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Matcha : Not only a traditional beverage

Posted by Swan Domergue on

Matcha : Not only a traditional beverage

Fan of the Japanese culture or not, you probably already heard about the health benefits of Matcha. Indeed in a society where we tend to be more responsible in our daily consumption and to look after our health, Matcha became popular all over the world during the last decade and you can now find it in pretty much all the grocery stores in Japan and abroad.

We all know that this beverage comes from Japan and most people see it as a simple green tea, however, it is slightly different and Matcha has an interesting history and way to be consumed in Asia and especially in Japan.

Discover with us the history of Matcha and what made this old and authentic drink really popular in the 21st century !

 

History Matcha - Konbinisan

The History of Matcha

Likewise many things in the Japanese culture, Matcha was originally created in China during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907) and brought to Japan in 1191 by the monk Myoan Eisai who found in the green tea powder some regenerating and relaxing features during his long meditation. Many years later, scientists could actually prove that Eisai was right, the interaction of Matcha's caffeine and L-theanine have some relaxing properties for the muscles and allows better digestion.

Unsatisfied about how Buddhism was practiced in the Land of the Rising Sun Eisai went twice on pilgrimage to China to first study the principles of Chan and then become a certified practitioner.

Eisai was belonging to the Zen Rinzai (臨済宗) Buddhist sect to which he introduced Matcha for the first time in 1191. Matcha became popular among the members of the sect that quickly decided to associate the consumption of the beverage with meditation and turn the tradition into a sacred ritual, to a point that dedicating a bowl of the drink to Buddha was a part of daily temples activities.

From the 13th century, the consumption of Matcha increased a lot all around the archipelago especially thanks to the Buddhist religious proselytism that preached the benefits and the curative power of the tea powder. Seeing it as a divine power even stronger than meditation itself the importance attached to Matcha led them to create a specific ceremony for Matcha preparation and consumption.

 

The Tea Ceremony

Years after years the tea ceremony became a codified ritual that has been completely implemented in the Buddhist culture and the principles of "zen" and all the gestures and utensils used during the ceremony have the same importance as the beverage itself. Indeed a whole process has to be respected as it is aesthetics, the master of ceremonies always considers his guests with every movement.

It's during the XVI century that the tea ceremony reached its peak, especially among the Samurai. At that time Japan was not yet unified and many wars occurred in the country between the different provinces. The warriors found in the tea ceremony a way to relax and gain serenity during this violent and stressful period.

 

Tea Cermony - Konbinisan

What's is the ritual 

Called Chanoyu (茶の湯) in Japanese, the tea ceremony is as we said extremely codified, all steps follow a specific order that needs to be strictly respected.

  • First step: Salutation

The master of the ceremony greets each of his guests by slightly tilting his head while remaining standing.

  • Second step: Preparation of utensils.

The master of the ceremony places the specific utensils needed for the preparation of the tea around him. All the guests will be served one by one.

  • Third step: Cleaning the utensils

The master of the ceremony cleans all the tools in front of his guests with clear water in a graceful posture.

  • Fourth step: Matcha preparation

Once the utensils are perfectly clean, the master of the ceremony starts the preparation of the tea by adding three scoops of Matcha powder in a small bowl and fill it with hot and pure water.

  • Fifth step: Serving the tea

The master of the ceremony serves his first guest by raising the bowl in front of him/her to show respect. At the same time, the master will greet his guests again by tilting his head.

  • Sixth step: Repeating the same process

The master of the ceremony reiterates the same gesture for each of his guests because all the invitees share the same bowl, he will pay attention to rotate clockwise twice the bowl io position the front side of the bowl at the opposite of his mouth. Then, he gathers all the tools and cleans them again before presenting them to his guests.

On their side, the invitees have to strictly drink two small sips of the beverage only.

Where does the ceremony occurs?

The ceremony takes place in a specific tatami room named Chashitsu (茶室) which is sparsely decorated with a hanging scroll featuring that the monks call a Bokuseki (Japanese calligraphy) that suggests a spiritual and appropriated atmosphere  to serve and drink the tea. Some seasonal flower arrangements specially chosen for the ceremony are disposed in vases around the room for a peaceful atmosphere.

Chashitsu - Konbinisan

What are the utensils ?

The tools used to prepare the tea are specific and remain always the same :

  • Chawan (茶碗) : A small and traditional bowl that contains the tea. The bowl is  made of plastic or wood and usually painted with a black (outer part) and red (inner part) colors. 
  • Chasen (茶筅) : A short whisk made of bamboo and used to mix the tea with the hot water and to dilute it properly.
  • Chashaku (茶杓) : A tiny spoon made of bamboo is used to measure the amount of tea powder necessary for a drink.
Matcha Utensils - Konbinisan

What kind of tea is used ?

In contrary to what most people think, Matcha and Green Tea are two different things. They both derived from the same plant (the Camelia Sinensis), but the green tea consists of infusing the leaves of the plant into hot water while the Matcha is a grounded form of the plant. Therefore, Matcha is much more concentrated and contains more caffeine.

Also, the way to grow the plant differs according to what you want to do with it. For producing green tea, the leaves of the plant need to be left under the sun while for Matcha they are kept under a special cover and protected from ultraviolet rays to increase the chlorophyll and the amino acids level in the leaves.

When we drink Matcha we actually consume the whole tea leaf and this is why the taste is richer and the texture thicker than usual green tea.

How is Matcha made?

We already said that Matcha and green tea are made from the same plant but remain different, and it's  the growing and the laboring process that change the features.

Matcha is produced at a specific period of the year and the farmers use a unique process  that needs to be respected to maintain the quality of the Matcha, let see what are the different steps of Matcha cultivation.

  • Oishitaen -覆下園- (cultivated in the shade)

Matcha is usually produced in Uji, an old place renowned for the cultivation of the tea for many years. At the crossroads of four different Japanese prefectures, Uji is a place where it often rains and where the soil is very fertile.

Just before the first shots emerge around April, the tea fields are covered in order to be protected  from the sunbeam. Thanks to shade cultivation the tea will gain more nutritional values and the plant will produce a higher rate of chlorophyll and L-theanine which is a significant factor as it is the amino acid that makes the flavor of Matcha so rich. When it is exposed to the sun, the L-theanine turns into catechin and makes the taste bitter. Therefore it is important to avoid the sprouts  being under the sun as the tea will otherwise lose its sweetness.

 

Oshiaten - Konbinisan
  • Chatsumi -茶摘- (Tea Picking)

The first green tea plucking starts around the end of April and ends at the end of May, in the tea harvest industry we call this first plucking 'ichibancha (一番茶)". Once the the first tea leaves are picked, the new ones will pop up instead and will be picked at the end of July. Finally, the third and last plucking occurs at the beginning of August.

The more tea is picked early the more its quality is high, and this is why the farmers usually make Matcha with the "first flush". However, it is also important to notice the quality varies within the same production. Indeed the smallest leaves located at the top of the plant are the ones containing the most nutrients and they are also the ones used to make the highest quality of Matcha. The lower leaves are used to make a high-quality green tea and the lowest ones to make a normal green tea.

Matcha picking - Konbinisan

  • Mushi -蒸し- (Steaming and Air Drying)

As soon as they are picked, the leaves need  to undergo a steaming  process instantly since they may quickly oxidize and ferment. Thanks to a quick steaming process the tea will keep its freshness, aroma color and will retain the amino acids and other nutrients. After being steamed, the tea is smoothly dried into a specific blowing machine where the moisture condensation is eliminated. The leaves will reduce by six their original sizes during this process.

At this stage of production the tea leaves are called Aracha (荒茶).

 

 

Matcha Drying - Konbinisan
  • Senbetsu -選別- (Sorting Destemming and Deveining)

After being dried, the tea leaves are sorted according to their color, their weight and size. Then the stalks and nerves have to be de-stemmed  to ensure only the finest leaves for the Matcha production. Those finest leaves will  undergo a final drying process and be shredded, a last control will happen to make sure that no unnecessary elements remains in the leaves. The result of all these steps will be some perfectly clean and rich leaves called Tencha (甜茶) and will be the main raw material of Matcha powder.

On their side, the stalks and nerves will not be wasted, they will be used to make a green tea named Kukicha (茎茶) or Hojicha (ほうじ茶).

Matcha Deveined - Konbinisan
  • Funsai -粉砕- (Grounding)

Finally, the Tencha leaves will undergo the final step of production that consists of grinding them into a thin powder. This process is meticulously done to keep the quality of Matcha, and takes a long time as the leaves are grounded between two stone mills that slowly rotate and will turn them into a roughly 4 microns small powder. It usually takes an hour to grind 40 grams of leaves.

After being ground, the powder needs to be quickly refregirated at a low temperature to avoid oxidation and keep its rich flavour.

As you've read, the cultivation and production of Matcha require some particular know-how and a determined process that takes a long time before the powder is marketed. This long and scrupulous process is before all due to a volition from the producers to make a high-quality product

In our globalized world, where the trades have been facilitated with the explosion of the internet, the technological advancement and the setting up of various free trades partnerships between the nations,  Matcha has become very popular around the world, especially since 2010s since health and well being became very fashionable in the society.

Matcha Grinding - Konbinisan

 

What are the benefits of Matcha ?

We all know that Matcha is a super healthy drink with many benefits on your body. That what explains the huge popularity of the Japanese plant, as it is the main sales argument of the industrials of the sector. But what are the real benefits of the Matcha and how does it influence your health?

  • Matcha strengthen our immune system  

Matcha is a natural antioxidant that helps our body to fight many diseases. This green tea powder has some proven antiviral properties that are efficient against seasonal infectious diseases such as influenza. Thanks to its high content of vitamins and catechine Matcha inhibits replication of the virus.

In addition to this, the delicious tea also contains a large number of trace elements such as iron, potassium and, zinc and all these natural chemical elements are known to be efficient infection fighters and stregthen the immune system.

  • Matcha helps to fight cardiovascular diseases 

Yes Matcha  helps fighting cardiovascular diseases and this is essentially due to its antimutagenic propriety that is efficient against high blood pressure and especially the Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG) a type of catechin that has protective propriety for the heart. Also, the regular consumers of Matcha will see their cholesterol blood and, triglyceride rate drop drastically.

Therefore, this healthy drink reduces cardiac diseases and the risks of having a heart attack or a stroke. Those benefits are due to the high antioxidant content of the beverage.

  • A cancer fighter drink

Still thanks to its antioxidant content, the Matcha is also an efficient anticancer agent. Again, this due to the Epigallocatechin Gallate esters that play a crucial role in fighting cancer spreading. Many cancerologists confirm that regular consumption of green tea and Matcha substantially reduce the risks of developing different cancer such as prostate, bladder stomach or breast cancer.

  • An efficient detoxifying agent for free radicals

 Free radicals are molecules with unpaired electrons. They steal other cells of electrons, causing damage and contributing to much important ilness .Free radicals are associated with human disease, including cancer, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and others

Among all the health benefits that Matcha offers, fighting free radicals is also one of its important assets that pushe many doctors to recommend the Japanese drink to their patients. It's again the presence of antioxidants in the tea that slow down cellular aging.

  • A cognitive faculties booster

We have so far only talked about the benefits that Matcha has on you physical health. But as Matcha has been used for centuries by the monks in their meditation process, you probably guess that the beverage has also many benefits on our mental health as well.

By reducing the stress thanks to its high L-Theanine content, the Matcha  improves and optimize our brain cells abilities, therefore our concentration.

  • A weight loss supplement

You probably heard that Matcha has also the ability to enhance weight loss, this is probably the main reason why it became so popular all over the world in recent years. Many nutritionists recommend to often drink Matcha during a diet  as it is an effective fat burner.

The reason is that the Epigallocatechin Gallate contained in the tea powder speed up metabolism to increase energy expenditure and optimize fat burning. 

 

Then, we saw that Matcha Tea powder has a lot of benefits on your physic and mental health and it is recommended by most healthcare professionals. However, bear in mind that it is not a miraculous solution that will keep your body healthy without doing anything else. It is just an effective complement to a healthy diet and regular exercises

.

Matcha Benefits - Konbinisan

Snacks flavored with Matcha

Before being a healthy drink, Matcha Tea powder is appreciated for its unique and delicious taste. The Japanese snacks industrials have known this fact for long time and in a country where the consumers are constantly craving for novelty and originality, all the confectionary companies have added some Matcha to the original recipe of their various snacks.

Especially in Japan, you can find many snacks that are limited edition or not and contains Matcha, that also give a good image of these products that are not always recommended to stay in shape

Matcha Snacks - Konbinisan

 

What about Konbinisan ?

Our main goal in Konbinisan is to satisfy our customers but also to introduce the variety of the Japanese snacks culture to foreigners. Japan is probably the country where you would find the largest range of snacks with much different taste. Often associated with the season, the main actors of the market are constantly changing their offer  to always propose something new and at Konbinisan we are trying to propose as many novelties as possible to our customers all the year long.

When it comes to Matcha, our catalog has a huge range of different snacks flavored with a delicious sweet matcha tea, from candies to breadsticks and chocolates, going through the most popular brand such as Kit Kat, Pocky, Meltykiss or Chocopie, discover all our Matcha treats HERE !

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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