What is Matcha tea? And how can it benefit my health?

by Steven Popec 25. September 2012 11:27

You may have heard of ‘matcha’ tea. In fact, matcha comes in a variety of products. There’s matcha ice cream, matcha cupcakes, and matcha noodles. Matcha is found all over the grocery store, and many people have no idea what it is.

Basically, matcha is finely powdered green tea. Normally, green tea consists of a blend of fresh tea leaves. As opposed to other types of tea, which have been left to ferment, dry, and curl up, green tea is usually left unfermented. When green tea is ground into a fine powder, it retains its natural green coloring, giving it a unique appearance and natural food dyeing properties. Matcha has also been linked to a range of health benefits.

Creating matcha

The Japanese word for matcha means ‘fine powder tea’, and that is exactly what matcha is. Matcha is made from tea bushes that are ‘shaded’. 20 days before being harvested, tea plants are covered in order to prevent exposure to sunlight. This stunts growth of the tea and causes the shades to turn a deep, leafy shade of green. In terms of health benefits, shading the tea also stimulates the production of amino acids. Interestingly enough, these amino acids also contribute flavor to the matcha.

After being harvested, the leaves are laid out flat in order to dry. This causes parts of the leaf to crumble. The veins and stems of the leaves are then removed. Finally, the remainder of the leaf is ground into matcha powder.

In the past, creating matcha was a very labor-intensive process. If the tea producer made an error while grinding the tea, it could become ‘burnt’, in which case the matcha was declared to be of an inferior level of quality. Today, most matcha production is performed by machines. 

Uses for matcha

Today, matcha is used in a variety of food products. It plays a particularly important role in Japanese tea culture. It’s also used to make all of the following food products:

-Matcha chocolates

-Matcha tempura

-Green tea ice cream

-Matcha cookies

-Matcha milk

-Matcha rice

Matcha is even used in Green Tea Lattes from Starbucks, which shows that it’s popular in both Japan and other parts of the world.

Health benefits of matcha

Most people know green tea is a healthy beverage. Like green tea, matcha has been linked to a number of different health benefits. However, since matcha tea is ingested (as opposed to regular green tea just being steeped in green tea leaves), its health benefits are often magnified.

Here are a few of matcha’s most popular health benefits:

-Increases antioxidant EGCG

-Boosts metabolism

-Lowers cholesterol

-High in antioxidants

-Mental health benefits.

Because of these health benefits, you can find matcha tea in health products like cereals and energy bars.

What’s The Story Behind Japanese Tea?

by Steven Popec 10. September 2012 01:11

Many Asian countries produce loose leaf tea. However, Japan is one tea-producing country that you don’t hear a lot about. Much of the attention is focused on Indian, Chinese, and Sri Lankan teas.

This has given Japan plenty of time to quietly refine the quality of its tea. While Japanese green tea might not be as well-known as the tea of its neighbors, teas like Genmaicha, Bancha, and Sencha remain popular to this day. In fact, Japan has developed a rich tea culture for hundreds of years, and today, ‘Japanese tea ceremony’ plays an important role at social events.

The history of Japanese tea

Tea has not always been grown in Japan. Unlike other parts of Asia, tea does not grow naturally in Japan, which means that the original seeds had to be imported. This didn’t occur until the 9th century, when Japanese explorers began traveling to and from neighboring China to learn about its culture. After these travelers discovered how important tea was to the Chinese, they decided to bring it back to the islands of Japan. 

Tea grew in popularity in Japan from that point forward. Japanese travelers to China continued to bring back different varieties of tea over the next few centuries, and Japanese priests were particularly interested in the beverage due to its healing properties. In fact, some of the most frequent tea drinkers in Japan during this period were priests.

Just how important was tea to Japanese health? One of the oldest tea specialty books in the world was written in Japan in 1211. It was called Kissa Yojoki, which means “How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea” in Japanese. That book begins by stating “tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and has the ability to make one’s life more full and complete.” This is quite the spectacular endorsement, and the beverage continued to grow in popularity among all classes in Japan.

Modern Japanese tea

All different types of tea are produced in Japan. However, certain types of tea – like green tea – are particularly popular. The Japanese make several different varieties of green tea, including the popular Japan Sencha green tea.

In the past, Japanese tea was rolled, dried, and steamed by hand. Today, that is no longer the case. Except for the most expensive tea blends, all Japanese tea is produced by automation. However, due to the quality of Japanese manufacturing, automating tea production actually improved its quality as opposed to taking away from it.

Japanese tea ceremony

For hundreds of years, the Japanese have made tea an important part of their culture. ‘Japanese tea ceremony’ is an important part of welcoming guests into the home, and tea must be prepared and presented in a certain way. In more formal settings, hosts are judged by the artistry of the tea ceremony. Zen Buddhists played a key role in bringing tea ceremonies into Japan, as certain types of tea – like matcha and sencha - are important to the Zen Buddhism religion.

ESP Emporium has several popular Japanese tea blends from which to choose, including the Cherry Green Tea Blend and Bancha Green Tea. Whatever your tastes may be, Japanese tea has been refined over hundreds of years, leading to the quality flavor and rich history we know today.

Traditional Japanese Tea Pavilion

by Elena Popec 30. April 2010 10:27

The Tea Pavilion is one of the most interesting monuments in the world of architecture. Which is unparalleled, not only in the West, but also in the Land of the Rising Sun. 
 
According to legend, a tea pavilion as a separate building, invented by Rikyu, the greatest of all Japanese tea ceremony masters, who in the XVI century determined its ritual. 
 
Formally, the tea pavilion (sukiya) is nothing more than a simple thatched hut. It consists of the tea room accommodating up to five people, ante-room (Mizuya) where all supplies for the ritual are washed and arranged before taking in the main room, awning (Matia) under which guests usually expect an invitation to enter, and a garden path (Rhodes) that is connecting the awning and the tea room. 
 
The Tea Pavilion is a very small building, but every detail in it is carefully chosen. Its construction is more expensive than the construction of a mansion, and the builders carrying out an order of a master of tea ceremony are very respectable caste. 
 
The style of the tea pavilion is very simple. The situation should help to forget the bustle of the material world, and not to compel attention to its transient luxury. 
 
Semantic center of the tea pavilion is Tokonoma, a kind of "red corner” of the tea room. During the tea ceremony, a painting, a scroll or an object that specifies a certain mood of the guests of the ceremony is placed in Tokonoma. Flowers - one of the most common attributes of the ritual, traditionally, placed inside. 
 
Hieroglyph for a tea pavilion (茶室), can be deciphered as "shelter of imagination", "shelter of emptiness" or "shelter asymmetry”. Tea Pavilion, being sparingly decorated, allows to activate the human imagination, which should complete the asymmetry of the place. 
 
Each tea pavilion is different and, indeed, is unique, as it is created for a specific master at his own request and according to his tastes. The Tea Pavilion is not inherited: when the master dies, the building dies. The Tea Pavilion is an attempt to feel the joy of individually experienced moments of life, rather than enduring symbol of eternity. 
 
In contrast to the lush of western interior, the interior of the Tea house is extremly simple. Only one piece of art, which is placed in Tokonoma, specifies a certain mindset. According to that piece of art, most often it is flowers or a special type and color of glassware, then the rest of accessories are selected.
 
No subject in the tea pavilion looks like any other by color or shape. Flowers are never combined with their images, a black bowl is not used in combinations with a black box for storing tea leaves, and even wooden objects are made of different types of trees. The awareness of imperfection and incompleteness is a way to comprehend the world around by trying to find one’s place in it and coming to harmony with it. 
 
Like everything else in the Japanese culture of tea, the pavilion is a symbol of a certain philosophy of life. A "man" is called to the consonance with the world, harmony, and gain in active spiritual poetic action, not passive contemplation of the surrounding reality, and even more so than merging with it in a wild dance of everyday life.

Exploring The Art Of Japanese Loose Leaf Green Tea

by Elena Popec 2. March 2010 12:54

Over the long centuries of isolation from the rest of the world, in Japan appeared amazing things: ikebana, bonsai, origami, sumo, kabuki, mange and much more. It is logical to assume that in respect of Japan, tea is not so simple either.

Green Tea

Green tea is very popular drink in the world today, but the Japanese consume tea in quite a peculiar way, starting with the production of special teas and ending with particular traditions of tea drinking. Japanese tea ceremonies (Sado or also known as Chanoyu) cannot be described in gastronomical terms. This is an art of contemplation and meditation, a way to achieve harmony with the world and cognize knowledge of the laws of the universe. Even leaving aside the complexity of a Japanese tea ceremony, we can tell you a lot about the kinds of traditional Japanese teas and its consumption.

The first thing that catches the eye, when studying the varieties of Japanese teas, is that they are all green and non-fermented. There are not that many types of Japanese traditional teas and they are all very unique. Their individual characteristics are not similar against each other, nor anything else in the world. The names of Japanese teas are fascinating: Matcha, Sencha, Genmaicha, Gyokuro, Hojicha, Bancha, Usucha, Kamairicha, Kabusecha, Tamaryokucha and Kukicha. Most of these products cannot be found on the shelves of tea shops outside of Japan. The most popular exception is Sencha and Bancha - the easiest tea to prepare with traditional green tea taste.

Sencha literally means “roasted tea”, a basic Japanese tea and the basis of which many other varieties of Japanese teas are developed. In fact, Sencha is a plain green tea that does not require special knowledge and skills to prepare. Most Japanese green teas are steamed at first to prevent oxidation, then rolled, shaped, dried and finally fired to preserve and add flavor. All lovers of green tea will admire its lightly grassy note. As any tea, Sencha could be a high quality and poor, we should not draw any conclusions about this tea when tasting Sencha of incomprehensible production. Good quality Sencha consists of a flat and long delicate tea leaves with distinctive fragrant of fresh green grass. Even high-graded Sencha contains a large amount of powder or tea dust. When brewed, Sencha gives a very bright infusion with a lively green color, traditionally served in transparent or white cups. The aroma and taste of Sencha are soft, both fresh and slightly sweet and velvety. Sencha tea infusion includes a large amounts of caffeine, vitamins C and B2. This tea invigorates the mind and body.

Preparing Sencha is a simple process, even thou the first attempt may fail, don’t be discouraged: warm teapot, put tea leaves in, cover with water remembering that water should not be boiling, and steep for a while ... However, it is impossible to give universal recommendations about the amount of dry tea leaves, water temperature and time of infusion, since the quality of tea and water are always different. Made with hard water tea is not as good because of its active substances that cannot dissolve fully. For green teas (all teas in general) there is a tip: the more delicate tea and softer water, the lower the water temperature should be and less time of infusion. Sencha tea leaves must not steep longer than 2-3 minutes. This means that the entire teapot tea should be poured into cups or into a separate container no later than in 3 minutes. If over steeped, the tea will be bitter, if under steeped the taste will be watery.  Sencha is the only Japanese tea that almost does not change the taste and aroma in the second and subsequent brewing. Other Japanese teas are inconceivable to brew a few times without losing the taste. The first of each new brewing is recommended to take one heaping tea spoon per 6oz serving of tea and infuse for 2 to 3 minutes. If the taste and aroma seem to be weak, hold the second brew a little longer, but next time increase the amount of tea. An indicator of properly brewed Sencha is bubbly foam. If not, that means that the water is too hot, cold, hard or the tea leaves are not the best quality.

Tea Gyokuro (also known as "precious dew" or "jade drops") is a higher grade expensive tea, which is cultivated in a special way. Gyokuro is different from Sencha because it grows under the shade for about two weeks prior to the harvesting period that aims to reduce amount of Catechin in leaves, therefore the bitterness in tea infusion. This fine tea is very rich in aromatic oils, vitamins, minerals, caffeine and other useful and pleasant elements. Splendid Gyokuro is also called "King of tea" and "Tea of genius" because it cheers up (raises) the spirit and stimulates the thinking. The taste and aroma of Gyokuro is similar to Sencha but with light almost imperceptible nuances. Color of dry tea leaves vary from bright green to golden-brown depending on the terrain and weather during the growth and harvest. Tea merchants will recommend a unique method of brewing for Gyokuro which differs from any other tea brewing techniques. Gyokuro tea leaves are typically steeped at low temperature 150 to 165 F for 1 to 2 minutes. Since the temperature of water is low, pre-heating the pot and cups in order to maintain the warmth of tea would be recommended as well. If the water used is too hot, it will destroy the magnificence of taste and aroma.

Matcha is a fine-powder with the consistency resembling talc green tea used in Japanese tea ceremonies and cooking. Matcha is the most difficult Japanese tea to prepare according to traditional techniques and requires specific skills. It was invented in China in the tenth century and was introduced to Japan only in the twelfth century. Being forgotten at home, powdered tea has become a cultural asset of Japan. Matcha is made from Tencha that has very similar cultivation process to Gyokuro. The process of covering tea bushes from direct sun light before harvesting enriches the tea leaves of amino acids and makes it sweeter. Gathered and processed tea lives with removed stems and veins undergo grinding procedure by millstones.  Matcha  is a premium quality and has a sweet taste with a deep flavor.

Matcha

During a Japanese tea ceremony, Matcha powder frothes up into a foam with bamboo whisk and a small amount of water. The advantage of this type of tea is the fact that all substances contained in tea leaves are delivered into the human body completely - in the form of an opaque beverage. Matcha is a concentrate of tea leafs. The taste of this tea is very fresh, but slightly bitter. Matcha can be combined with other types of tea adding freshness to taste and aroma. Lower quality grades of Matcha can be added to various dishes of rice, noodles and tempura to chocolate, ice-cream and traditional Japanese sweets.

Tamaryokucha is a high-quality Japanese green tea. To make it, tea leaves are steamed or fried. Tamaryokucha is rich in vitamins and contains little caffeine. This tea has a berry-like flavor with an almond aftertaste and citrus-grassy distinctive aroma.

Genmaicha is a combination of Sencha with roasted brown rice. This mixture gives a turbid light brown color of infusion and well pronounced rice flavor with hints of sunflower seeds and fish. Taste-wise, Genmaicha resembles soup, after the tea is drunk, you can eat the rice. This drink-dish is a great alternative to dinner or lunch for those who are on a diet. Japanese drink Genmaicha to subside the feeling of hunger without burdening the stomach. This tea contains a large amount of vitamin B1 and a small amount of caffeine.

Hojicha is a roasted tea that is set apart from other Japanese teas. This tea is made from Sencha which is roasted in a porcelain pot over charcoal at high temperature. Tea leaves of Hojicha tea ate brown and shiny with a dominating roasted flavor. Hojicha steeps by conventional infusion for less than a minute. Color of the infusions resembles weakly brewed black tea. Hojicha does not have subtle nuances of aroma and taste. This is a simple tea to quench the thirst or drink during the meal. Because of the process of roasting Hojicha, the amount of caffeine decreases, this tea can be served after the evening meal and/or before going to sleep.

Other Japanese green teas that are characterized as low quality Sencha are Bancha and Kukicha. These uncomplicated teas are made from big crude leaves, stems, stalks and twigs. These types of Japanese teas are collected at the end of the season and are considered as lower grade. Bancha and Kukicha are the simplest and cheapest of Japanese teas and are used for daily consumption of liquid for Macrobiotic Diet, the dietary regimen that is based primarily on grains and plants.  This macrobiotic way of eating is very popular in Japan. There are twenty two grades of Bancha. Kukicha can be added to juice for children’s consumption.

 

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