Few things compare to the peaceful ritual of preparing the perfect cup of tea.
Matcha, in particular, has the western world smitten by its sweet and earthy flavor, palatability and promises of so many health benefits.
It’s no secret that matcha has become the beverage of choice for those of us trying to cut down on coffee consumption and still enjoy the benefits of caffeine in our diets (think: improvements in attention, reaction time and memory). Although matcha does contain caffeine (35mg per half teaspoon to be exact) it also contains a compound called L-theanine. Not found in coffee, this compound alters the effects of caffeine, promoting alertness and avoiding the typical post-coffee “crash” that’s become so familiar to so many of us.
Perhaps most enticing to consumers is the antioxidant-rich nature of this delicious and ancient beverage. Antioxidants help stabilize harmful free radicals in the body, which are compounds that can damage cells and result in chronic diseases, like cancer.
Green teas in general are packed with catechins, a class of plant compounds that act as antioxidants. The number of catechins found in matcha is up to 137 times greater than in other types of green tea, making it a drink of choice for those interested in lowering their risk of chronic disease.
Unsurprisingly, Americans have taken this tradition-turned-trend and infused the flavor into countless food and household items — think donuts, ice cream, candles, even skincare products. For all the Instagram-worthy ways Americans are consuming this ancient Japanese tea, very little matcha is finding its way into traditional tea bowls; prepared and drunk the way it’s been intended for hundreds of years.
Let’s demystify this historic beverage, cut through ill-informed trends and break down sanctioned matcha preparation step by step.
Koicha and Usucha: The Two Styles of Matcha Tea
Matcha is prepared in one of two styles, dependent on the matcha to water ratio as well, as the tea grade. Koicha, which translates literally to “thick tea,” is the green tea of choice in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies and is much sweeter and potent than its alternative.
Usucha, meaning “thin tea” is more subtle in flavor and viscosity and is recommended for beginner and everyday consumption. Keep in mind that you can play with the guidelines, ingredients and ratios to find the consistency and flavor most satisfying for your specific palate.
What You’ll Need
- Chawan (tea bowl)
- Chasen (bamboo tea whisk) or small kitchen whisk
- Chashaku (tea scoop) or regular teaspoon
- Chakin (linen tea cloth) or regular dish towel
- Matcha Sifter (optional, but recommended)
- Matcha Powder (the tea grade will be different depending on whether you’re making Koicha or Usucha so make sure to purchase your powder accordingly.)
- Liquid measuring cup
1. Preheat your tea bowl by filling it roughly ⅓ full with hot water. Place the tea whisk face down into the water to wet and warm the prongs. Let the bowl and whisk sit for about 3-5 minutes, empty the water, and thoroughly dry the bowl using your tea cloth or dish towel.
2. Place your whisk to the side, and, using your liquid measuring cup, carefully measure out 70ml of boiling or nearly boiling water for Usucha or 40ml for Koicha. Set the water aside to cool.
3. Using your tea scoop or teaspoon to measure out the matcha powder, dump two heaping scoops for Usucha, and 3-4 heaping scoops for Koicha into your tea bowl. If your matcha powder is at all clumpy or not already pre-sifted, it’s recommended to sift the powder before measuring it out to remove any unwanted clumps of product.
4. Take the temperature of your pre-measured hot water using your tea thermometer. The water should have cooled to between 70°C(158°F) and 80°C(176°F). Once the water has reached optimal temperature, carefully pour it into your tea bowl.
5. Hold the whisk in your dominant hand and grip the rim of the matcha bowl with the other.
If you’re making Usucha, whisk vigorously in a “W” motion, taking care to use your wrist, rather than your arm, to create the movement. Whisk for roughly 30 seconds to one minute, or until the tea forms a substantial froth with hundreds of tiny bubbles at the surface.
When preparing Koicha, a slow and deliberate left-to-right, up-and-down stroke while rotating the bowl slowly 360 degrees will help maintain the syrupy consistency you’re looking for. Your result should be thick, smooth and without bubbles or froth.
For the most authentic, full-sensory experience, sip mindfully, directly from the bowl.
Like any practice, preparing the perfect cup of matcha takes time and patience. If something is still not quite right with your tea after your first attempt, take note of the three most common factors that cause issues for novices:
Temp too hot scorches the powder = bitter matcha
Matcha too watery or too flavoral for your palate? The water to matcha ratio is definitely something you should look at. As a reference, most people enjoy 1g per 80ml/2.7oz or 2g per 120ml, but the amount is totally up to your taste. You can experiment with amounts to find your perfect dosage and determine whether you lean more towards a Koicha or Usucha flavor profile.
Arguably the most gratifying part of the matcha-drinking experience is the thick layer, frothy layer that forms at the surface of the tea as a result of the whisking process. It creates a unique and satisfying texture that is second to none when it comes to tea consumption.
If you notice that you’re not quite nailing the consistency of the froth, make sure there is no liquid revealed under the layer of foam. Additionally, if there are still big bubbles remaining visible on the surface of the tea, continue to whisk until you’ve achieved the perfect consistency and foamy top layer.
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