Friday, October 18, 2013

Matcha Tea

Last night, Seth and I went to an event at UMass's Fine Arts Center titled, Matcha: Japan's Elite Green Tea. There was an hour-long talk with slide slow followed by an excellent matcha tasting. The presentation was led by the owners of Tea Trekker, my favorite tea store. 

The talk was excellent! It covered the history and (vastly specific and detailed) process of making matcha. There was also discussion of the place matcha holds in Japanese tea ceremony and culture. While the Japanese got the idea of matcha (and drinking other powdered tea in general) from China, the Japanese have been unique in their incorporation of matcha into tea culture and their persistance in drinking all types of powdered tea, including matcha. 

The presentation featured many beautiful pictures of Japanese tea gardens and matcha bowls. It made Seth want to go to Japan even more!

The talk also discussed what makes matcha unique. Matcha is a powdered tea, but not all powdered tea is matcha. For a powdered tea to be matcha, it has to be grown, mature, and processed in a very specific way. There is a great deal if misunderstanding about what matcha is, and the people of Tea Trekker were very passionate in saying how it would make sense for matcha to become a protected product. This would mean that because the way matcha is made is so unique, only true matcha, prepared appropriately, would be allowed to be called matcha. (As opposed to now, where many non-matcha powdered teas are being called matcha.) This would be analogous to the protection granted champagne, which can only be called champagne if prepared in a particular way. Other sparkling beverages are not allowed to be called champagne. Actually, the Tea Trekker blog has a great article about real matcha. 

After the talk, we were treated to a tea tasting! Tea Trekker is now sourcing their own matcha, and have two varieties to offer, both of which we tasted.

To prepare matcha, first one sifts matcha through a strainer to get rid of the clumps. Second, one adds water (3 ounces to one teaspoon of matcha) and whisks the matcha. This is often done in a matcha bowl using a traditional bamboo whisk.

The first was a traditional matcha. From year to year, matcha producers save a bit of the previous batch of matcha and then add the new matcha to it. This is the way that they control the taste of their matcha for consistency so that when a buyer gets a new tin of matcha their taste buds are not "shocked." I really loved this matcha. It had a lovely full flavor in the mouth, was very creamy feeling, and tasted nice and grassy. As with all matcha, it was a beautiful color.

The second matcha we tried was called Shincha matcha. This matcha was created just from the first plucked leaves of the spring. It had a slightly lighter taste than the traditional matcha and was much more floral smelling in my opinion. I found it slightly more astringent than the traditional matcha but Seth found it much more delightful. Maybe my taste buds were too shocked.

One thing I noticed was that I have definitely been missing a key step in my matcha preparations. I do not have a sift and sometimes get slight clumps when I prepare my matcha. The sifting seemed to make a huge difference. I am eager to get a sifter and start doing this key step.

This was an amazing lecture and tasting. We had a great time. Everything I heard made me even more eager to attend a Japanese tea ceremony. Mount Holyoke offers the opportunity to attend an educational Japanese tea ceremony with a tea master that is on staff there. We definitely will have to make plans to have that wonderful experience soon!

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