Sunday 9 November 2008

Matcha - the new health craze!

Two years ago the craze was all about Pu Erh (you know, that tea that Victoria Beckham claimed helped her stay thin). It was being sold in spas here at over 20euro for 15 teabags! Yes, according to Chinese medicine, it does have lots of health benefits, but I'll leave that for another issue.

This time I wanted to talk a bit about Matcha, which has suddenly gained popularity on out shores. While we are not experts or connoisseurs, we know a bit which you may find interesting. And I've got a recipe at the end...

So, Matcha is a finely ground green tea which is used in the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony. The veins and stem of the Sencha green tea leaf are removed and the leaf that remains is steamed, dried and then ground. The resulting powder is quickly used or vacuum packed to keep the nutrients in the powder and the flavour fresh. Once the tin is opened, it is best to use all of the Matcha within 3-7 days and it is best to store in the refridgerator. The less access to air, the better.

To prepare a hot cup of Matcha, place about 1/2 teaspoon of powder into a small teacup. Add about 2/3 cup (200ml) water at about 70celcius (below boiling) and whisk quickly until foamy. Traditionally, a bamboo whisk would be used, though a small metal whisk could be used in a pinch.

The reason for the recent interest is that when you drink Matcha, you are ingesting the whole leaf and therefore a greater amount of the anti-oxidants and polyphenols inherent in the plant. The caffeine content is higher than a cup of green tea, though not as great as a cup of coffee. The interesting thing is the caffeine gives a different buzz than both tea and coffee. It is a gentle energy release which lasts 4-6 hours and fades without the drop associated with coffee. Green tea is also considered helpful to de-toxing your system and possibly to assisting weight-loss.

There are different grades of Matcha, depending on the type of leaf it is made from. I am not an expert on this, but that information is around, if you want to get specific. You can get Matcha from Japan or China, though the flavour of Japanese Matcha is generally considered preferable (though the cost is much greater!). The flavour should be clean and fresh with grassy or seaweed notes, a slightly chalky feel in the mouth and a sweet aftertaste. Think of it as an alternative to wheatgrass juice - with a caffeine kick!

Also, just a note - it is generally preferable to use organic Matcha, as the leaf is being ingested and non-organic could contain pesticides that you might not like to introduce to your body, especially if produced in a country with lax pesticide regulation.

We are coming into winter, but this recipe is still a great flavour and can be made hot too!
Making An Iced Matcha Latte

1 teaspoon (or to taste) matcha
3 teaspoon sugar or 1 tsp honey
1/2 cup hot (not boiling) water
1/2 cup of cold milk*
1 cup of ice cubes

Put matcha into matcha bowl or teapot, add hot water & then sugar or honey. Stir to dissolve matcha preferably with matcha whisk. Pour matcha mix into a tall glass with ice and then fill the glass with cold milk. Alternatively, put the matcha mixture and ice cubes into a blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy!

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