By Jess Hodges
Matcha is a powdered Japanese green tea, best known for it’s use in tea ceremonies and as the green tea flavouring in a wide range of other food and drinks.
Matcha first came into being back when tea used to be stored and transported in bricks. In order to brew the tea these bricks had to be steamed and broken apart which broke up the tea leaves and created a coarse powder. In the Song dynasty the preparation of tea by whisking the powder with water became popular and was ritualised by Zen Buddhist monks.
The tea leaves are prepared before harvest by the covering of the bushes which darkens and sweetens them. The selectively harvested leaves are then dried flat instead of being rolled, which causes them to crumble. The resulting tea is called tencha. To create matcha all of the coarser material such as the veins and stems of the leaves is carefully removed and the remaining tea is ground to an extremely fine powder.
A special bamboo whisk known as a chasen is used to blend the tea with a little hot water at first to create a smooth paste which is then whipped with more hot water. Depending on the amount of powder used the tea can be either koicha (thick) or usucha (thin).
In a traditional tea ceremony the matcha is sieved into a small caddy and then moved into a tea bowl using a bamboo scoop before being whisked with the water. As it can sometimes be bitter it is often served with sweets.
It’s powdered form makes it easy to use as a flavouring and as such it often appears in baking as well as in lattes and smoothies. It’s high antioxidant content makes it much prized for it’s health benefits and it's bright green colour makes it a healthy dye. It is the only acceptable kind of instant tea.