It is said the Zen priest Eisai (pictured right) brought tea seeds to Kyoto in 1191 and popularized the consumption of powdered tea. It wasn’t until the fifteenth century that a new culture around tea evolved into the modern tea ceremony known as Chanoyu (literally translated “hot water for tea”). The tea ceremony is an extremely structured and studied ritual that embodies many philosophical, artistic, and aesthetic concepts unique to Japanese culture.
Uses For Matcha
Traditionally, a powdered green tea called matcha is used during the tea ceremony, along with an array of traditional utensils. Matcha can also be prepared casually and is often used in recipes for ice cream, chocolate, and smoothies. The tea ceremony is just one way to appreciate the act of making and serving matcha, but it is by no means the only way.
Matcha is made from the tea leaves similar to those grown to make Gyokuro, a high grade tea that is shaded for the last three weeks before plucking. The shading causes the plant to produce more chlorophyll, giving both the leaf and the liquor a brilliant emerald color. These leaves are then stone ground into a powder to make matcha. High grade matcha steeps up sweet and slightly bitter with a taste of the sea. Japanese teas are distinct for three main reasons: they are machine harvested, they are often shaded before plucking (though not always), and they are steamed instead of fired.
How Do I Make Matcha?
It is not difficult to make matcha at home using the traditional utensils. In fact, it affords an opportunity to develop a ritual of your own. You do not have to be a tea master to enjoy preparing matcha.
Here’s what you’ll need to get started.
-Bamboo tea scoop
-Bamboo tea whisk
-Ceremonial grade matcha
- Heat the tea bowl with a small amount of hot water, the same way you would warm a teapot.
- Using a bamboo scoop, measure two heaping scoops (0.75 grams) into your tea bowl. (NOTE: It is important to sift the matcha through a strainer to remove any clumps.)
- Heat your water to a rolling boil and add a small amount of cold water to bring the temperature down to 175 – 185 degrees.
- Measure approximately ¼ cup of water and pour it into the bowl.
- Whisk the matcha vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Small bubbles will start to appear on the top of the liquid. TIP: The whisking action comes from the wrist; your arm should not move at all. Make “M” or “W” shapes with the whisk, careful not to let it touch the bottom of the bowl. This will fully aerate the tea as it dissolves.
“Yet what is truly amazing is that nothing special or extraordinary takes place. The host and guests simply engage in the act of making and drinking tea. But it is this act that is important, for in the smallness of the tea room, the whole universe – heaven, earth, and life itself – can be evoked.” -Yasushi Inoue