Beyond the Leaf
Matcha is a powdered green tea from Japan. The tea leaves are similar to those grown to make Gyokuro, a high grade tea that is shaded for the last three weeks before plucking. Traditionally, matcha is used during the Japanese Tea Ceremony, along with any array of traditional utensils. While this is not the most popular way to consume matcha in Japan, many tea lovers in the U.S. use this method to enjoy matcha casually at home. Matcha flavored treats like ice cream and chocolate are very common in Japan.
Matcha in 5 Easy Steps
Step 1: Set your table.
Step 2: Measure the matcha.
Using a chashaku (bamboo tea scoop), measure 1 1/2 to 2 scoops of matcha (1 1/2 tsp) into a strainer. Sift into the chawan (matcha bowl).
Step 3: Add water.
Once the matcha is sifted into the bowl, add 1/4 cup of simmering water (160-170 degrees).
Step 4: Whisk the matcha.
Using a chase (bamboo tea whisk), briskly whisk the liquid back and forth in rapid "M" and "W" shapes until bubbles form on the surface.
Step 5: Enjoy!
When the matcha is fully dissolved, remove the whisk from the bowl and enjoy!
Ti Kwan Yin Mother Bush in Anxi, Fujian, China
In the United States we tend to group teas into the categories like black tea, green tea, oolong etc. In China the emphasis is on the specific tea name (often the same as its cultivar) like Rou Gui or Dragonwell, and our definitions of black tea and oolong don’t always translate well.
Statue of Wang Si Nang
For example, in the United States, Ti Kwan Yin would come with the explanation that it is an oolong tea. In China, it is simply (and famously) Ti Kwan Yin. Case in point, I visited a large monument in honor of this plant and Wang Si Nang, the man credited with identifying and propagating Ti Kwan Yin nearly 300 years ago. It is not a monument to oolong tea.
Wang Si Nang’s study
Wang Si Nang was not just a tea farmer, but also a scholar. His study where he prepared for imperial examination is now a museum room containing his portrait and other artifacts. I asked my host, Daniel, about a collection of books under glass, assuming this was Wang Si Nang’s tea journals/notes/diaries. He replied “no” and mentioned that they were books on society and social customs, which was not the answer I was anticipating. He later explained that as a scholar Wang Si Nang was expected to learn the Confucian classics and that tea is a spiritual part of this education, not just an agricultural pursuit.
Case containing classic books on Confucian studies
Ti Kwan Yin is considered one of China’s “10 most famous teas” and the main driver of the Anxi tea economy. According to Daniel, the local farmers were almost too successful, as the terraces of tea fields carving out the sides of the mountains are evidence of the growing demand for their efforts. But this has come with a cost as too many trees have been removed leaving too little shade and inviting too many pests, both of which negatively affect the quality (particularly the aroma) of the finished product. The government has intervened with efforts to stabilize and improve quality. Use of pesticides is strictly regulated and large scale rolling machines are forbidden.
Anxi tea fields
Change happens. We were surrounded by construction that had already long begun to upgrade what used to be a modest shrine with newer, fancier (bigger) facilities. Daniel likes it the way it was and it’s those kinds of sentiments that help me trust him. He also tells me there is an argument that it was Wei Yin, not Wang Si Nang that deserves the credit for Ti Kwan Yin. I like his willingness to share a contrarian point of view while standing on the grounds of a monument. It helps tell the story that tea is not just a beverage.
Outside of Wang Si Nang study
-Michael Lannier, TeaSource
To say tea is ingrained in Japanese culture would be an understatement. Tea came to Japan from China in the eighth century. It continues to be the first point of contact in social situations at home, at work, at a restaurant, you name it. Complimentary green tea is common at most businesses the way coffee or water is offered in the U.S. Tea is everywhere in Japan.
Personal tea accessories are stored in tea caddies
There is a misconception that matcha is the most popular tea in Japan. You are more likely to find matcha flavored snacks and treats instead of the beverage (although it isn't hard to find). The formal Japanese tea ceremony is not a popular endeavor among the younger generation.
Matcha brownie - Get the recipe here
Sencha green tea is the most widely consumed tea in Japan. Rice crackers are a popular snack to serve with tea.
Sencha & rice cracker snacks
Genmaicha, a green tea with toasted and popped rice, is traditionally served cold in the summer in Japan. It has a toasty, refreshing quality that goes down easy on hot, humid days.
Cold brew Genmaicha with rice crackers wrapped in seaweed
TeaSource has been direct sourcing green tea from the Otsuka Green Tea Company in Shizuoka since 2013. Try one of their fantastic teas next time you're planning a gathering with family and friends!
Polar vortex. Arctic invasion. Record-breaking snowfall.
February was a challenging month to say the least. Tea has been a lifesaver for our mental health, physical well-being, and general mood as we live through another Minnesota winter. Now that spring is just a couple weeks away, we thought our tea-loving customers would enjoy something green...and chocolate!
Tips and observations:
- This recipe is quite small, so don't expect to have leftovers!
- The recipe calls for cashews (which we did use) but these are easily left out or substituted.
- We used our ceremonial grade Matcha Usucha in this recipe (recommended). Alternatively, you can use Organic Matcha. Enjoy!
I’m a mom. And it goes without saying that moms everywhere consume caffeine just to get through the day. Tea is my preferred source of caffeine. It doesn’t come with a sugar crash (like soda) and I have never liked coffee (despite my very Lutheran, very Scandinavian upbringing).
Dark Rose comes in approximately 5 gram pressed pieces
Tea keeps me going in a steady, I-can-make-it-until-nap-time kind of way. When you’re juggling a toddler, a newborn, and a full time job, this type of energy is a godsend.
It won’t surprise you to learn that Dark Rose was created by a mom. Ms. Zhang Liu Mei is a respected tea scientist and co-founder of a tea company based in Hunan Province, China. Dark Rose is one of the most popular Dark teas at TeaSource because of her expertise and vision.
Ms. Zhang and her daughter, JoyMs. Zhang visited TeaSource in 2014
I like Dark Rose because it is zero fuss and tastes fantastic. As long as you can manage to boil some water and carve out enough time to drink it, I think you’ll find that it keeps your mind sharp and your heart happy.
-Sarah Cedergren, TeaSource
Do you know a mom in need of a pick-me-up? Give her a TeaSource Gift Card!
Mr. Lin's tea fields
We were atop the highest point for miles around. From here you can see how tea has sculpted the terrain. The vastness is visceral. The drive up here was a bit nerve-wracking to someone conditioned to American roads, but totally worth it (once it’s over). The surrounding fields are the raw materials of Mr. Lin Rui Fu.
Me & Mr. Lin
I struggled to find relevant questions to ask him. Not only was this due to the language barrier, but the cultural barrier that the long history of tea in China casts over an American like me who doesn’t share those kinds of memories. I am also a bit intimidated because I’m clearly impressed by Mr. Lin and don’t want him to think I’m an idiot.
158 year old Huang Jin Gui
He comes from six generations of tea makers and started by helping his father and grandfather at age eleven. He says he grew to love it early on and so he stuck with it. The man he attributes to being his tea teacher is 80 years old and still lives in the village. He says he still talks to him regularly about tea making. Mr. Lin’s own children have decided not to go into the tea business, so he will be the last generation of his family to take this path.
The town of Hu Qiu
When he was young he said food was scarce, but his father always told him that if you work really hard at making tea and develop your skills, you will never go hungry. This advice has worked out rather well for him. He keeps those skills focused on quality and stability, which he attributes to his steady sales. He says he loses customers sometimes because of the recent trend in favor of greener, more aromatic Ti Kwan Yin. He prefers to make the more traditional styles that involve less withering and more baking to get a stronger, deeper flavor. He tells me the customers come back…eventually.Mr. Lin’s factory
He has no brand. There are no logos on anything to represent his work. But he has built a good reputation and is proud of it. When talking about his preference for manual labor and natural fertilizers as opposed to using chemicals he was quick to add, “And that’s not bullshit!” – wanting to emphasize the commitment to quality, not marketing. He says the challenge now is that the market price is low for Anxi tea compared to its earlier peak when Ti Kwan Yin was the darling tea of China. Many tea farms are being abandoned. He admitted he is not making his highest quality tea at the moment since there is no demand for the price he must charge. But mid-level priced tea still sells very well. Evidence his father’s advice is paying off.
Mr. Lin checking out the tea
My host, Daniel, frequently says Mr. Lin is “not afraid” to try certain plucking or baking techniques that are riskier, but can yield better results. Though I can only communicate with Mr. Lin through Daniel, this “not afraid” quality clearly stood out to me. He puts up no pretenses. It could all be an act, but I doubt it.
-Michael Lannier, TeaSource