Matcha is described in Japan as a „national piece of art“, do you agree?
Matcha as the product in itself – that is to say, the powdered green tea – is a very labor-intensive product to create. Since the discovery of the product in the West, more and more of the production has become industrialized and lower grade tea leaf is used to create a knock-off product for the international market.
For a true matcha product the tea bushes are tenderly cultivated under well regulated shades and hand-picked for harvest. This allows the manufacturer to select only the freshest tenderest leaves. It goes without saying that in this case the amount of tea that can be produced is limited. It thus doesn’t surprise that a matcha of this quality is near to impossible to obtain in the West.
The common image of matcha tea is that it tastes bitter. However, a carefully produced matcha tea when obtained in the manner explained above hardly contains any bitterness. Even when a large amount of powder is blended with only a small amount of water as is the case for the preparation of thick tea, hardly any bitterness can be discerned in the flavor of the beverage. On the contrary it produces a smooth and creamy texture augmented by an intense yet sweet taste.
It is this type of product that I would refer to as a piece of art, because it is the unstinted labor of the manufacturer – or should I say artisan tea farmer – that make the creation of such a delicacy possible.
Please tell us about the general health benefits of Matcha
The matcha craze in the West is mainly focused around the “health benefits” the product is acclaimed to provide. Although I am not trying to contest the scientific research that has proven that certain components in the product have certain benefits such as lowered blood pressure, improved digestion, and cancer prevention, I believe that we shouldn’t envision matcha tea as a definitive remedy to cure illnesses. Instead the true benefit of the product when consumed on a regular basis lies in overall better health preservation. The tested effects of the chemical components in the tea can only be sensed when consumed in a concentrated form. It would take an enormous amount of tea to be able to intake the same amount.
Yet, throughout the ages tea has been favored as an aid to improved health and initially was also considered an effective medicine. But to understand the kind of medicine it is, we must divert from our contemporary understanding of conventional medicine, which provides a temporary cure for a symptom that is already there. The way that tea can aid us in obtaining better health is of a more preventive nature. Tea aids in suppressing illnesses before the symptoms appear.
What is important for the tea, if you want to produce a really high quality Matcha.
Matcha is a stone-milled powdered tea, made from tencha, produced from the Camellia Sinensis tea bush. Tencha is that leaf which is used for the production of matcha, and is manufactured from leaf obtained during the spring harvest. Prior to harvest, this leaf has been shaded for at least 20 days under a shelf-type covering of reed and straw (honzu). After handpicking, the leaf is steamed, blow-dried, and dried in a brick oven (tencha-ro) without rolling.
Europe recently discovered Matcha as superfood and it has become very popular with the health-conscious people. But what do you think about Matcha’s cultural and traditional background that exists in Japan – but is missing in Europe? Is that important?
Matcha is delicious and may improve our health when consumed regularly, but it is not the wonder potion that you may expect it is. Just by consuming a bowl of tea, won’t magically enlighten you. The real magic happens in the ritual (tea ceremony). The rite of tea is constructed in such a way that by observing several rules, conventions and procedures, attention is given to the most important things in our human and interpersonal existence.
The most important facet is not the fact that you are drinking tea during a tea ceremony and that it is that which brings you peace. Rather, it is the fact that you are actively taking the time to in a focused way have tea together with other human beings in a place that is otherworldly. It is this setting and environment that instills awareness in your mind that helps you, personally, find peace in your current state of being. The tea itself is but the medium (or the excuse) to which you dedicate this special time.
Nowadays there are Matcha-Pancakes, Matcha Latte, Matcha-Ice, Matcha-you name it…. Do you think that such things do justice to this product, which is so extraordinary in terms of craftsmanship and history?
The demand for matcha-products has multiplied the amount of low quality ‘cheap’ matcha teas for use in the kitchen. These teas are manufactured from later harvests, employing simplified procedures, and are in fact much more bitter than teas that are consumed directly. For culinary use, it is this bitterness that imbues the food with a strong matcha aroma, whereas a high-quality type would be too gentle to stand out.
Considering that the matcha for use in alternative products is no longer created using standard traditional methods, and that the quality is so much lower than what was originally intended, I personally have difficulty with accepting that some low-grade powdered green tea products can actually be labeled “matcha”. That is why, when I introduce someone to matcha I always aim to first introduce the person to a bowl of thick tea in order to provide him or her with an understanding of what matcha is supposed to taste like. And up till now I have found that even the regular consumer of matcha outside of Japan acts surprised when they taste this.
I feel that the distinction between how matcha is introduced internationally today, and what a true matcha product as it has existed throughout history is, should be made more clearly so that more people can gain a true understanding of the craftsmanship and history behind the product. Otherwise I am afraid that the real appeal of the product may diminish in a craze that will make it unsustainable for manufacturers to put in the effort to create an authentic artisan tea.