The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
Matcha - Japan's Oldest Tea
Matcha is Japan's oldest tea, brought back to Kyoto (Uji) by Buddhist monks in
the 9th century after visiting China's Jin Chan monastery.  Today the highest
grade of matcha is still harvested  there in the ancient tea gardens in Uji, where
most all of Japan's other highest grades of tea are also grown.
Matcha is a powdered tea
made from
shade-grown
tencha leaves.  About three weeks before
harvesting, the tencha leaves are shaded
over to boost the chlorophyll, amino acids,
and other flavor compounds.

Immediately after harvesting the leaves are
steam fixed, cut, and then air dried instead
of being rolled and fired like most other
Japanese teas.  This gives the leaves a
fresh, clean, pure vegetal flavor with- out
any of the roasted flavors fired teas have.

Once dried the tencha leaf is then stone-
milled into fine, bright, emerald green matcha
powder.  In the shiny, state-of-the-art factor-
ies, row upon row of millstones grind away, each producing about two ounces of matcha
powdered tea an hour.

                                              There are several grade levels of matcha tea.  The top or best
                                              grade is called koicha or "thick tea," made from the finest shade
                                              grown spring tencha leaves harvested in Uji.  This grade of
                                              matcha or koicha is the most expensive and is reserved for
tea
                                              ceremonies or Chado.

                                              The next level of matcha produced is called usucha or "thin tea."
                                              This grade of matcha or usucha is less expensive, making it more
                                              affordable for everyday use.

                                              A third grade is also produced.  Called commercial grade matcha,
it's used in
baking to add color and flavor to cakes and cookies, ice cream, lattes, and other
green tea flavorings.  (Visit Mighty Leaf Tea's Matcha Store where you'll find all the tools to
properly prepare matcha tea as well as
green tea latte and frappe.  Be your own
barista with their green tea frappe and latte
starter kit. Click the MLT link below right and
go to their Matcha Shop--

Just as with Japan's most popular everyday
tea,
sencha, the demand for matcha is now
exceeding supply, so that China is now pro-
ducing some in an unusual reversal of his-
tory, as matcha is what Buddhist monks
brought back with them to Kyoto in the 9th
century.  Up until today,
China hadn't pro-
          duced powdered tea since the end
          of the
Ming dynasty in 1644.

          After the monks began cultivating
          the tea brought back by them from China in the 9th century, the matcha they made was
          exclusively for their use and royalty only.  Some eventually made its way to the noble
          warrior class, or samuri.

                                                            By the 1550's, Sen Rikku, a Japanese tea master codified
                                                            the practice of Chado (which translates to the "Way of
                                                            Tea"), a form of religious observation or tea ceremony.

                                                            With the influence of Taoism as well as Zen Buddhism,
                                                            Sen Rikku ritualized the tea service and ceremony as a
                                                            way of bringing attention to everyday objects.  By
                                                            emphasizing the proper tools and gestures used when
          
brewing and serving tea, as well as the correct arrangement and architecture of the
          teahouse, Rikku encouraged followers to concentrate on the three elements of tea
          preparation and drinking:  water, fire, and the tea leaf.

          After Rikku's death, his three grandsons developed their
          own schools teaching chado-Urasenke, Omotesenke, and
          Mushanokojisenke, which still exist today, an amazing six-
          teen generations later.

          Matcha tea has an intense flavor, like no other tea you
          have ever tasted.  It's thick and frothy with a smooth, veg-
          etal flavor, with a bitter kick that's immediately balanced
          out by a sweet aftertaste, that lingers in the back of your
          mouth.

                                            Because the tencha leaves it's made from are air dried rather than
                                            
roasted, you get only the pure unadulterated taste of the leaf.

                                            With matcha tea the entire leaf is consumed, rather than just an
                                            infusion, so you're getting 100% of the vitamins, minerals, and
                                            antioxidants, so it's beyond healthy.

                                            Along with
gyokuro, which is also a shade grown tea, matcha is
                                            one of Japan's most expensive teas.  Prices vary according to
                                            grade, but even the commercial grade is up there.  

          Just to give you some "ball park" figures, a half ounce of commercial grade matcha can
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start at $14 up to $40+.  For second level usucha matcha for everyday drinking starts at around $40 for a half ounce
on up to $80 plus.  And for ceremonial grade koicha matcha, or best grade, you're looking at $80 and up for half an
ounce, or 20 grams.  
Enjoy.