Tea is richly steeped in culture (pun intended), and matcha is no different. For hundreds of years, matcha has been a deeply spiritual element of Japanese culture.
Whether you want to make a culturally-minded cuppa or connect with your tea’s ancient roots, we’ve got you covered. Here is our guide on how to make a culturally-informed cup of matcha.
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What Is Matcha?
You may have heard that matcha is powdered green tea, which is technically true. However, matcha’s creation is a little more complex than that.
Like green tea, matcha comes from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. However, tea plants that are used to make matcha are grown a little differently from other green tea plants.
Matcha tea plants are grown in the shade to help boost caffeine and antioxidant content. When the leaves are harvested, they’re steamed and oxidized just like green tea leaves. The tea plant goes through three harvesting periods, but matcha leaves are always the first to be harvested.
Once the leaves are ready, the whole leaf and stem are ground into a fine powder. Other green teas don’t use the leaf stem, so matcha has considerably more nutrients than green tea.
Besides having more caffeine than a shot of espresso, matcha is rich in a potent antioxidant called EGCG. Out of all the antioxidants in matcha, EGCG is the most powerful.
Matcha also contains an amino acid called L-theanine, which has been shown to promote feelings of relaxation and mental focus. This amino acid works in a unique synergy with caffeine to help you get the most out of your energy boost.
As with all teas, the caffeine in matcha is absorbed differently than the caffeine in coffee to provide a less jittery feeling and avoid a caffeine crash.
History and Culture of Matcha
Matcha originated in China, where Buddhist monks used to drink this powerful tea to help boost their focus during meditations. However, in the 13th century, matcha entered Japan.
At first, Japanese matcha was exclusively enjoyed by Japanese monks. As talk spread of this delicious drink, matcha began to trickle down into even the lower social classes. Soon, matcha was a revered part of daily life.
Matcha eventually became an important element of the Japanese tea ceremony. This ceremony began in the 13th century as matcha first began to take root outside the monasteries.
The Japanese tea ceremony has changed little over the years. At first, it was a way for the Japanese upper-class to display culture and poise among their fellow elites.
In a traditional tea ceremony, guests would walk through pristinely maintained zen gardens and enter a special tea house. The tea house consisted of one room that was sparsely decorated, save for some floral arrangements and painted scrolls.
The host would then prepare the matcha and serve it in bowls. Once served, the guests would drink their tea and contemplate their oneness with nature and with each other. The tea ceremony is a detailed ode to enlightenment and spirituality.
Equipment for Making Matcha
Nowadays, there are quite a few ways to make matcha. However, the process of making traditional matcha requires a few key utensils.
First, you’ll need a matcha tea bowl. This bowl is also called chawan and can be made from porcelain, metal, wood, or stone.
Japanese culture highly reveres the art style known as wabi-sabi, which highlights imperfection and rustic craftsmanship. Traditional matcha bowls made in this style should be simple and irregular, such as our Pastel Glaze Matcha Bowl. Made in the traditional style, no two of our bowls are alike (except for all of them being equally beautiful, of course).
You’ll also need a bamboo whisk known as a chasen. This whisk is made specifically to froth the matcha powder so that you get a nice and thick drink. If you’re preparing matcha according to the traditional style, you’ll also need a wooden spoon called a chashaku.
Finally, you’ll of course need the typical tea implements: kettles, hot water, and the like.
How to Make Matcha
Before we get into matcha recipes, you’ll need to choose what type of matcha powder you’d like to use. There are actually three grades of matcha, which all have different uses.
Culinary matcha or cooking matcha is lower-quality matcha that is well suited for cooking. This type of matcha can be pretty bitter when tried on its own, so it’s wonderful as an ingredient in baking or smoothies.
Premium matcha is in the middle. It’s finer than culinary matcha and can be enjoyed on its own, but it still carries a bit of bitterness. Because of this, we recommend premium matcha for matcha lattes or other matcha drinks.
The finest matcha is ceremonial grade matcha. This matcha is made with only the highest-quality leaves, and the leaves are often hand-picked and inspected for quality.
This matcha has a slightly vegetal taste but is also deliciously sweet and tastes amazing on its own or mixed into other recipes. Ceremonial matcha is also known for its vibrant green color, which is diluted in lesser grades.
To make traditional matcha green tea, pour the recommended amount of matcha green tea powder into the bottom of your tea bowl (or cup, if you’re taking a modern approach). Pour in a little bit of hot water, and set your matcha whisk to work.
It’s important to note here that you shouldn’t whisk in a circular motion, as this might prevent your matcha from foaming. Instead, whisk in a zigzag pattern or up and down for nice, thick matcha.
Once the tea is foamy, you’re all set! Including prep time, the total time for making traditional matcha should be around five minutes.
You can add milk and sweetener if you would like, but this traditional Japanese green tea is enjoyed on its own. If you do like to add milk to your tea, then this next recipe is for you!
To make a matcha latte, whip yourself up some concentrated hot matcha using the above recipe and top it off with the milk of your choice. We like using dairy milk, almond milk, or oat milk for our lattes.
Get your milk all nice and foamy with your milk frother, and you’re good to go! As a bonus, you can use ice cubes and cold milk to make yourself an iced matcha latte.
While you don’t need a sweetener for a latte, we love to add a little something sweet to help balance the umami flavor. Our favorite sweeteners are simple syrup, maple syrup, and honey.
Tips to Stay Culturally Minded
When drinking a cup of tea, it’s important to be conscious of that tea’s history and where it came from. Just by drinking your daily cuppa, you’re connected to a long chain of history and culture!
Although matcha comes in a lot of shapes and sizes now, we recommend taking a brief pause during your cup of tea to appreciate the culture that brought us matcha. One of the ways you can do this is by briefly meditating as the Japanese monks once did.
To do this, simply sip your matcha and take a moment to think. We like to think about our day, our goals, and our personal growth. You can also practice some deep breathing to stay zen.
Summing It Up
Matcha is a powdered form of green tea with multiple health benefits that, when combined with boiling water, creates a powerful and delicious drink. While matcha originated in China, it is culturally well-known as a fixture in the Japanese tea ceremony.
To make traditional matcha, simply combine the powder with some hot water and whisk until frothy. There are also tons of fun matcha recipes to try as well! If you’d like to get creative with matcha, check out our matcha recipes and let us know what you think on social media!
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