Matcha Explained

Matcha Explained

What is matcha?

Simply put, matcha is stone-milled powdered green tea, but there’s so much more to it than that! matcha is the ceremonial and highly prized tea of the Japanese. They have been making and drinking matcha for decades, originally thanks to Zen Buddhist monks who drank it as a health elixir that helped with long periods of meditation.

What does it taste like?
Matcha has a savoury, grassy / vegetal taste with some natural sweetness, good acidity, a creamy mouth feel, and a long, lingering finish. It is best described by the Japanese word ‘umami’, which is considered the fifth basic taste descriptor after bitter, sweet, salty and sour. Umami means ‘pleasantly savoury’. In my view, matcha is one of the most unique flavour sensations you can experience.

Is matcha all the same?
No it's not. There's ceremonial matcha and culinary matcha.  If you’re going to drink matcha on its own, buy high quality matcha so you can really appreciate it. For cooking or using in drinks like smoothies or lattes, the mid or lower grade, less expensive matcha will do fine.

Why drink it?
It has incredible superfood-style benefits, it tastes delicious, and it can put you in a long state of relaxed concentration, thanks to its unique properties. For these reasons, it’s a great and healthy drink and an effective alternative to coffee.

How is matcha made?
Matcha is made differently to other teas and just like fine wine, diversity of flavour comes down to terroir and production. During cultivation, tea plants are gradually shaded from sunlight with netting, over a period of weeks until they grow in near darkness. To compensate for the lack of light the plants increase their production of chlorophyll and amino acids, so the tea leaves end up rich in nutrients and vibrant in colour. For premium quality matcha, only the youngest and very best leaves from the top of the plant are used. They are hand picked, steamed, dried, graded, de-stemmed, de-veined and ground in a stone-mill, which produces an incredibly fine, emerald green coloured powder. The colour of uber premium matcha is so electric and unreal it’s almost off the colour charts. For mid-quality matcha, the colour isn’t as bright and can be more of an army green colour.

How do you drink it?
Place 1 or 2 scoops (about 1g or 1/2tsp) of matcha into a bowl, pour hot (not boiling) water in (about 1/3 or 1/2 a cup), and then whisk (see below) in a ‘W’ shape motion until there is a layer of froth and tiny bubbles on the surface. Then sip straight from the bowl. The amount of matcha or water will vary depending on the individual and what style of matcha is being made – thin matcha (usucha) or thick matcha (koicha). Matcha can also be enjoyed with milk and turned into a latte. Try it with almond milk – the flavours are complementary and almond milk is thick and creamy.

What tools do you need?
A small bowl (chawan), a scoop (chashaku) and bamboo whisk (chosen). You can find these online or in a tea store. Some people use a sifter (furui) for the powder as it goes into the bowl to ensure it’s smooth. You could use a hand held milk frother if you feel your whisking technique is subpar or if you’re going to add milk. Good if you’re time poor but it takes some of the beauty and tradition out of the ritual of making a bowl of matcha.

How else can you enjoy matcha?
Once upon a time you’d only see matcha in ice cream at your local Japanese restaurant, however now it’s being added to all sorts of drinks and foods, both savoury and sweet.  There’s some recipe inspiration here and here.

Why is matcha so healthy?
It's full of a host of essential vitamins, minerals, fibre, amino acids, protein and matcha has a huge dose of antioxidants in it - shockingly more than lauded superfoods, such as blueberries, goji berries or dark chocolate. There’s also a ‘next level’ part to the story. Normally when drinking green tea we steep the leaves, drink the liquid and discard the leaves. However not all the nutrients in the tea leaves are released into the tea during steeping. With matcha, because the tea leaves are ground into a powder the entire leaf is ingested and nothing is lost, so you’re getting a mega hit of green tea goodness, which is said to be equivalent to drinking 10 cups of regular green tea.

What are the health benefits of matcha?
It is reported that matcha has the ability to increase sustained energy, improve mental alertness, boost metabolic rate, lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol and stabilise blood sugar levels.  It’s said to be a strong detoxifier and blood cleanser with anti-biotic, anti-viral, anti-aging and cancer fighting properties. Here’s some further reading here and here on the benefits. I specifically use it when I need to write, study or concentrate on work for a long period of time.

How much should I drink?
Everything in moderation! As a small bowl of matcha is equivalent to multiple cups of green tea you don’t need a lot to get the benefits. One or two serves per day is enough. I personally love it at the key times of day I need an energy boost - first thing in the morning or mid-late afternoon.

Does matcha contain caffeine?
Yes it does - 1g of matcha contains 25-35mg of caffeine. How does this compare to coffee? The claims on this vary so wildly I could not make sense of them, so I can’t give you anything credible. What’s important to know is that the caffeine is released in a different way to coffee, thanks to the presence of L-theanine. It’s released slowly over a number of hours, which results in sustained energy and alertness, without the highs, lows or jitters of coffee. It’s also not addictive like coffee and you won’t get withdrawals from it.

Is there Australian matcha?
No one in Australia is making matcha from Australian green tea.  Production of matcha is difficult and requires tea plants to be cultivated in a very specific way, which is currently not practiced here.  Also, there are no mills in Australia to process the tea. Just taking normal tea leaves and grinding them down to a powder won’t produce the unique flavour or exquisite quality of matcha.

Where can I get matcha?
You can order our Matcha Genmaicha tea here. We added matcha to our genmaicha green tea for depth of flavour and added health benefits. We don't sell matcha on it's own as a powder. Having travelled to Japan regularly over the past few years, I’ve always bough matcha straight from source, however they’re some Australian and US brands selling matcha online if you check Google. 

Where does Perfect South matcha come from?
Our matcha comes from Kagoshima, mainland Japan’s southern most Prefecture on the island of Kyushu, which sits on the south-westerner tip of Japan.

Why does matcha cost more than regular green tea?
Matcha is a handmade artisan tea, produced using techniques that have been perfected over hundreds of years. It requires a high degree of skill and it’s incredibly labour intensive. And, most matcha produced is consumed in Japan, so it’s in high demand.

I hope you've found this introduction to matcha useful! Here's a great article for further reading also.