How To Improve The Taste of Matcha
Matcha, a special type of green tea which is grounded into a fine powder is synonymous with the Japanese culture and everything zen. There is something about Matcha that brings calmness upon drinking it.
Besides the vibrant colour, Matcha generally has lots of benefits such as being rich in antioxidants which are helpful against cancer and ageing. Of late, Matcha became quite a craze in Western and Asian desserts.
In European countries such as Germany, Matcha can also be increasingly found at local grocers. One can easily find Matcha-flavoured food such as ice cream, cookies and even cake. By the way, you have to check out this super easy Matcha Tiramisu recipe here.
Despite new innovations with Matcha, I enjoy drinking Matcha as it is. Good quality Matcha should not be disturbingly bitter but have a pleasant and smooth taste. During my trip to Japan in late 2015, I went on a hunt for quality Japanese tea and Matcha. I realised that Matcha can taste differently depending on its quality.
Types of Matcha Qualities
If you think Matcha tea tastes bad, you may have gotten yourself bad quality Matcha. There are three grades of Matcha. These are ceremonial, premium and cooking grades.
Ceremonial Matcha is of the highest quality that is used in tea ceremonies and temples. It is said that Ceremonial Matcha has a hint of "Umami" flavour that the other two grades do not have. Premium Matcha is the grade in-between which is usually from the second harvest. Hence, the taste is much stronger than Ceremonial Matcha. Cooking Matcha should not be regarded as low-grade Matcha but it said to be more bitter than the other Matcha grades and is best used for baking or preparing other confectionaries.
Just like wine, every Matcha has a story to tell depending on its flavour, colour or origin. In Japan, Matcha is mainly grown in four main regions which are Shizuoka, Nishio, Fukuoka and Uji. Shizuoka and Nishio are the places where most of the green tea and Matcha is produced. You may have even guessed by now that Matcha from the Shizuoka prefecture and Nishio is not of high quality as it is meant for the mass market. On the other hand, Fukuoka is known to produce great quality Matcha.
For the best quality of Matcha, look out for those produced in Uji, a town close to Kyoto. Kyoto is the home to many temples and Uji is the place to source Matcha used in tea ceremonies. Thus, Uji has always been producing the highest quality Matcha.
A trip to Japan is not complete without a tea ceremony. My curiosity drove me into learning more about tea ceremonies and each of their components. During the tea ceremony, I took part at my guesthouse in Tokyo, I learned that Matcha is not only healthy and beautiful drink but preparing Matcha is done with full concentration. The tea ceremony master changed the way I now drink Matcha.
Upon returning to Germany, I came to realize that high-quality Matcha is not commonly found. Most Matcha sold at Asian grocers does not have its origin written on the label. My scout on the world wide web on where to buy Matcha led me to Moya Matcha. I started reading up more about the brand. Hitomi Saito, the founder of Moya Matcha, has attended a traditional Japanese tea ceremony training, was a lecturer at a cooking studio and is also a chef! Well, I knew I could trust Moya Matcha and the quality which Hitomi wishes to upkeep. That was why I wrote to Moya for a collaboration and the rest is history! Read to the end if you want to enjoy a discount on your next order with Moya. In the videos below, we used the best quality Matcha from Moya. Check it out here.
If you have wondered how to prepare Matcha at its best, there are three main things which I think made a difference in my Matcha experience. After learning about them, I can never prepare Matcha like before because it made such difference to the taste!
No Cups, but Chawans
I have always enjoyed Matcha in a cup. It felt like it was right to hold the cup by its handle. When the tea ceremony master placed beautiful bowls in front of us, they immediately caught my attention. That’s a lot more elegant than using a cup! Each of us was presented with bowls which were special in their own ways, be it their pattern or shape. The tea ceremony master went on explaining how Matcha should be whisked and prepared in a tea bowl (traditionally known as Chawan). “Cha” brings the meaning of tea while “wan” means bowl. That was very interesting to know because “cawan” means cup in my national language, Malay.
Unlike teacups, Chawan has more surface for you to pick up the bowl with your right hand and place it on your left palm. I did exactly as told. Wow, that feeling of holding warm Chawan in your palms was soothing.
Chawan also has a large opening to let you inhale the aroma while carefully sipping the Matcha. I was asked to not take too long to finish drinking Matcha and that it should be finished with 3 to 4 gulps. That was the best Matcha I had tasted until that point!
I bet the beauty of Chasen contributed to its aroma!
Whisk Matcha Using Chasen
Being in the tea ceremony made me realise that the experience of drinking Matcha begins with the moment Matcha is being prepared. One of the indispensable steps to preparing Matcha is the whisking process. The secret to a delicious frothy bowl of Matcha lays in the traditional whisk (Chasen). It is made out of one piece of natural bamboo. My tea ceremony master explained that a typical Chasen will have 80 fine tines in its inner and outer layers.
While bamboo is used because of its durability and flexibility, it is also highly fragile and therefore important to take good care of Chasen. I want to share a few insider tips I learned to ensure your Chasen can last for years. Soften the Chasen’s tines with water for a few minutes to make them less brittle, and most importantly, store Chasen using a whisk keeper (Kusenaoshi) when not in use. After multiple usage of Chasen, the tines will lose their shapes. Kusenaoshi helps to maintain the original shape.
You will also only get to listen to the sound of fast but stern whisking of Matcha using a Chasen. Matcha can be prepared using a milk frother or a small kitchen whisk but it will never create the desired layer of frothiness and the consistent sound of whisking.
This leads me to my next and last point.
Drink and Prepare Matcha With All Your Senses
Before the tea ceremony, Matcha was just a drink to me. My tea ceremony master specifically told us to use all of our senses to capture the full experience. She pointed out how we should pay full attention to every step of a Matcha’s preparation. Personally, I found this very memorable because it changed my whole Matcha drinking experience. Matcha may be the centre of focus here but the tools and your senses play a significant role.
It begins with the sound we hear as piping hot water is poured into the Chawan with Matcha powder in it. Then the sound of the rapid whisks. “Sha-ka, sha-ka, sha-ka”, she said and smiled as she placed her fingers to her ear, asking us to listen closely to the fast and steady whisks. We were then told to look at the bubbles which started to form at the top of the tea. What was originally bright green in colour was now becoming a layer of smooth bright green froth.
She then politely presented each of us a Chawan. As we held our Chawan, the tea ceremony master once again reminded us to feel the warmness of Matcha and the pattern on the Chawan. Then, she pointed to her nose, indicating us to smell the aroma of freshly prepared Matcha. I was not at all rushing to taste the Matcha because I was so engrossed in each step’s details. The final step was to enjoy each sip of Matcha. We were told that good quality Matcha should not taste unpleasantly bitter but instead have a light hint of sweetness.
Tasting the bursting flavours of Matcha was the last step which concluded the whole experience. We ended our tea ceremony experience with a small Japanese sweet. The sweetness is meant to balance the tender bitterness of Matcha.
With the knowledge I learned from my tea ceremony master, I can never drink Matcha without caring about the details. Matcha is no longer just a grab-to-go drink anymore. I take time to drink Matcha tea with all my senses. It is a way for me to look inwards and calm myself down. “Sha-ka, sha-ka, sha-ka”, I will always remember.
I do hope these tips will help you to appreciate Matcha differently! Begin with the right utensils to prepare Matcha and take care of each step. Trust me, this will make you feel more collected!
Published: April 15, 2019
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