Once upon a time, tea drinkers in the West would not likely have had ready access to a type of Japanese green tea called matcha. Those who did probably did so thanks to their participation in Chanoyu, which is more commonly known as the Japanese tea ceremony. Until relatively recently this was one of the primary uses for matcha tea, particularly here in the West.
Nowadays, as Westerners have taken to experimenting with assorted and sundry varieties of exotic teas, matcha has been given a new life outside of the Japanese tea ceremony and has begun to turn up in teacups and bowls and matcha tea-related recipes with increasing regularity.
One of the first things most people will notice upon encountering matcha for the first time is how dramatically different it is from most other teas. That’s because it is a powdered version of a high-grade of Japanese green tea, known as tencha, which is produced specifically to be turned into matcha.
Matcha is traditionally prepared by placing it in a decorative bowl designed specifically for the purpose, adding a modest amount of water and using a whisk to vigorously whip it into a froth.
As noted in Mary Lou and Robert Heiss’s The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook, some quantities of matcha are produced in China and Korea, but these are generally not considered to be of the same high quality standards as Japanese matcha. According to the Heiss’s, matcha essentially comes in two main grades – ceremonial grade matcha, which they describe as “exquisite in style and flavor” and a lesser culinary grade, which is used primarily for cooking, baking and everyday drinking.
As far as potential health benefits are concerned it’s been found, according to one study by researchers in Colorado, that “the concentration of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) available from drinking matcha is 137 times greater than the amount of EGCG available from China Green Tips green tea, and at least three times higher than the largest literature value for other green teas.”
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