If you love green tea, then you’ll have heard of Matcha tea.
Matcha tea is finely granulated from the entire leaf into a powdered green tea which is highly valued for its sharp bite, lingering sweetness and added bonus of high antioxidants, chlorophyll, and fiber.
So, it’s no wonder that this powerful health benefiting tea is used in Japanese tea ceremonies which incorporate body and soul!
Matcha has numerous health benefits and was used by people in Japan as early as the Muromachi period, 650 years ago and before that China.
Matcha tea and its ceremony were influenced by a young Chinese man called Lu Yu, an orphan, who ran away from a monk and joined a circus. On his journey he met a poet, Huangfu Zheng who wrote a poem about him and was adopted by a wealthy governor who opened his library to Lu Yu, quickly turning him into a scholar.
Investing the Ch'a Ching (or traditional tea) and combining it with religious thinking of his time (Buddhist, Taoist, or Confucian) Lu Yu sought to combine the earthly process of tea making with a universal oneness via the ceremony.
Lu Yu created tea with so much love that the ceremony and love poured into each pot became the Japanese Tea Ceremony, steeped in tradition, artistic in nature and unique to Japan, the ceremony is much like that of a true artist - unique to its host (or Teishu). The practice is said to be similar to meditation, clearing the mind with a sense of connection.
Aesthetically it’s a contemplation of flower arranging, ceramics, and calligraphy, the art is appreciated in simplicity in the tea room’s design.
Ritually the preparation requires the host (Teishu) to cook a special meal called a Kaiseki, flowers are placed in an alcove (Tokonoma) and utensils are set as per the rank of each guest.
As matcha tea did not reach Japan until the end of the 12th century and it too until 14th Century for its health benefits to be known, it became part of the ceremony practice of the upper class.
In this article we will teach you how to do your own ceremony but, first, we need to look at the tea itself.
Rarity of organic green tea farms in Japan
Today the vast majority of tea in Japan is non-organic, also known as conventionally-grown.
Only a small percentage (much less than one percent of all tea) is organic. It is difficult just to make an organic tea farm because there are so many non-organic tea farms around it.
Dispersals of chemical fertilizer or pesticide and chemical agents interfused through the soil from surrounding farms can enter the organic farm. So, it’s necessary to make a buffer zone or shelterbelt between an organic tea farm and non-organic tea farm or to embrace organic tea cultivation together with the neighboring farmers.
Grades of Matcha tea
O-Koicha in Japanese literally means “strong tea”.
The tea most frequently prepared in the Japanese Tea Ceremony, O-Koicha is made with around twice as much Matcha powder than ordinary Matcha tea consumed in an everyday manner, known as Usucha.
However, for O-Koicha preparation, a higher quality Matcha is required.
Higher ranked Matcha powders can be used at higher concentrations without being overpowering and unbalanced in taste. Therefore the higher the quality of Matcha, the stronger the tea can be made without an undesirable impact on the taste.
The effect of consuming O-Koicha plays a key part in the Japanese Tea Ceremony, as the high caffeine content creates alertness, and the pleasurable flavor of Umami stimulates areas of the brain responsible for memorisation and focus. This state of alert tranquility is perfect for maximizing one’s abilities, without the jittery and wired feeling that may result from consuming other common liquid stimulants.
Usucha (commonly O-Usu in Japan) literally means “mild tea” in Japanese.
This is the most common form that Matcha takes when consumed in everyday life. Many gourmet restaurants in Japan, especially those serving traditional Kyoto cuisine, present Usucha to customers.
In most scenarios, Usucha and Matcha are practically synonymous, except where it is noted that one is being served O-Koicha.
The organic ceremonial grade matcha at DEA is crafted using tender spring Tencha leaves shade-grown for 20 days before harvest. The leaves are steamed and dried immediately after harvest to maintain their freshness.
The next step is sorting and de-stemming, to obtain the raw material for Matcha called ‘Tencha’, which is blended and stored in a refrigerator, to be ground traditionally in a stone mill into this vibrant jade-coloured powder upon order.
The careful blending of the Tencha leaves allows this organic Matcha to reveal a velvety jade liquor that will offer a deep and mellow Umami balanced with a delightful vegetal sweet flavour.
As mentioned above, the rarity of organic tea farms, combined with the labour-intensive production of ceremonial matcha Makes this DEA exclusive matcha tea a rare find, even in Japan.
At Taste KT we hold our own tea ceremony every few months with a few friends.
Whilst not as elaborate as what we imagine the upper class of 14th Century Japan would have it, we feel and experience the same just by the very practice of holding the warm tea and chatting amongst friends.
If you want to hold a tea ceremony (and for the complete beginner) we set out a simple ‘how to’ below:
Who hosts the Matcha Japanese Tea Ceremony?
You don’t have to be a Buddhist monk or Zen master to host a tea ceremony. But to do it well, the host should understand that the matcha tea ritual requires a series of precise hand movements and graceful choreography (you can watch a ceremony here).
Where is the Matcha Japanese Tea Ceremony performed?
It really depends on the host. Essentially, tea ceremonies can be held just about anywhere (in homes or outdoors as long as you have a sectioned private area to create ambience). You will need enough area to hang the required decoration which includes hanging scrolls featuring quotes and well-known proverbs as well as thoughtful wisdoms and advice to the participants along with the flower arrangements.
How does the Matcha Japanese Tea Ceremony begin?
It begins with the host and plenty of preparation. As soon as guests gather they should be directed into a special room set up by the host, known as a machiai.
After everyone has arrived, the guests walk across a dew-covered ground, it’s part of a cleansing ritual to remove the dust (literally and metaphysically) from the feet and the cares of the world. To further purify themselves for the ceremony ahead, guests wash their hands and mouths using clean water from a stone basin.
Once the purification rites are complete, the host greets each guest with a silent bow as they enter the tea ceremony site, depending on how formal the host makes the ceremony small sweets or even a three-course meal may now be served prior to the tea being poured.
Next, the host properly prepares the pouring utensils, taking great care to ensure they are immaculately clean and unblemished.
Finally, it’s time for the matcha tea powder! You job as host is to gracefully add one to three scoops of matcha green tea powder per guest into the group bowl, followed by a small amount of hot water.
Using a traditional bamboo whisk, the host rapidly stirs the mixture to create a bright green paste, adding additional hot water and whisked to produce a thick, rich tea.
Tea is then served and guests should feel a sense of connection to each other and to the universe - just as Lu Yu would have felt all those years ago.
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