‘Matcha is just posh green tea’- If that is the claim, think twice. There is so much more to matcha than it meets the eye. Japanese linguistics utterly, ‘ma’ which means rubbed or ground and ‘cha’ which is tea spectacularly, brings the term ‘matcha’. Hold on, where does ‘green’ fit in this context?
Well, the craft of matcha begins with green tea leaves but not just any regular green tea leaves can become matcha. That’s the catch. Starting off with the assumption of ‘posh’ green tea, in this context quality matters. High quality green tea varieties, namely Yabukita and Okumidori grown in the finest prefectures, become matcha. Highlighting ‘become’ because quality is checked off, technique comes next.
Counting down 20 days to picking matcha leaves, the tea plants are shaded from the Sun. Not a game of hide and seek, but rather a game of manipulating nature with science. Over the days, the percentage shaded increases, leaving the tea plants in low light conditions. Now that the tea plant is deprived of its utmost basic need, humanely so to speak, the plant panics. Those leafy creatures now start producing a major amount of chlorophyll and theanine(amino acid). Escape is not an option.
These tea leaves now saturated with chlorophyll and theanine radiate the bright green hue of matcha that captures the eye. Following the tea making process, handpicked, steamed, dried, de-veined, dried again, taste-tested, mixed and finally grinned to perfection, presenting the delicate matcha powder. As known, matcha powder nurtured flawlessly mildly suspends in water unlike most tea leaves which are only infused in water-being tea.
Matcha lattes, matcha mochi, matcha ice cream, matcha cakes and the list could go on and on. Traditional Japanese tea is now taking over the world by impressing everyone with its unique herbal yet intrinsic flavour. The hype behind divine matcha is just as significant as fine wine. It’s worth the analogy.
Wow Fact: Matcha is not exactly soluble, it just suspends in water and should be drunk that way, resulting in matcha as the world’s only suspending tea.
The Legend of Matcha
Thousands of years ago, a Chinese emperor, Shennong, was boiling water over fire. As for the works of destiny, a breeze blew, swaying a few leaves from a nearby bush into the kettle. The water tainted, space filled with aroma, tea was discovered, and the bush became a tea plant.
Although China’s Song Dynasty found powdered green tea, it was eventually abandoned in China whilst Japanese Buddhist monks carried on the tradition. Regular green tea was the tradition, but shading leaves to increase chlorophyll levels inventing matcha came together again by accidental destiny. One tough winter, tea producers chose to wrap their plants with reed and straw to protect them from frost damage. Frost woes reaped rich matcha which eventually blossomed into the distinct ‘Chanoyu Sadou’, the Japanese tea culture known today.
Prevailing the long history, Oda Nobunaga, a leading figure in Japanese history, was a tea lover. He collected various tea utensils to exhibit his wealth. Worthwhile his exclusive tea collection mesmerised other tea loving merchants, which means he had power over a heap of money and weaponries. Matcha became Nobunaga’s jurisdiction and the politics of tea continued through the ruling line. Tea rooms were used as secret military tactics planning centres. Even the emperor of that time was convinced to drink Nobunaga’s specially made tea, further strengthening Nobunaga’s authority.
The legend of matcha indeed is quite a storybook itself. Clearly no matter the origin, matcha is the worldwide zest of flavours today. The talk is about the legend that exists as there’s always a matcha for everyone.
Wow Fact: Grinding matcha traditionally takes an hour to gain only 30 grams of powder as fine as 0.001cm while preventing the loss of nutrients.
‘It sounds too good to be true’ is the common line associated with matcha. Well, this is just one of those times to feel lucky. Matcha has its fair share to act as a powerhouse for both mental and physical wellbeing.
1. Energy booster
In fact, coffee has more caffeine than matcha. When actually quantity is not the concern here because quality steals the deal. Unlike coffee, matcha is kinder to the soul and the energy spurt lasts longer to be thankful for. Caffeine is accompanied by theanine(amino acid) both playing a role in the claim. Caffeine is the stimulant; however, theanine causes caffeine to be released slowly into the blood circulation. This eliminates the jitters that often precede coffee intake. There is also no energy slump that could be experienced after consuming coffee or other sugary energy drinks. The winner is obvious.
2. Hulk Strength
In the early stages of matcha’s discovery, only elites who were emperors and Samurai warriors were privileged enough to taste matcha. Believe it or not, every Samurai warrior had their very own tea masters, as matcha was essential for physical restoration and psychological preparation for a fight. Not to forget the foundational bones are strengthened too. Basically, the guide to becoming hulk is consuming matcha.
3. Brain matter
Matcha induces a relaxing bliss, a feeling of mental alertness and profound relaxation akin to that experienced during meditation. Initially, Japanese Buddhist monks actually took an interest in matcha to keep them awake but tranquil during their long hours of silent meditation. Care for the benefit. According to a 2017 research published in Food Research International, people who drank matcha had a slight boost in attention and processing speed too. Extremely beneficial to the likes of Yogis (yoga practitioners).
4. Matcha Beauty
From face wash, moisturizers, and serums, the belle complex associated with matcha never missed the captivating beauty industry. Matcha has vitamin C that promotes collagen formation that is ideal for skin problems and vitamin B that promotes healthy skin cell turnover. As evidence, older Japanese women consume matcha every day to stay evergreen and attractive. Matcha just became inevitable with age and time.
Wow Fact: Matcha has 33 times the antioxidant potential of blueberries.
Matcha Making 101
As matcha is a very finely-ground powder (think a dust-like consistency!), its method of preparation differs from the way leaf tea is made. As such, you will need equipment that is specially used to make matcha.
To make a frothy, creamy cup of traditional matcha, you will need four pieces of equipment.
- Chasen (bamboo whisk)
- Chawan (tea bowl)
- Teaspoon or chashuku (tea scoop)
A chasen is a bamboo whisk used to incorporate the powder into the water, and usually comes with 80 prongs – chasens with more prongs are used to create a thinner tea, and vice versa. A chawan is a bowl used to prepare and drink tea, and is often used in tea ceremonies. As for the sieve, it prevents the powder from clumping up and ensures a smoother tea. The chashuku is a bamboo matcha scoop, holding about half a teaspoon each time.
Two types of matcha can be made – koicha (thick tea) and usucha (thin tea). As the name suggests, the consistency of koicha is thick and sauce-like with a strong flavour that makes it more of an acquired taste. Meanwhile usucha is thin and smooth, with a gorgeous layer of froth on top.
These are the steps to make usucha.
- 1 teaspoon of matcha powder (approximately 4g)
- 80ml of water at a temperature of 80c for the tea
- 80ml of hot water for the bowl and whisk
- Firstly, warm up the chasen and chawan. Pour hot water into the chawan, leaving the chasen inside for a minute. Then, gently whisk the chasen to soften the prongs and make them more flexible so they are less likely to break.
- Pour the water out and dry the bowl.
- Rest the sieve on the chawan, then scoop the matcha into the sieve.
- Then, sift the powder using the teaspoon or chashuku.
- Add water into the chawan and while holding the bowl with one hand, whisk the matcha in a ‘W’ motion.
- Continue till the surface is covered with foamy bubbles.
There! A delicious bowl of matcha. Enjoy it with wagashi, traditional Japanese sweets meant to accompany green tea – it’ll be a matcha made in heaven.
Wow Fact: Marukyu-Koyamaen sells the most expensive matcha powder in the world – 20g of this prized matcha powder, nicknamed ‘tea from Heaven’, costs ¥5,400 – over RM200! For some context, 20g of matcha powder yields roughly 4 matcha lattes.
If drinking matcha on its own isn’t ‘your cup of tea’, fret not! Matcha can be enjoyed in a variety of ways and can be found in many types of food. Not only is matcha found in desserts (most of the time actually), but it is found in savoury foods as well. Throughout Asia, it is not uncommon to see a matcha flavour in various types of food, ranging from French macarons to cookies and even ramen!
For a different flavour profile from pure matcha, try a matcha latte – it’s creamy and mildly sweet even without any added sugar, and great as a healthy substitute for milk tea.
Matcha lattes are also often found in bubble tea shops, putting a healthier spin on the typically sinful beverage.
Matcha is also commonly found in the form of ice cream and cakes. For those with a sweet tooth who find the taste of matcha bitter, having it as a sugary treat will allow you to fully enjoy the unique matcha flavour sans the bitterness.
Wow Fact: When matcha is roasted, it becomes hojicha, which is brown in colour and has a smoky flavour profile and taste similar to coffee, sans the caffeine. Matcha is also often combined with genmaicha (brown rice tea) to become matcha-iri genmaicha, which retains the signature taste of matcha with an added toasty flavour that’s reminiscent of popcorn.
Now, if you’re wondering where to find the best matcha spots in Kuala Lumpur, read on to find out!
Matcha Mania in KL!
- The full-blown matcha experience: Niko Neko Matcha
A cult favourite among Malaysians, this home-grown matcha cafe serves up lattes made with the finest quality matcha and unconventional mocktails incorporating ingredients such as curry leaves and spice syrup. Other than beverages, they have a mouthwatering array of desserts and pastries such as roll cakes, cream puffs and burnt cheesecakes. Occasionally, they also have collaborations with brands to bring you even more delectable matcha goodies – past collaborations include ROYCE’ Chocolate, Laduree and llaollao!
- An authentic taste of Japan: Tsujiri
No need to travel to Japan to experience an authentic Japanese teahouse – Tsujiri, a Japanese teahouse with a rich 161-year-long history can be found right here in Malaysia. Their Malaysian outpost offers soft serve parfaits, shaved ice and lattes, similar to the ones served in their Japan outlets. Think shaved ice topped with chewy rice balls, red bean and soft serve and matcha lattes sweetened with fragrant kuromitsu (black sugar syrup that tastes similar to gula melaka). Having served customers for more than a century, this matcha teahouse definitely will not disappoint.
- Matcha with a side of Insta-worthiness: Oh Cha Matcha
This adorable matcha cafe is decked out in an eye-catching pastel pink interior, perfect as a backdrop for Instagram pics. But it’s not just their interior that pops – their menu items are sure to impress too. Feast on their fettuccine matcha carbonara while sipping on a colourful beetroot blue spirulina matcha latte. With mains, desserts and beverages on their menu, Oh Cha Matcha is the perfect spot for catching up with friends!
- Affordable matcha treats on the go: Family Mart
Satisfying your matcha cravings can be expensive, with matcha lattes as expensive as RM23. (We’re talking about you, Arabica!) However, an affordable alternative is Family Mart’s affordable matcha drinks and desserts, including a perfectly bittersweet matcha ‘sofuto’ soft serve that costs less than RM3. It’s a crowd favourite among customers of Family Mart – when the flavour was replaced last year, fans hounded the convenience store chain to bring it back! Readily available countrywide with some outlets even operating 24/7, this inexpensive soft serve will definitely satiate your cravings.
Wow Fact: Matcha is often paired with azuki (red bean) in desserts or beverages. The umami, bittersweet matcha juxtaposed with the sweetness of the azuki creates an exquisite, delicious flavour.
There’s a reason why health fanatics and dessert lovers alike all rave about matcha. With its intriguing taste and almost magical health benefits, it is not to be missed. Try it today!
Written by: Jamie & Natalie
Edited by: Maki