How to Prepare the Perfect Cup of Matcha
Secrets for enjoying a delicious and legendary Japanese tea.
Japanese matcha has gained increasing popularity around the world as a most delicious elixir derived entirely from tea. The drink is prepared with a powder from ground tea leaves (with very specific processes for cultivation, harvesting, and grinding). When done right, the drink is exquisite. Its origins go back to a venerable tea ceremony, wabi-cha, a Japanese artistic and cultural ritual which has been celebrated for at least five centuries.
Known in Japan as chado, meaning “the way of tea,” the ritual was born five centuries ago. The practice of preparing matcha has specific rules and is the sign of the infinite sophistication of Japanese taste. A deeply ritualized social interaction, it’s said to be the essence of greeting and saying goodbye within Japanese society. Each gesture, step, and movement, from the way one enters the tearoom to the way the cup is cleaned when the drink is finished, results from a refined choreography.
Though the ritual emerged in 16th century Japan, the use of ground tea began in China during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). In the 12th century, it was taken to Japan by Buddhist monks who preserved the tradition although it disappeared from China as time went on. Later, between the 14th and 16th centuries, the Japanese upper classes adopted the custom and refined it into the ritual known today.
Matcha is prepared with traditional instruments such as the chasen, a beater made from a single piece of bamboo and a small, usually ceramic container in which the tea is churned with hot water. It’s important to use the best quality of tea, because the higher the quality, the better the finely ground tea leaves can be incorporated into the water.
These are the basic rules for preparing the perfect cup of matcha:
1. Choose the best quality of matcha you can find. It should look like a fine, fluffy powder with a sweet aroma and, by necessity, it should come from Japan. Better matchas will be sold in a can, but if it does come from a bag, be sure to purchase one in a lightfast bag. Like coffee, matcha loses its potency and aroma over time, so it should be prepared as fresh as possible.
2. Ideally, a small bowl with an attached foot or pedestal is used (traditionally, it’s called a chaki) and this allows you to beat the liquid vigorously with the chasen.
3. Always use very hot water. It’s generally enough to boil the water and allow it to simmer for a few minutes. If you’d later like to drink the tea cold or with milk, use more matcha and then dilute it with cold water or hot milk. The tea can also be sweetened with honey.
4. Before beginning to beat the tea, heat the chaki with a bit boiling water and then dry it well.
5. Sieve the matcha powder to avoid any lumps. Use a fine sieve and a spoon to push the tea through the mesh.
6. For most parties, use two grams of tea per 70-80 grams of water. A quick way to measure is to use 1/3 cup hot water and add two teaspoons of matcha powder.
7. Once the water and tea are in the bowl, use the chasen to vigorously beat and zigzag, while only gently touching the bottom of the chaki. Movement must come from the wrist. Once the mixture is uniform and the liquid has foam on the surface, move the chasen back to the surface of the liquid to produce still more foam. Serve and drink immediately.
In Japan, matcha is accompanied with something sweet. It may be served with chocolate or sweet cookies.
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