by Cassandra Vincent
Even though it has been in existence for hundreds of years in Japan, Matcha was a kind of ‘break out’ trend in the West a few years back but the explosion has not slowed down. I am seeing Matcha in all sorts of products including lattes, ice cream, chocolate, coating nuts, in facial products, RTDs, cocktails and on and on. If I see an ad for Matcha underwear with the tag line “absorb it through your butt!” then perhaps it will have gone too far. But who knows, innovation takes wonderful and absurd turns and there are consumers who love them (remember spray tea in a can? ).
The first time I experienced Matcha was in a latte in NYC. It was the most jazzed day from a tea kick that I had ever had to that point but with an amazing sense of calm.
Ma=powdered & Cha=tea
With Matcha you ingest the whole leaf. To add to this already intense idea, Matcha is shade grown resulting in fewer leaves with more concentrated flavor. The plants make more chlorophyll to compensate which results in the seriously deep green colour. This shading also increases the amount of the amino acid L-theanine which is the component that gives the chilled out feeling that balances out the caffeinated effects of the tea and the umami flavor it is known to have by degrees.
If you’ve never had Matcha before you may want to try it in latte or food form first. After all the kick in the pants feeling is great but not so the kick in the stomach. Matcha is intense, and similar to too much juiced kale or beets it can be an uncomfortable experience if too much is ingested too fast without a ‘buffer’ of sorts. That said, cow’s milk will not reduce the caffeine effects of Matcha but it has been found to inhibit antioxidant absorption (ha, so very Khaleesi “it has been found” reminds me of “It is known”). You can use coconut, almond, hemp milk, etc. if that is a concern. Also, make sure to store Matcha in an airtight container, with the air pressed out of it, in the fridge for a longer life as it does more than lose its character – it becomes a gross bitter beast. Aim to consume it within a year or by the date the seller indicates.
There is so much Matcha out there now it can be a challenge to know where to begin. It comes in different grades even. There is some Matcha that is intended for cooking but not for drinking, for example. ‘Ceremonial’ Matcha is the term used to generally indicate drinking Matcha. My feeling is this: if I am ingesting the whole leaf I am more interested in an organic and well-sourced product.
For today’s post we are using Tora Matcha – there is a tiger on the package which is very fitting because you can feel like a tiger after having some Matcha goodness. This is an organic Matcha from Kirishima City, Japan in Kagoshima prefecture. It is USDA and HOAS certified (Hyogo Prefectural Organic Agriculture Society- Japan). There are no GMOs, pesticides or additives.
First I tried it straight up in a hot preparation. Now Matcha can be adjusted like all loose tea – you use more or less per volume of water as suits you. If you are new to Matcha you may want to try it weaker and increase until you hit that sweet spot for you. I used 1 tsp. to 6 oz. of water at about 170 F – yeah Matcha won’t like boiling water. There is the option of sifting the Matcha into the bowl or cup first, but I admit I did not do this (you may wish to if your Matcha has clumped up a bit while being stored in the fridge). I added a little water and stirred to make a paste before adding the remainder of the water. This helps reduce clumping. The use of a Matcha whisk, also called a chasen, is also helpful to eliminate clumping and create a frothy layer on top. The tines (like on a fork) are made of bamboo, are thin, in a circle and close together. Don’t be intimidated if you don’t have a chasen though. If you decide to use a blender or cook with the Matcha it won’t matter. You can also use a wire whisk in a pinch.
I found this Matcha to be deep in flavor and smooth. It was less sweet than some I have had but more meaty or umami than others. It is a good dark green as you can see too.
For a more intense experience, I did the 1 tsp. to 2 oz. water hardcore version. No hair has yet popped out on my chest, but stay tuned. The umami aspect was heightened in this more concentrated preparation and I liked that. It coated the tongue in a satisfying way. Matcha can be used either savory or sweet and this strikes me as a Matcha that may excel in savory uses especially.
I started making a morning smoothie just based on what I had on hand one day: banana, avocado, spinach and pineapple in coconut water (or water with coconut flakes or just water with a splash of the pineapple juice). I now crave it. I thought the Matcha might play well with the other ingredients and I was right. It was fantastic! Here is what I used if you want to give it a go:
Throw it all in the blender and mix till smooth.
Another day I added a tsp. of Matcha to my oatmeal along with chia seeds, butter, cocoa and raw honey. It was an excellent food and caffeine mix that tasted far more interesting than plain oatmeal with a banana in it.
I have plans to explore more Matcha uses down the road. Can’t do too many in one day or I might not sleep for a week! This intense tea is a whole world in itself. Thanks to Tora Tea for reaching out to us and providing the Matcha for this tea adventure.
Connect with other tea fans on Facebook and Twitter and share how you have explored the uniqueness of Matcha!
by Cassandra Vincent
‘Fast food’ has garnered negative connotation in our society. But not all things that are fast to prepare are inherently bad. I mean how long does it take to wash an apple, and ‘boom’ it’s ready for you to sink your teeth into it. I love juicing but sometimes don’t have time to [or don't want to] wash, peel and cut everything and then clean all 7 parts of the juicer afterwards! I’ve made my own chai too using a variety of spices but sometimes I appreciate a shortcut.
There is a tea house called SaKu Tea that is launching a line of latte powders that use superfoods and some also include tea, Matcha specifically. They reached out to me about their online funding drive and I thought I would give their blends that include tea a try.
Their Maca Cocoa Jade combines the energies of Matcha green tea and maca, a South American root that is used to balance hormones and energize the body among many other positive effects. I used to use maca regularly – it has a decent malty taste but it was far more enjoyable when mixed with the Matcha, cocoa and spices. They suggest adding maple syrup to this blend but I had it both plain and with a raw honey and thought it was tasty both ways. Their other blend incorporating Matcha is Vanilla Maple Jade. The vanilla in this is at a great level – not overpowering or candy-like, but more subtle and acts as a blending element. The maple adds a gentle sweetness and I felt no need to add more sweetener. There are spices and coconut in this blend too but they work with the other flavors to create a good taste collaboration.
They have 2 blends that highlight beetroot and 2 that focus on turmeric. I really liked the Golden Chai – though it did not contain tea it has all the spicy goodness of a classic chai with a heavy dose of turmeric, which I love. I’ve been drinking turmeric milk for years as it is great for so many things including anti-inflammatory properties, easing the body after heavy workouts, good for congestion… The balance of the spices to the turmeric is good with a peppery kick. My understanding is that pepper assists the body in getting the most out of turmeric too.
So if you like the convenience of pre-blended easy to use superfood and tea powders that are low in sugar but tasty you can check out SaKu Tea and their kickstarter here: www.sakutea.com
Cheers to your ongoing exploration of new flavors in tea!
by Cassandra Vincent
One of the first loose leaf green teas I ever had was a cherry Sencha. When going to school in England I was blessed to have a tea shop right in my town and it was a gateway to a relationship with green tea that is still growing.
Though I still sometimes have a scented green (yes, I don’t have tea bigotry – if it fits the moment I go with it) I have come to appreciate the satisfying flavors of the pure leaf and today I am exploring some Japanese Sencha with some overall info followed by a tasting of 2 quality Senchas from Japanese Green Tea IN. So lets get into the green!
Sencha is touted as the most popular tea type in Japan, sold bagged, loose, and in RTD bottles. Seriously, it is everywhere and dominates the shelves at Japanese foods stores. There are many grades of Sencha, but as I am told virtually all Sencha is harvested mechanically. The first flush [flush=time of harvest, specified further by terms like ‘first’ ‘second’ ‘autumn’ ‘monsoon’, etc.] of Sencha is called 'ichiban-cha' , second flush is called ‘niban-cha’ and third flush (which apparently is not even harvested by some plantations) is called ‘sanban-cha’. Sencha is a full sun grown tea as opposed to shaded (as leaves used to make Matcha and Gyokuro are partially shaded) which aids in giving it a higher amount of catechins though less aminos than say Gyokuro.
I was surprised to find that some Sencha is made in China and India. It is made ‘in the Japanese way’ though. One of the main differences between Japanese green teas and Chinese green teas is that the Japanese method is steaming prior to rolling whereas the Chinese method is pan firing. But even though the method may be the same, you can’t ever replace the terroir (the environment – the soil, elevation and climate) which imbues each tea with unique character.
Sencha leaves are thin, straight and a deep, rich green as compared to the textured, more muted tones of Chinese greens. Darker green seems to be more common in high quality Sencha. I have seen the leaves in slightly varying lengths even broken a bit with dust amongst the leaves.
The Scent and Taste
Sencha does have a range of flavors/notes from bitter, astringent to grassy, fresh, sweet notes
I have heard of people steeping at temps anywhere between 120°-170°. I think it can depend upon the tea as well your palate. When trying a new tea I tend to steep for short time periods and test out a range to see what I like best. I found I prefer Sencha steeped for shorter periods. Certainly anything over 2 minutes, at least on first steep, tends to release too much tannin for my taste and rocks my stomach.
The two Sencha teas I tried are from Japan:
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This lovely Sencha was created by Farm Master Mr. Arahata at Arahataen Green Tea Farm. It is the highest grade Sencha from that farm and available in limited quantity.
The leaves are a very deep green and somewhat broken. Both teas were like that and I asked Kei Nishida, the CEO of Japanese Green Tea IN, about this aspect of the leaf. Kei said that this tea is grown in a region with more sunlight making the tea harder. Then the steaming of this tea is longer than others breaking it down more. As such there is even a bit of fine dust which ends up in the cup. I like this as it adds to the flavour and texture when drinking.
When I placed the leaves in a warmed pot the scent they gave was a deep rich, grassy one with a hint of earth and sweetness. Delicious!
I steeped the first pot at 20 seconds, 40 seconds and 2 minutes for contrast and used water at 155°-160° F
At 20 seconds – I found it to be light but still satisfying, coating the tongue pleasingly, fresh and bright taste
40 seconds – I felt more zing on the tongue, deeper grassy notes, reminded me of a well watered summer garden
2 minutes – Intense aroma going beyond grass and earth to root vegetable and mushroom, a bit of bitterness emerged with a very deep flavor reminiscent of mustard greens and chard
This tea has a great deal of flavor to give and is worth multiple steepings. I preferred the 40 second steep as a starting place though I was glad to have the others for contrast. For the second pot I steeped at 1 minute, 2 minutes and 3 minutes. There was ample aroma in the second steepings with the character of the tea still vibrant. I preferred the 2 and 3 minute second steepings.
I even made a third pot and used it to make ice cubes to add to my water. The flavor still came through like a sweet whisper. Yes, tea gets me all romantic and stuff;)
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Gokuzyo literally means ‘highest grade’ and only uses the First Harvest (Ichiban-cha) with the leaves being hand selected.
This is a Sencha with great depth and character. I feel that if it were to speak it would tell a powerful story of the beauty of the plants and earth from which it comes. Tea does speak and when the quality is high there is poetry to the experience.
Like the Issaku the leaves were somewhat broken with bits of dust and a very deep green.
The look of the steeped tea is a vibrant green, slightly less yellow than jade.
I did 2 first steepings on different days of this tea. I did 30 seconds, 60 seconds , 1 minute and 2 minutes. I found I liked a 1 minute first steep as a starting point.
1 minute – gentle, grassy & slightly sweet. Beautiful color, bit of bitterness but very smooth, coats the tongue softly giving a buttery feel (rather than a buttery taste)
2nd steep – 2 minutes – the bitterness stepped back a bit but the flavor did not diminish – still soft, fresh, slightly grassy and supremely smooth. A really delightful experience.
I shared these with some friends, one of whom is an avid Earl Grey drinker. It's literally all she buys. She said I may just break her of her single tea habit! If this Sencha made her say that it is powerful indeed.
If you like green tea and enjoy single origin, all-by-itself beauty I encourage you to reach beyond a basic bag and try a high end first flush Sencha. Thanks to Kei Nishida and Japanese Green Tea IN for reaching out to us and fueling this exploration into beautiful Japanese Sencha!
by Cassandra Vincent
Oh Tea…you are not who I thought you were…
Does a tea you once loved suddenly taste lackluster to you? Are you afraid that you’ve lost your love of tea? Are you afraid to talk about it? It may not be you, it may be your tea…or at least how it is stored.
I was at my bandmate Philip's place and we made a pot of tea from a loose leaf black blend he had. The first sip was uninspiring and I mentioned that the tea tasted flat like it had lost its character. He was so relieved that it wasn’t just him. He thought that maybe he was going off tea or that he was somehow making it wrong. I looked at the bag it was stored in: not airtight resealable – there was quite a bit of air in there and no tight closure. I asked him how long he had had it and he said months. It’s not that tea can’t last that long, especially black tea, but when it is stored such that air or light or moisture (or heat or odors) can get in and wreak havoc the glorious flavors have a much shortened life span.
There are a myriad of opinions and articles on tea storage but here’s what works well for me and I hope it helps keep your relationship with your favorite tea in a good place:
So there you go. Like Philip you may have a better palate than you realize and if your favorite tea tastes ‘off’ to you, it may be worth your while to rethink your storage. After all good relationships take care and attention. I hope that you and your tea bae have a long, satisfying, delicious relationship.
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