The Accidental Discovery of Matcha: A Journey of Flavor and TraditionPayalh
Matcha: From Humble Origins to a Culinary Delight
Matcha, a beloved Japanese tea known for its vibrant green color and unique flavor, has a rich history rooted in accidental discovery. This powdered green tea was introduced to Japan from China at the end of the 12th century. However, in its early days, matcha was a far cry from the refined delight we know today.
The Evolution of Matcha’s Flavor
Initially, matcha was prepared by roasting and grinding tea leaves, resulting in a simple beverage. The transformation of matcha’s flavor came about through an unexpected event: the invention of the oishita, or shade-grown, cultivation method. This innovation occurred during a harsh winter when tea farmers covered their plants with reeds and straw to protect them from frost just before the harvest. To their surprise, this shading process forced the plants to produce more chlorophyll in the new shoots, enhancing the amino acid content and creating the basis for the rich taste of modern matcha.
Hand-picked young buds from these shaded plants are processed into the matcha we enjoy today. The shade-grown method has elevated matcha to a level of quality that sets it apart.
Matcha: A Unique Suspension Tea
What sets matcha apart from other teas is its consumption in a powdered form. When whisked into warm water, matcha doesn’t dissolve but rather suspends in the liquid. This characteristic makes it the only suspension tea in the world.
Matcha: The Elixir of Calm and Concentration
Originally used as a meditation tea by Zen Buddhist monks, matcha offers a unique combination of calming effects and stimulation. Despite having about one-third of the caffeine content of a typical cup of coffee, matcha delivers a state of calming euphoria. This sensation resembles mental alertness and deep relaxation, akin to meditation, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as “liquid meditation.” Today, many people turn to matcha to prepare for yoga or meditation sessions.
Samurai Warriors and the Matcha Connection
In the 13th century, Samurai warriors adopted the art of brewing matcha from Zen Buddhist monks. They discovered that matcha could help them physically and mentally prepare for battle. This practice gave rise to the “wabi” framework, detailing the precise rituals of brewing and consuming matcha. Over the centuries, this framework evolved into the Japanese tea ceremony we recognize today, paying homage to the noble way of life of the Samurai.
Health Benefits of Matcha
Beyond its cultural significance, matcha is naturally healthy. It contains catechin polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that can help protect against cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Matcha also aids in reducing cholesterol and blood pressure, contributes to weight loss by boosting metabolism, and is packed with antioxidants – approximately 137 times more than regular green tea. Moreover, matcha is 100% natural, a fact that astounds many health-conscious individuals.
The Alluring Oika Aroma
One distinguishing feature of high-quality matcha is its oika fragrance, a captivating and almost buttery aroma unique to shade-grown green tea. This fragrance is said to be present in only two types of Japanese green tea: gyokuro and matcha, both cultivated in the shade.
The Mystery of Umami
Another hallmark of higher-grade matcha is its umami taste, often described as the “fifth flavor.” This taste, which combines sweetness and savoriness, is attributed to the high concentration of theanine, glutamate, and ionone-related compounds from carotenoids found in young shoots of shade-grown tea trees.
The Art of Flavor Calibration
Matcha’s flavor profile is influenced by three key elements: theanine (sweet taste), catechin (astringent taste), and caffeine (mildly bitter taste). By adjusting the temperature of the brewing water, you can calibrate the flavor. For a softer, mellower taste, use lower-temperature water (below 65°C) to extract more theanine while minimizing catechin and caffeine. Additionally, soft water with fewer minerals is recommended, as certain minerals in hard water can affect the delicate flavor elements of the tea. To further enhance the quality of your matcha, consider dechlorinating tap water by boiling it for over two minutes and letting it cool to around 70°C before brewing.