Arguably the best known of the teas to come out of Japan, matcha has found its way into a variety of foods and beverages. Although relatively new in Western countries, this vibrant green tea powder has been enjoyed in Japan for over 800 years and is used for the meditative, elaborate Japanese tea ceremony.
Four weeks before harvesting matcha, the tea bushes are covered with bamboo mats or tarps to reduce the amount of natural sunlight. This increases the chlorophyll and amino acids in the tea and turns the leaves a vibrant green colour. Moreover, the increase in chlorophyll adds to the sweetness of the leaf.
The finest leaves are selected and processed through a number of stages, producing an unground leaf that is known as Tencha. This is then funnelled in between two large granite stones which gently crush the leaves and produce the finely ground and vibrant green powder known as matcha. Matcha tends to be rather more expensive than most teas and this is due to the very slow process of grinding. After the grinding process, the matcha is immediately packed and sealed to maintain the freshness of the powder at its peak.
The hue of green is a key indicator as to the quality of matcha. High quality matcha is deep, vibrant jade green in colour. If the leaf has not been properly shaded before the harvest then the resultant powder will have a brownish or yellowish hue. Furthermore, matcha that is old or that has been poorly stored will produce a brownish or yellowish hue. Another indicator of match quality is the feel and texture of the powder. A high quality matcha will feel very fine and silky, similar to the feel of talcum powder.
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