When tea connoisseurs hear the word “matcha” they automatically think of the bright green powdered tea from Japan. But matcha ( 抹茶 aka powdered tea) had been enjoyed in China before it came to Japan in the 9th century (some tea experts say that powdered tea was brought to Japan by Buddhist Monks for use in their ceremonies during the Tang Dynasty, which ran from the early 7th century to the early 10th century). Some say that the Japanese have refined this tea style over the centuries, but the Chinese got the ball rolling and now seem to have revived that roll with their prices, quality, and variety (powdered tea isn’t just the green kind anymore).
In the Beginning
We think of teas with various fruits, flowers, spices, and herbs added to them as something new, but it isn’t. Prior to the Tang Dynasty most tea was pressed into bricks and steeped along with ginger root pieces, chopped onions, orange rind pieces, and more. As the Emperor and his Court came to see tea as having unique properties on its own for their health as well as wonderful flavors, they stopped adding in these other items so they could enjoy those flavors and benefits. Powdered tea was a natural outgrowth of this attitude and behavioral change. It could be blended thoroughly in the water and drunk in its entirety, so there were no leaves going to waste and being thrown away. The flavor was intense yet pleasant. Best of all, the tea thus prepared and consumed seemed more beneficial than previous forms.
Powdered Tea Today
Powdered green tea is virtually unknown in daily life in China, according to some folks posting online. While tea shops and tea bars abound, powdered tea is nowhere to be seen, they say and point out that full leaf green teas, oolongs, and a tisane of chrysanthemum blossoms are typical. But making quality matcha has resumed in China and the nation of Taiwan and is readily available through vendors like us (we carry both green and black powdered teas here). And while the Japanese versions have been marketed as being superior, in reality the Chinese version outranks them in some ways. While both versions have an opaque, deep green color, a thick, savory mouthfeel, and a high level of caffeine, the Chinese version is smoother, has no bitterness but instead a rich, fresh green vegetal taste. Best of all, you get this goodness at about half the price of the Japanese version, so that matcha smoothie in the morning or after your workout is more affordable. Or you can switch from coffee to a cup of matcha in the morning without breaking the bank.
Varieties of Matcha
We carry black and green matchas and have seen oolong and white matchas. They each start with a particular style of tea and go from there. For us, black and green are best, but you oolong fans and white tea fans might give those versions a try.
Recipe for that Wake-up Cup
Follow this simple recipe a time or two and you may never go back to brewing that coffee in the morning!
- Pre-warm the tea bowl with hot water and then pour out.
- Place 2/3rd teaspoon of matcha in the bowl.
- Heat water to around 180°F.
- Gently pour the water into the bowl.
- Whisk to make a frothy concoction.
A Great Smoothie Recipe or Two
Smoothies are pretty popular, can be made from a wide variety of ingredients, and are very simple and easy. They’ve been around for years, and ones made with green matcha are growing in popularity due to their flavor and nutrition factors.
- 1 teaspoon matcha green tea powder
- 2 teaspoons hot water
- 1 cup skim milk
- 1 ripe banana
- 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
- 3-4 ice cubes
Dissolve the matcha powder in the hot water, pour it into a blender, add the rest of the ingredients, and blend until smooth.
- 1 cup of orange juice in place of the hot water (in which case you just throw everything in the blend and let it whirl!)
- Sugar (preferably raw) or agave nectar in place of the honey (unless you’re subbing in the orange juice which will add its own sweetness)
- Almond “milk” instead of the skim milk
- Coconut “milk” instead of the skim milk
- A bit of fresh vanilla bean (scraped from a vanilla bean pod and strictly to dress things up a bit) or 1 teaspoon vanilla-flavored syrup
- 1 teaspoon of wheat germ for a bit of added nutritional value
- Strawberries, blueberries, or similar fruits
- A fresh mint leaf or two on top of the smoothie in your glass as a garnish
Matcha has many uses. And new ones seem to pop up every day. A great one is the matcha latté, foamy and rich tasting. But you can also use matcha as an ingredient in homemade ice cream, cookies, cakes, various desserts, and a host of other dishes. The affordability and quality of Chinese matcha makes them all able to be part of your daily diet. Go exploring!