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Japanese matcha is known as the espresso of green teas and has been at the heart of the famous Japanese tea ceremony for over 800 years. Nowadays it is an everyday item. Starbucks cafés in Japan serve matcha latte as part of their standard range. And in Japan, matcha ice cream is as popular as vanilla ice cream is in the west.
Matcha has long been a symbol of harmony, tranquility, purity and respect, the four basic principles of the Japanese tea ceremony. Stars like Madonna, Eva Padberg, Liv Tyler and Meg Ryan have all been spotted with this drink, and the celebrity gossip pages have been following the trend closely. Of course, these days matcha tea isn't just enjoyed in the traditional way: chocolatiers have come up with matcha truffles, in trendy bars you can order a matcha caipirinha and drinks manufacturers have been turning a good profit with instant matcha lattes.
It's actually surprising that this green powder is only just now becoming well known on our shores. According to various studies, matcha is a real magic potion. Apart from caffeine, it also contains antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins and minerals – and it contains them in such high quantities that normal green tea and coffee just can't compete. As the caffeine is released slowly, matcha's stimulatory effects make themselves felt over several hours. L-theanine is an amino acid that aids relaxation and has a calming effect. Matcha is also said to suppress hunger pangs and aid in losing weight.
It's most important characteristic though is the ability to combat free radicals. Matcha contains 1,573 ORAC (oxygen radical absorbing capacity) units per gram; this is the most that has ever been found in any natural product (for comparison: one gram of pomegranate has 105 ORAC units, acai berry 60). This high concentration is due to the fact that matcha is the only tea to be consumed in its entirety. Matcha means “ground tea” in Japanese. Hot water is simply added to the finely ground powder. In traditional tea brewing, i.e. just soaking the leaves and removing them, only 10-20 percent of the beneficial ingredients make it into the cup.
Only certain types of green tea can be made into matcha. The production process is incredibly laborious since the leaves are harvested by hand and the veins and stems removed manually. The leaves are then steamed, dried in massive ovens and finely ground using special granite mill stones. The dark green color is achieved by growing them in “shadow” plantations. A few weeks before harvest, the tea plants are covered with dark nets so that they get less light. This causes them to produce more chlorophyll, resulting in a sweeter and more intense flavor.
Real matcha fans prepare their matcha in the same way as has been done in the traditional tea ceremony for hundreds of years. A small amount of hot water (80°C) is poured over one or two grams of the powder and then whisked with a chasen (bamboo brush). If you don't happen to have a chasen, you could use a whisk. And for those short on time, an electric matcha whisk has already hit the shelves. Alternatively you could just opt for the instant version in a can.
The only thing that may beat the hype though is the price – matcha is relatively expensive. Depending on the quality, 30g costs between € 18 and € 43. But this hasn't stopped the green wave, and the first matcha bars are already opening.