Matcha (or maccha) is a uniquely Japanese tea that comes as a finely ground powder. It is a green tea, but unlike most teas where the liquid is poured off the leaves, with matcha the powder is whisked into the liquid and ingested whole.
Matcha is made from the tips of budding tea-bushes that have been shaded with bamboo mats (or black tarp) for approximately three weeks of their spring growth. Less sunlight means less photosynthesis, which is how the plant generates energy and grows. Under the shade, the tea plants spread out and become thin and tender. They compensate for the lack of sunlight by increasing the amount of chlorophyll. Chorloryphyll is a pigment that absorbs red and blue light but reflects green (hence the green colour) so increasing the chlorophyll gives the leaves a bright green colour. After picking, the leaves are steamed, air dried and the main part of the leaf are separated from the stems and veins to produce tencha. The tencha is then ground using granite wheels to make the bright green, fine, matcha powder.
The video from o-cha.com shows the covering of the tea plants with bamboo and straw, the shaded hand-plucking and then the processing that takes place afterwards to make both gyokuro and matcha.
Matcha generally comes in three grades. The highest grade is Koicha (thick tea) and this is used in Japanese tea ceremonies to make a dense, viscous tea. Usucha (thin tea) is the second grade and it is used in Japanese tea ceremonies to make a more diluted thin tea with frothy foam. Finally, cooking matcha is used as an ingredient to make food like matcha ice-cream, cakes etc.
Matcha has the reputation of going stale quickly so if you are making the investment (matcha is a comparatively expensive green tea), it is worthwhile paying a little extra for a good quality matcha that is fresh. Matcha is not something that I will always have in the house. I’ll generally buy about 35g and then drink it every day until it’s gone (known in my house as the matcha-spree!).
To prepare matcha you will need a bamboo tea whisk (chasen). It is also helpful to have a tea bowl (chawan) and a tea ladel (chashaku) but these can be substituted with a flat bottomed bowl and a teaspoon. The bowl is pre-heated, then dried and about 2g of matcha powder is added with the ladel. Some people sieve the matcha to break the small lumps but I just break them up with the tip of the whisk. Water at approx 80°C is added and then the mixture is whisked until smooth with a back and forth motion (like writing a “W”) rather than a circular motion. The matcha is suspended in the hot water during whisking (not dissolved) which means that matcha particles will settle to the bottom of the bowl if it is left to stand so enjoy immediately.
I bought my current batch of matcha (Ishikawa Matcha) in Postcard Teas, London and it cost £20 for a 40g refill pack.