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Matcha, the focal point of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, is a fine powder made by grinding green tea leaves. Only the finest, young, shade-grown gyokuro tea leaves are used to create matcha. The leaves are plucked and laid out flat to dry. Veins are removed and the leaves, now called tencha, are carefully ground in granite mills until they become the precious powder. Easy preparation is achieved by placing 1 teaspoon of matcha per cup (or to taste) in a cup, adding a few drops of hot water (160-180F) and stirring with a spoon until a paste forms. Add the rest of the water and stir.
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.
Matcha is best enjoyed as soon as possible after its production. Since matcha is a ground tea, any exposure to oxygen will immediately start to degrade the color and flavor of tea. If stored sealed in a cool, dark place it can stay fresh for several weeks and up to a few months (unlike dried tea leaves which can last for up to a year or two). To ensure you’re getting a fresh matcha worth sipping, buy it from a reputable company that can tell you when and how the tea was processed and packaged. Ask your tea purveyor for directions on how to brew the best cup of that particular variety of matcha.
It’s become such a fashionable beverage that, last summer, the New York Post ran a story about how Victoria’s Secret models were flocking to Cha Cha Matcha, a hipster spot fluent in the preparation of various matcha-based miracle potions. A search for where to get “matcha” in New York, New York on Yelp yielded some 1400 plus results. Even mass market coffee purveyors like Starbucks have made matcha their mantra, with a vast range of offerings to cash in on the craze.
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