Matcha green tea powder is an unusual form of tea that forms the back bone of traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Transforming this powder into a sweet drink is an ancient tradition in Japan, brought over from China in the tenth century CE by Zen Buddhist monks, the practice fell out of favor in its native China over the centuries, but remained a popular practice throughout Japan into the modern era, where it has since spread across the world in an ever more global society, even to China where it is again finding favor about the literally billions of consumers of tea in that country.
The quality of the matcha green tea powder will affect the consistency of the powder, as well as the overall flavor when it is prepared. While all matcha tea powder has a talc like consistency, the lower grades have a consistency more akin to sand that clumps naturally, as the more developed leaves in lower grade matcha are harder. However, the powder resulting from less developed leaves is softer and more supple, becoming a finer grade powder than lower quality matcha. The superior flavor of more finely powdered, higher quality matcha comes from the fact that in nature, the tea plant sends more of its nutrients to newly developing tea buds than ones that have already developed.
Transforming this powder into tea is the center of Japanese tea ceremony. To begin, the powder is pushes through a sieve, which breaks up the clumping in even low quality matcha powder. Modern sieves are made of a fine wire stainless steel mesh and a temporary container to store the declumped powder. A wooden spatula designed specifically for this purpose or a smooth, small stone then pushes the powder through the sieve, followed by shaking the device gently.
Once the powder is prepared, it is scooped into a small amount of hot water that is not boiling, traditionally with a bamboo scoop, known as a chansaku. After that, a whisk tool called a chasen is used to mix the drink to a uniform consistency. Ideally, there will be no lumps of tea left in the drink and no ground tea will be attached to the sides of the bowl like cup. Of course, this level of consistency takes practice to do right and indeed, inside of Japan, a proper tea ceremony, including preparing a perfect cup of tea, is considered a national art form that wins high regard in that country.
Most uses of matcha are in usucha, a thin tea that is prepared with a good bit of water and around half a teaspoon of powder. While slightly bitter (hence it is often served with a confection( it is a lighter taste that can be whisked into a good froth or not depending on the taster’s preferences. Thicker tea, known as koicha doubles the amount of power and halves the amount of water to create a thick tea that is associated almost exclusively with formal Japanese tea ceremonies and the finest matcha available.