Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tea, the Blessed Elixir: Matcha at First Sip

"When tea becomes ritual, it takes place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things."
-- Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (one of my favorite books)

The girls and I were at the mall a couple of days ago and stopped in at one of our favorite stores, Teavana. Since we visit the mall a handful of times per year, we stocked up on an old favorite blend of ours, Youthberry and Orange Blossom, and we tried a new herbal tea: Citrus-Lavender-Sage. They were holding a sale on all tea accoutrements. I've been interested in trying real matcha tea, so I purchased an Imperial Matcha Collection, which included a tin of ceremonial matcha tea powder, a bowl (chawan), and a whisk (chasen), at a 75 percent discount. Yay!

Matcha, in case this is new to you, "refers to finely-milled green tea, most popular in Japan. The cultural activity called the Japanese tea ceremony centers on the preparation, serving, and drinking of matcha. . . . Matcha is a fine ground, powdered, high quality green tea and not the same as tea powder or green tea powder" (Wikipedia article).

Following the directions on the tin, I mixed one teaspoon of matcha with eight ounces of hot water. Then I whisked it until frothy-ish. I don't think I whisked it long or briskly enough, though. Next time I'll put more effort into it.

I was surprised at the bright green color and opaque quality of the prepared tea.

According to the Wikipedia article, matcha comes from shade-grown tea leaves; the tea bushes are covered to protect the leaves from direct sunlight. After harvesting, the leaves are laid out flat to dry. They are then called tencha (碾茶). The tencha is deveined, destemmed, and stone ground to powder (matcha).

Looking for more info, I hopped onto Teavana's matcha webpage. You can see a photo of matcha in its powder form there. Apparently, the directions on the tin are the "contemporary brewing" method, which produces a thin tea (usucha). The traditional preparation calls for one teaspoon of matcha to four ounces of hot water, resulting in a thicker tea called koicha.

Matcha is touted for its health benefits, including fiber, antioxidants, and amino acids. But I must be honest; its flavor did not knock my socks off. Teavana describes matcha as having a "smooth, complex vegetal flavor with a full palette and a silky finish." I can attest to the vegetal character. Spinach came to mind. I actually like spinach, both cooked and raw. (In fact, I regularly add raw spinach to my breakfast smoothies, along with the yogurt, water, and frozen fruit.) The "vegetality" of the matcha didn't disgust me; however, it's not something I've come to expect or anticipate in my tea.

So I added some sugar, which improved it immensely.

Will matcha replace my favorite brew? Nope. But I enjoyed learning about it. And I can always spoon some into my smoothie.

One more thing occured to me. As I stood in my twenty-first-century American kitchen, heating water, carefully measuring, and whisking my new chasen, I thought about a Zen tea master -- who had trained for years -- presiding over a somber tea ceremony in  fifteenth-century Japan. We couldn't have been more different, he and I. But my actions, a mere shadow of his ritual, served as a sort of thread connecting me with the tea master in my imagination.


  1. I have matcha, but no whisk. I must remedy this situation soon. I enjoy a vegetal taste to my green tea, and never add sugar, but it's an acquired taste to be sure.

  2. Just came across your lovely blog here! I would love to get some matcha , the japanese tea ceremony is a beautiful and interesting part of their culture. My son has been interested in Japan since he was a tiny tot and plans on going to live there someday.

    Look forward to catching up on your posts here!

  3. Interesting! When I saw the photos (I look before reading generally) I immediately thought of spinach :) My dh bought me a juicer for Christmas 2010 and spinach was one of the first veggies put through it :)
    Hmm, now I'm interested to try some different teas. Thank you for the informative post; love the language lesson you've incorporated!


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