From the beginning, matcha was more than just powdered tea. The tea became popular among Zen and Chan Buddhists. They drank the teas in elaborate, spiritual ceremonies. In fact, the earliest extant Chan monastic code describes etiquette for tea ceremonies.
While the tea eventually fell out of favor in China, Buddhism carried it to Japan, where it continued to thrive. Matcha was eventually used as flavoring to make green tea mochi and ice cream, along with other popular foods.
Matcha, however, is difficult to grow. The tea leaves are grown in shade, making them a darker green than sunlight-exposed tea leaves. Tea buds are hand-picked, laid flat and dried. After being de-stemmed and de-veined, the remaining leaf is grinded into a bright green powder. It can take an hour to grind just 30 grams of matcha to the appropriate fineness.
Traditionally, matcha is prepared by sifting the tea through a fine sieve, using a wooden spatula or a smooth stone. The tea, for ceremonial purposes at least, is then placed into a small tea caddy called a chaki. Using a bamboo scoop called chashaku, a small amount of tea is placed into a bowl. Hot, but not boiling, water is then added and mixed to uniform consistency using a chasen, or bamboo whisk. No clumps should remain, nor should any powder remain on the sides of the bowl. Matcha is traditionally served with a small sweet, intended to be eaten before drinking the tea, since it is not served with milk or sugar and has a bitter taste.
More modern ways of serving matcha include drinking it as a frothy latte, like at the Daily Coffee shop, where the tea is simply whisked with hot water and added to steamed milk. More traditional and modern preparations are served at Townshend’s Teahouse, where you can buy grams of matcha and chasen to make the tea at home. Many other coffee shops in town also serve variations of matcha, but it is still not overwhelmingly popular in Montana or the U.S.
Since you consume the tea leaf in matcha beverages, they offer a host of health benefits. Matcha is rich in antioxidants and some studies suggest that it helps boost metabolism. Further, matcha is much more caffeinated than other green teas. Don’t let the caffeine content fool you though: since matcha was traditionally connected to Buddhist tea ceremonies, it has always been associated with meditation.
While classes start to pick up, grab a matcha latte and take a second to decompress. It’ll help you stay awake for the rest of the day and, hopefully, remind you to take a moment to yourself instead of panicking about your first paper. Happy drinking!