Japanese Matcha Tea
Powdered green tea, or "matcha" as it's called in Japanese, is a green tea famous for it's delicious flavor as well as health benefits. The tea leaves are taken from the plants, dried and then ground into a very fine powder. This green tea powder is then used to make tea by whisking it together until frothy.
Traditionally, matcha was prepared simply as a tea, made with hot water. However this has changed drastically in modern times. Matcha is now used to make other beverages such as matcha lattes or matcha milkshakes. Matcha cake, candy and ice cream can now be found all over the world.
The production of high quality matcha requires that the leaves of the tree be covered for the last couple of weeks before harvesting. This shading of the leaves causes them to darken and intensifies the build up amino acids in the leaves, causing the end product to be much more flavorful and even a bit sweet.
The leaves can then be rolled up to by dried and sold as is. However if the leaves are laid out flat and allowed to dry and then ground, the resulting thin, green tea powder is known as Matcha.
Matcha can range in price and flavor depending on many factors in the production process.
Records of tea drinking have been found in china dating back to the 10 century BC. However, it is likely that tea was being consumed long before then. Even in ancient China, tea was already known to have marvelous healthy properties, prompting one Chinese scholar to call it the "elixir of life."
Green tea was brought back to Japan by Japanese monks and nobles who visited china from in 800 AD. It spread in popularity amongst the upper classes and Buddhist monasteries. In the 13 century seeds were brought to Uji, a village nearby Kyoto. This area became the premiere tea producing area in Japan and is where much of the premium matcha produced in Japan comes from.
In the 15th century, China's tea ceremony was imported as well. The ceremony evolved and was developed further in Japan.
Matcha is just another form of green tea, so it has all the health benefits found in green tea. The only difference is that unlike drinking tea made from steeping green tea leaves in water and then removing them, matcha is made by mixing dried, ground tea leaves with water. At no point is any of the tea leaf removed before drinking. This means that the entire leaf is consumed, and so the health benefits from a single serving of matcha is much greater than that of regular green tea serving.
Regular green tea is a fantastic source of antioxident's which have been shown to protect the body against free radicals that cause cancer. Green tea is already a better source than other much touted antioxident foods such as blue berries and chocolate. However, a serving of matcha has been shown to have up to 137 times the amount of antioxidents as regular green tea.
For all of it's healthiness, Matcha can contain high amounts of caffeine. It all depends on the amount of matcha used when it's being prepared. When brewing matcha, the amount of scoops used can boost the potency of the matcha and up it's health benefits as well as the amount of caffiene found in the matcha. The amount of caffeine in matcha can sometimes be as high as black tea and coffee.
If you love caffeine, though, matcha is a great source.
The traditionaly way of preparing and drinking matcha in Japan has developed into a Ceremony and is considered an art in modern day Japan. It is know as 茶道 (sadou), or "the way of tea." Zen budhism plays a key role in the ceremony, as the server and the guests are supposed drink the tea and reflect on that moment and the fleetingness of life.
The ceremony begins with preparation of the the setting, including the arranging of flowers and preparing of a written wall hanging. Guests arrive and are then welcomed and sit in front of the host who begins the process. The ceremony itself is complicated and there are many different schools with different styles. All schools however adhere to a serious and deliberate systematic way of preparing the tea. Everything from how many scoops of tea too how to properly fold the cloth used to wipe the equipment is followed. Guests are then given the tea and also follow certain rituals when drinking the tea. All of this is designed to put both the guests and host in a reflective state so as to appreciate that moment in time when life has brought them all together to share matcha.
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