It can be confusing to choose from many blends. The quality is reflected in the price. The higher priced matcha have a more complex, smoother, rounded flavor and a gentle, natural sweetness. The difference in flavor among the blends of matcha is more subtle than with steeped teas. (See Which Matcha is for Me?) A bamboo whisk is a necessity to properly prepare a bowl of matcha; a wire whisk will not produce the light, fine foam that is part of what makes matcha so delicious.
Matcha is green powdered tea that is uniquely Japanese. In Japan, matcha is the highest quality tea available. Matcha is the special tea that is used in Chanoyu (Japanese Way of Tea). Traditionally, when it is prepared, only the green powdered tea and hot water are mixed together; nothing else is added. A sweet is enjoyed before drinking the matcha, which perfectly complements matcha's delicious flavor.
Matcha cultivation and production developed in the Uji area in Kyoto prefecture, Japan, during the 1700's. The young tea leaves are picked in early May and lightly steamed to prevent any fermentation. This allows the tea to retain its beautiful green color. Then the tea leaves are dried. Traditionally, at this point, the leaves would be stored in chatsubo (tea jars) and allowed to season until November, at which time they can be stone-ground as needed. For consistency, the leaves from varieties of tea plants are blended to produce the best flavor, color, and aroma. These blends are often created in accordance to the tastes of the grand masters of various traditions of Chanoyu and are given a poetic name. Before being stone-ground, the leaves are processed to remove the stems and veins so that the matcha will be very fine when ground. It takes one hour to grind somewhat less than 40 grams of matcha. The ground matcha is 1/10th the weight of the original harvest. Although clippers can be used to harvest the tea leaves, the leaves for koicha (thick matcha) are still picked by hand, one by one.
There are two types of matcha: koicha (thick matcha) and usucha (thin matcha). Koicha is higher quality than usucha. Koicha is made from the new, young tea leaves from mature tea plants. Usucha is made from younger tea plants. The highest quality green tea in Japan is either matcha (green powdered tea), or gyokuro (green leaf tea). The tea leaves are the same, but differ in the processing.
The quality of matcha is affected by five factors: light, heat, humidity, odor, and oxygen. To minimize these factors, store matcha in its covered tin, in an airtight container, and in the refrigerator. Before using, take out the amount of matcha you will use and let it come to room temperature. Then, sieve the matcha to ensure that it will dissolve quickly, easily, and completely with no lumps.
If the matcha will not be used up within several days, store it in the freezer. Again, it should be covered and in an airtight container. Transfer to the refrigerator a smaller amount that you will use within 2-3 days. The temperature difference from the refrigerator to room temperature is not as great as from the freezer. Keep the matcha covered while it is coming to room temperature. This will help keep condensation to a minimum and protect the quality and freshness of your matcha.
Research continues to support the many health benefits of green tea. Matcha contains protein and is a very good source of vitamins A and C, fiber and iron. Matcha also contains high amounts of antioxidants, which protect cells and tissues from free radical damage. Antioxidants have been tied to protection against heart disease, as well as better blood sugar regulation, blood pressure reduction and anti-aging. Green tea may also positively affect cholesterol levels by inhibiting oxidation of LDL particles. Catechins found in matcha such as epigallochatechin gallate (EGCG) have been found to fight inflammation, help retain the integrity of arteries and repair cells. L-theanine is an amino acid that produces a tranquilizing effect in the brain is found in the leaves of green tea. It helps the brain produce more alpha waves, which make it effective against tension and stress and it increases mental focus and improves concentration. With matcha, the actual tea leaf is consumed, which gives higher concentrations of catechins, antioxidants and vitamins.