other type of tea?
Matcha tea is made from shade-grown tea leaves. The health benefits of Matcha stem from the delicate preparation and shading during the natural growth of the tea plant. The intricate preparation of Matcha starts several weeks before the tea plants are even harvested. Shading creates a wider leaf with a deeper green colour. Shading also stimulates the production of chlorophyll which is the pigment that causes plants to be green. The deep green colour is a result of this increase in chlorophyll. Shading also causes the production of amino acids such as theanine. Scientists have been researching the health benefits of theanine and its possible positive effects on the immune system as well on mood and focus. The scientific community is currently trying to determine whether theanine can help reduce stress and improve cognitive function.
So how exactly does Matcha benefits our health? As articulated recently in the popular Channel 4 documentary ‘Superfoods: The Real Story’, and supported by food scientists, the consumption of matcha green tea powder protects our cells and genes against so-called ‘free radicals’. The show explains: “When free radicals flow through our blood, they can damage the artery wall. Free flowing blood platelets can stick to the rough artery wall forming blood clots. When the clots break free, they can travel to the heart and brain causing heart attacks and strokes. Matcha contains an antioxidant called EGCG which can mop up the free radicals, keeping our arteries smooth and healthy”.
It is the very high levels of the antioxidant EGCG that makes Matcha such a healthy and - by extension - popular tea in our health-conscious society.
Matcha is produced by selecting only the finest shade grown Camellia Sinensis leaves. After harvesting, the leaves are laid out flat to dry. The leaves are then de-stemmed and deveined leaving behind only the finest leaf properties. The next - and very crucial - step is to grind the tea leaf into a fine powder. This is done using traditional stone mills. It can take up to an hour for a mill to grind just 30g of Matcha. It is this time consuming, intricate and highly specialist process that makes Matcha a relatively rare and sought-after product.
In its nature, Matcha is not a mass-produced commodity but rather an artisan, speciality beverage that must be treated and consumed with great respect for the work that has gone into its production - both by mother nature and by the talented Japanese tea farmers.
The health benefits and the exclusivity of Matcha are the roots to its rise to fame as a superfood in our health-conscious society and in modern-day foodie culture. Additionally, its vibrant colour and fresh flavour make it intrinsically appealing to the eye and to the mouth.
Matcha green tea can be used in many different ways - in fact, the possibilities seem endless. Traditionally consumed exclusively as a hot tea drink, Matcha is now used in desserts, sprinkled on yoghurt, blended into smoothies, baked into bread and infused into curries.
With the rise in popularity of matcha, many brands have jumped on the bandwagon selling matcha in many different varieties. At The Tea Makers of London, we have kept the choices simple. All our matcha teas are of the finest quality and stay true to the ancient Japanse traditions. We are especially proud of our award-winning ceremonial grade matcha which has a deep vibrant green hue, an exceptionally delicate flavour and a beautifully fresh aroma.
Meet the tea
Ceremonial Matcha Green Tea Powder - No. 58
Only the finest, shade grown Camellia Sinensis leaves are used for the production of our two star, award-winning Japanese Ceremonial Grade Matcha Green Tea Powder. This exquisite and luxurious matcha green tea is meticulously grown, delicately farmed and carefully stone-ground by our exceptionally talented Japanese tea experts from the revered tea district, Ise Bay in Mie Prefecture, Japan. Farmers in Ise Bay have been producing tea for over 800 years and have passed down their ancient knowledge from generation to generation since the 13th century. This is what makes our ceremonial matcha stand out and has ensured its popularity amongst fine foods experts, foodie bloggers and our customer.
Hear from our customers, expert fine food judges from the Guild of Fine Food, Japanese tea connoisseurs and famous foodie bloggers:
"The Tea Makers Ceremonial Grade Matcha is heaven in a tea cup" - Emily, Japanese Tea Connoisseur, Love Japan Magazine
"Amazing!" - Customer, Katia
"A much brighter green" - Customer, Christopher
"Elegantly packaged" - Customer, Matthew
"Great service, lovely tea" - Customer, Lesli
"Truly worth the price" - Customer, Beatrice
"Refreshing" - Customer, Cheryl
"Delicious" - Customer, Katia
"Pure excellence!!!" - Customer, Anoli
"Rounded sweetness" - Guild of Fine Foods
"A pleasure to drink" - Customer, Beatrice
"Dissolves very well" - Customer, Nikki
"The taste is quite exceptional" - Customer, Christopher
"The best Ceremonial Matcha I have tried" - Customer, Anoli
"Very pleasant" - Customer, Cheryl
"Creaminess on the palate" - Guild of Fine Foods
"Excellent to unwind and de-stress" Customer, Clint
"Equivalent to the Matcha I have experienced in Japan" - Cusotmer, Elizabeth
"Very pleased" - Customer, Louise
"Best Matcha by far" Customer, Beatrice
"Great in shakes and smoothies" - Several customers
"Rich and vibrant, gentle sweetness and a deep umami backnote" - Mehreen, Food Blogger, Wrap Your Lips Around This
"It is very pleasant and refreshing and I now drink it daily" - Customer, Cheryl
"No bitter after taste" - Customer, Beatrice
"Great product, A+" - Customer, Matthew
Other matcha teas
Our ceremonial grade Organic Matcha is made using finest hand-picked tea buds. With its vibrant green colour the powder makes a perfect healthy drink which is rich in flavour and has a beautifully fresh aroma.
Organic Japanese Matcha - No. 75
This premium grade matcha is a great option for people who are new to matcha or who want to use it in smoothies and on breakfast cereal.
Standard Grade Japanese Matcha - No. 76
Our Standard Grade Matcha is ideal for use in baking and cooking and comes in a 250g catering pack.