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
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
Info sources: Chado Tea Room; Tea Research Institute of Kenya
Ok. So it isn’t exactly new, but Kenyan purple tea is not yet prolific and this was my first taste of it. Apparently this tea is a ‘clone’ that was created as a means to increase tea revenues for the country. This tea has a higher concentration of anthocyanins than average black and green teas, which give its leaves a partial purple cast and of course give the consumer a higher dose of these powerful antioxidants. It is also said to be easier to grow as it is less susceptible to pests and temperature issues.
THE LOOK AND TASTE
I don’t generally ‘review’ teas, per se, because I think everyone’s palate is different and my experience may not match that of others’. Our taste is so affected by our depth of experience, our health, even what we ate that day. Still, as this is a new tea type it seemed a fun idea to share my experience. So, here we go:
I like the hardy feel of the dried leaves, their dark, rich color and the way they curl and twist. They smell very vegetal dry and as I was told are more like green tea in characteristics than black, which I found to be true to my palate.
The scent of the wet leaves reminded me of juicy tomatoes and collard greens.
The suggestion was to brew for 4 minutes at 195 degrees, but I also did a 2 minute and 3 minute steep, because…why not? I did find I preferred the 4 minute steep. At the 2 minute steep I found the tea to taste as it smells – vegetal. It reminded me of mustard greens and bamboo shoots for some reason and there was a faint buttery aspect. There was a bit of a buzz on the tongue too.
At 3 minutes the buzz was greater though the tasted mellowed with less bitterness.
At 4 minutes the vegetal aspect is more refined, sweeter, richer. The buzz on the tongue lessened. Reminded me of a bubbling stream in a forest.
The colour was a pale green gold with minor depth increase with each minute of steep. The nose on the steeped tea was interestingly less than from the dry leaf to me.
I am told the caffeine content is mild with this tea. Also, an interesting chemical note: if lemon is added (or any acidic source) the colour of the tea turns pink to melon colored – depending on how much is added. I was told this is the acid working on the anthocyanins. The acid adds hydrogen to the anthocyanins altering their structure ( yeah, tea gets all science-y and shit) The tea doesn’t necessarily get enhanced flavor-wise by the addition of lemon (tasted like grapefruit to me) but it was a fun fact to play with.
As to multiple steepings I didn't get anything clear on how many it can take. I think it comes down to taste. Thus far I've only done up to 3 and I still experienced enjoyable flavor so it is worth a try.
Many thanks to Chado for hosting the tasting and opening our experience to this new tea!
by Cassandra Vincent
A tea that can be aged like a fine wine? Oh yes, it exists.
Each category of tea has something special to offer, but puerh in particular is a deep and complex subject. Firstly, there are a myriad of spellings for it: puer, pu-erh, pu’erh, pu-er, po-lei, po-nei…exhausting. For our purposes I’ll just use puerh. I could just keep changing the spelling throughout the article but that just seems like a nasty confusing prank.
Puerh comes from the Yunnan province of China, named for a town located there where tea was sold and traded rather than produced. The leaves used for puerh are from an assamica variety of the camellia sinensis plant that has large leaves. Apparently some of the plants in Yunnan have been around for some 1700 odd years! Like many teas, puerh goes through a complex set of processes, most uniquely being naturally or manually fermented. It is the only tea type that can be aged, and indeed becomes more valuable as it ages if stored properly, with some cakes garnering hundreds of dollars. Seriously.
Puerh is made into circular cakes, rectangular bricks and other shapes for storage and transport. Not to say that you cannot find loose puerh, but it is a common characteristic of puerh to be formed. Other shapes include birds nest and ‘tuo cha’ which are single serving pressed pieces. There are even ornate puerh picks and knives made for separating servings from the large cakes/bricks.
There are multiple tea producing regions within Yunnan, and even more specific areas within those regions, each producing puerh with different character. I said this was a complex subject. We will be focusing on a broader view here for starters rather than an in-depth geography lesson. We’ll save that for later;) No there won’t be a quiz.
RAW vs RIPE
Ok this is an important point to understand about puerh: there is the slow, manual fermentation or the accelerated fermentation. “Raw” refers to those puerhs that have been naturally fermented – no acceleration. They can be experienced by the consumer straight away or after a lengthy natural aging process which makes for a richer and smoother flavor – like an aged whiskey. It is these naturally aged teas that tend to fetch the highest prices and be the ones tea nerds drool over. It takes 10-30 years to fully age a raw puerh!
“Ripe” puerh has been given a little help to speed up that multi-decade waiting period. It is moist heat that is the key – a ‘cooking’ process that causes microbial activity on speed resulting in an aged puerh in months rather than decades. Makes sense to me. I have only so much patience.
TO RINSE OR NOT TO RINSE
I’ve encountered varying views on this – some who dislike the idea of rinsing for fear of losing any precious caffeine and others who ritualistically rinse their puerh. So I asked purveyors of great puerh tea, Bana Tea Company about this. They said that as puerh is often a bit dirty from such long storage and transport a quick one second wash with freshly boiled water is advised and is so quick it doesn’t significantly affect the caffeine content. It also opens the leaves up for a better brew. Ok. So rinse it is.
Puerh is robust and takes a good 212° F water temperature [UPDATE: I have encountered ones suggested to be brewed at 180-195, so it's worth look at the website or packaging from the supplier] and is also notable in the number of steepings it can take and still produce quality flavor. I have found that the flavor varies throughout the steepings. It is frequently advised to start with a 10 second steeping and depending on your palate can exceed 10 even 20 infusions in a small vessel like a gaiwan, mainly with the time increasing with each infusion. But of course, tea is a personal experience. Take the guidelines and run with them.
I am just scraping the proverbial surface of this vast tea type and am still relatively new in my exploration of puerh. It has been an interesting ride thus far.
I’ve tasted puerhs ranging from a green tea-like personality to tasting like a wet forest to a dried fruit character to even a mushroom-like flavor. It really is a varied and unique taste experience within the microworld of puerh tea. Added bonus about puerh is that raw or ripe, it has been found to support digestion and healthy weight. I wish you the joy of discovery with puerh.
Many thanks to Linda Louie of Bana Tea, from whom I took my first workshops on puerh, and who is dedicated to puerh tea and an amazing detailed resource on everything about it. Check out www.banateacompany.com for massive detail on the subject.
All opinions are my own. I was not paid for mentioning any product.
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