America’s green tea consumption is not quite on par with countries like China and Japan, but it’s definitely on the upswing—green tea sales are up 60 percent in the U.S. over the past ten years. And now that green tea can be found in everything from chocolate bars to face masks, there’s a new tea trend brewing: matcha.
Matcha is a variation on the green tea that has become near ubiquitous in North America—leaves are shaded by straw mats to age, increasing their chlorophyll and amino acid content, then ground into a fine powder. The powder and the resulting tea are bright green in color, with a taste that’s stronger and grassier than regular green tea. The tea is not steeped, but instead blended into hot water. Because you’re consuming the actual leaf and not just drinking its infusion, matcha is higher in caffeine than regular green tea.
Toronto-based tea retailer Tealish has sold matcha for nearly ten years, and they’ve recently started noticing an increase in interest in matcha. Much of the interest is driven by matcha’s perceived health benefits, said store manager Johanna Martin. “I find a lot of people come to Tealish because they’re trying to quit coffee,” she said. It is purported that the presence of L-theanine in matcha means its caffeine releases more slowly when compared to coffee. While matcha does have the same antioxidants found in regular green tea, investigation into the health benefits of the drink is ongoing.
Matcha is the tea used in the traditional, highly mannered Japanese tea ceremony, called chado. Even the much simpler ritual of making matcha at home is welcome in the mornings, when a few quiet minutes spent meditatively whisking your cup of tea can be a nice respite from the rush of getting ready for work.
In order to make that matcha properly, you’ll need a few things besides the tea, including a matcha whisk (called a chasen), a matcha bowl or other container to make the tea in, a way to measure out the tea (the traditional measuring tool is a chashaku ), and a tea strainer.
Tealish sells just one regular matcha blend, an organic matcha they source from Japan. Most matchas are Japanese—there are some Chinese-grown varieties showing up in North America, Martin said, but those are generally of lower quality. Higher-grade matchas are best for drinking straight, Urasenke Philadelphia advises, while lower-grade varieties are more suited to cooking with or mixing with milk because of their more bitter taste. Look for matcha sold in vacuum-sealed containers and store in your fridge or freezer to slow down the oxidization process.
Bon Appetit suggests measuring out 1.5 chashaku ladles of matcha to make a cup of tea, which is about 1.5 teaspoons. Martin uses much less per cup, ¼ to ½ teaspoon or a single chasaku ladle. Whichever quantity you choose, place the tea in your strainer. Then stir the powder into the tea bowl by swirling it around in the strainer with the ladle or the end of your spoon—this ensures there are no clumps in your tea.
Don’t just boil water and dump it over your tea—you’ll burn the matcha and the taste will be all wrong. Instead, let it cool for 30 seconds (which Tealish recommends) to a minute after coming to a boil to ensure it’s the right temperature, about 175 Fahrenheit. You could also use an instant-read thermometer to indicate the correct temperature or use an electric tea kettle. However you get there, when the water is the right temperature you can pour it carefully over the tea and into the bowl.
Use the chasen to whisk the tea for about 10 to 15 seconds, until the color is bright green and smoothly combined. Bon Appetit suggests mixing gently in a circular pattern for a clear tea and in a M or W-shaped pattern for foamy tea.
If you prefer a thick matcha, you can use more powder and mix with a kneading or rotating motion. Japanese tea purveyor Yuuki-Cha recommends using koicha, matcha blended specifically for a thicker brew, as opposed to usucha, which is more suited to a thinner consistency.
David’s Tea, a tea-retailing chain, recently released a matcha maker, which is a to-go thermos that makes a frothy matcha with a shaking motion. It can be used with their flavored matcha packets or any matcha you prefer.
Tealish sells a sweetened matcha blend meant to be used in lattes, and the natural sweetness of milk is a nice contrast to the tea—particularly if you find matcha to be something of an acquired taste.
And Martin pointed out that matcha isn’t just great for sipping straight—she particularly likes it in smoothies, and the Tealish blog has matcha recipes including a matcha-based salad dressing and a “matcha float that’s perfectly green for St. Patrick’s Day.
Terri Coles is a freelance writer living in St. John’s, Newfoundland. She’s a recovering picky eater.