On this episode of Consumed, host and Eater Drinks editor Kat Odell looks into the matcha production process — how it differs from that of more traditional steeped green tea, and how two of New York's noted matcha purveyors (Ippodo Tea Company and Matchabar) are working with the product today. Watch the video above for a lesson in powdered green tea; if your interest is piqued, check this map for the best places to drink matcha across the country, and these recipes for making iced matcha drinks at home, perfect for the summer.
Matcha (抹茶, Japanese pronunciation pronounced [mat.tɕa], English /ˈmætʃə/[i]) is finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea leaves. It is special in two aspects of farming and processing: the green tea plants for matcha are shade-grown for about three weeks before harvest and the stems and veins are removed in 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, and is dissolved in a liquid, typically water or milk.
Ready to unwind for the evening? Nothing does the job better than a warm cup of 310 detox tea to help you digest after dinner and get you in a nice, relaxed state before bedtime. Though 310 Tea does contain some natural caffeine, it is such a tiny amount (22.7mg compared to 95mg in the average cup of coffee), that many people can have it at night and it does not affect their sleep.
To make green tea, the leaves are quickly steamed or heated to stop oxidation, the chemical process that causes browning. To make black tea, the leaves are crushed, torn, curled, or rolled and allowed to oxidize before being dried. This additional processing step degrades some of the flavonoids. As a result, black tea has slightly lower amounts of flavonoids than green tea.
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, and decocting the resulting tea powder in hot water, 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.
In 2004, scientists at the University of Newcastle studied the effects of black and green tea on Alzheimer’s disease. In laboratory studies, both teas prevented the breakdown of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter strongly linked with memory. The teas also inhibited enzymes known as BuChE and beta-secretase. These enzymes are found in protein deposits found in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients. (7)
For centuries, burdock has been used therapeutically in parts of Asia, Europe, and North America. A known diuretic, it stimulates digestion and can be used to treat kidney and liver ailments. Research has shown that compounds in the root contain antidiabetic and antioxidant qualities, and it also helps to promote blood circulation on the skin’s surface, which improves skin texture and helps to prevent eczema.
Green tea is a longtime treasure of China and Japan that is gaining popularity in America. It’s easy to understand why: the best green tea leaves are heated or steamed right after harvest, preserving their all-natural flavor and resulting in a nourishing beverage containing antioxidants. With about half the caffeine of black tea, you get the health benefits of green tea in every gentle cup. You can buy green teas in either loose-leaf or green tea bags.
The leaves are used to make a herbal tea that is called by the names: rooibos, bush tea (especially in Southern Africa), or redbush tea (predominantly in Great Britain). The tea has been popular in Southern Africa for generations, but is now consumed in many countries worldwide. It is sometimes spelled rooibosch in accordance with the original Dutch. The tea has a taste and color somewhat similar to hibiscus tea, or an earthy flavor like yerba mate.
Culinary grade: Culinary grade matcha has a more robust, astringent flavor that can stand up to other ingredients its paired with. It may include ground leaves that still had some stems and veins attached, it may be a slightly duller green than ceremonial grade, and it may often include a mix of matcha powder from several sources. Culinary grade can still be whisked into tea and sipped; in fact, it’s a great matcha to mix with milk for lattes or spirits for cocktails. It’s also a bit less expensive so it’s more affordable to stock as a cooking ingredient.
But matcha didn’t skyrocket to celeb status on health merits alone. As we said back in 2011, wheatgrass is healthy, too, but we’re not seeing it in every other bakery and café. Matcha has flavor going for it—grassy, pleasantly vegetal, and slightly bitter—and a brilliant natural color that makes baked goods (like rainbow cookies) stand out from the crowd in busy bakeries (and on Instagram).
Premium grade: High-quality matcha green tea that contains the full nutritional content and uses tea leaves from the top of the tea plant. Price point (~$50–80 for 100g). Best for daily consumption and contains the full range of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Is characterized by a fresh, subtle flavour. Usually perfect for both new and everyday matcha drinkers alike.
In China though, the term black tea or dark tea typically refers to a tea that we call Pu-erh in the United States. This tea is fermented anywhere between 2 weeks to two months and then aged for 2 months to 20+ years in order to create dark black leaves and a dark color to the brew. In this fermentation process the leaves are intentionally kept damp to encourage good microbes and bacteria to slowly oxidize and ferment the leaves. This is distinguished from red tea which typically only takes about 6-10 hours to oxidize. Pu-erh tea typically has a strong fermentation taste but high quality pu-erh should not taste overly earthy as this is a sign of low quality production techniques.
Neither red nor black tea is to be confused with Rooibos, often called “Red Bush Tea” or “Rea Tea” for short. Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) is a South African plant that is a member of the legume family and is not related to the tea plant (Camellia sinensis). Rooibos has a very different taste and feel than red (or black!) tea, it is much sweeter and lighter than black tea, although it is often mixed with sugar and cream or a lemon as you might find heavy black tea drinking countries such as England or the United States.
Since green tea is less oxidized than its black tea cousin, it is technically fresher and more delicate, so it should be consumed more quickly for maximum flavor. Green tea is best consumed within six months to a year of purchase. You should also take care to store your green tea in a cool, dark place, away from light, oxygen, moisture and fragrant pantry companions like coffee or spices.