My GLORIOUS Citizens! The latest Revolutionary communiqué from the Pasha of Podcasts – YOUR TFD! – has just gone live on all major platforms for your listening pleasure! Marvel at the accumulated wisdom of Eric Gower, founder of Breakaway Matcha, purveyors of the world’s finest Japanese green tea to a range of 2- and 3-Star Michelin restaurants throughout the SF Bay Area! Not familiar with matcha? Never fear, here are the basic details to get you started before checking out the podcast! Matcha (抹茶) is the finely-ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea leaves, traditionally consumed in East Asia.
The green tea plants used for matcha are shade-grown for three to four weeks before harvest; the stems and veins are removed during processing. During shaded growth, the plant Camellia sinensis produces more theanine and caffeine. The powdered form of matcha is consumed differently from tea leaves or tea bags, as it is suspended in a liquid, typically water or milk.
The traditional Japanese tea ceremony centers on the preparation, serving, and drinking of matcha as hot tea, and embodies a meditative spirituality. In modern times, matcha is also used to flavor and dye foods, such as mochi and soba noodles, green tea ice cream, matcha lattes, and a variety of Japanese wagashi confectionery. Matcha used in ceremonies is referred to as ceremonial-grade, meaning that the powder is of a high enough quality to be used in the tea ceremony. Lower-quality matcha is referred to as culinary-grade, but no standard industry definition or requirements exist for matcha.
Blends of matcha are given poetic names known as chamei (“tea names”) either by the producing plantation, shop, or creator of the blend, or by the grand master of a particular tea tradition. When a blend is named by the grand master of a tea ceremony lineage, it becomes known as the master’s konomi.
In China during the Tang dynasty (618–907), tea leaves were steamed and formed into tea bricks for storage and trade. The tea was prepared by roasting and pulverizing the tea, decocting the resulting tea powder in hot water, and then adding salt. During the Song dynasty (960–1279), the method of making powdered tea from steam-prepared dried tea leaves and preparing the beverage by whipping the tea powder and hot water together in a bowl became popular. Preparation and consumption of powdered tea was formed into a ritual by Chan Buddhists. The earliest extant Chan monastic code, titled Chanyuan Qinggui (Rules of Purity for the Chan Monastery, 1103), describes in detail the etiquette for tea ceremonies.
Zen Buddhism and methods of preparing powdered tea were brought to Japan by Eisai in 1191. In Japan, it became an important item at Zen monasteries and from the 14th through the 16th centuries was highly appreciated by members of the upper echelons of society. A growing interest in powdered tea and consumption of matcha globally has fuelled a growing resurgence in China where it has not been popular for some time.
Prior to use, the matcha often is forced through a sieve to break up clumps. Special sieves are available for this purpose, which are usually stainless steel and combine a fine wire-mesh sieve and a temporary storage container. A special wooden spatula is used to force the tea through the sieve, or a small, smooth stone may be placed on top of the sieve and the device shaken gently. If the sieved matcha is to be served at a Japanese tea ceremony, then it will be placed into a small tea caddy known as a chaki. Otherwise, it can be scooped directly from the sieve into a chawan.
About 2-4g of matcha is placed into the bowl, traditionally using a bamboo scoop called a chashaku, and then about 60–80 ml of hot water are added. While other fine Japanese teas such as gyokuro are prepared using water cooled as low as 40 °C, in Japan matcha is commonly prepared with water just below the boiling point, although temperatures as low as 70–85 °C or 158–185 °F are similarly recommended.
The mixture of water and tea powder is whisked to a uniform consistency, using a bamboo whisk known as a chasen. No lumps should be left in the liquid, and no ground tea should remain on the sides of the bowl. Because matcha may be bitter, it is traditionally served with a small wagashi sweet (intended to be consumed before drinking), but without added milk or sugar. It usually is considered that 40 g of matcha provides for 20 bowls of usucha or 10 bowls of koicha.
The two main ways of preparing matcha are thin (薄茶, usucha) and the less common thick (濃茶, koicha) – TFD STRONGLY prefers his prepared in the thick style.
Usucha, or thin tea, is prepared with about 1.75 g (amounting to 1.5 heaping chashaku scoop, or about half a teaspoon) of matcha and about 75 ml (2.5 oz) of hot water per serving, which can be whisked to produce froth or not, according to the drinker’s preference (or to the traditions of the particular school of tea). Usucha creates a lighter and slightly more bitter tea. Koicha, or thick tea, requires significantly more matcha (usually about doubling the powder and halving the water): about 3.75 g (amounting to 3 heaping chashaku scoops, or about one teaspoon) of matcha and 40 ml (1.3 fl oz) of hot water per serving, or as many as 6 teaspoons to 3⁄4 cup of water.
Because the resulting mixture is significantly thicker (with a similar consistency to liquid honey), blending it requires a slower, stirring motion that does not produce foam (unless you do as Eric and I do – use an electric milk foamer!). Koicha is normally made with more expensive matcha from older tea trees (exceeding 30 years), thus, produces a milder and sweeter tea than usucha; it is served almost exclusively as part of Japanese tea ceremonies.
Now that you have the basics in place – trust in Me, by the end of this fascinating podcast, you will become a veritable matcha expert as you revel in TFD’s dulcet tones and magnificent radio voice plus Eric’s unmatched knowledge! Try enjoying a soothing cup of ceremonial matcha as you read my own personal book of haikus (Japanese poems) currently available for just 99 cents here on Amazon as a celebration of this post or enjoy it as a complement to this delicious Japanese bamboo shoot salad!
I HAVE SPOKEN (quite literally, in this case!).
Battle on – the Generalissimo
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