YAMECHA - Highest Quality JAPANESE GREEN TEA / MATCHA
Yamecha is a type of tea produced in Fukuoka Prefecture.
The southern part of the Chikushi Plains is located in Yame-shi, where the Chikugo and Yabegawa rivers deposit rich sediment full of composted leaves. The Chikushi Plains is a region that has been famous for its tea cultivation since ancient times. It is the largest plain inKyūshūand is located in the southern part of Fukuoka, extending to the Chikugo and Yabegawa river basins. Yamecha is cultivated on roughly 1560 hectares of land, 90% of which is located in Yame-shi.
The climate is highly suitable for growing tea with high temperatures during the day that fall dramatically at night; a peculiar characteristic of inland regions. It receives 1600-2400mm of rain a year.
Fog and mist are a common occurrence in the mornings and around the rivers of this region. Many Yamecha fields are situated on gently-sloping mountain faces, which are often shrouded in fog. This environment helps shield the tea leaves from harsh sunlight and produce a richer flavour.
As a result, Yamecha is high in flavour-producing compounds such as theanine, glutamic acid, and arginine. Many tests on tea cultivated in this area have shown to produce a strong, sweet body.
The natural gyokuro produced here has been prized since ancient times. Yamecha Gyokuro makes up about 45% of all gyokuro production in Japan. As a result, its growers have control over the average price of gyokuro. Yamecha Gyokuro is well known in Japan for its high quality.
1406: Tea was brought to modern day Yame-shi by Eirin Suzui, a Zen priest. Eirin founded Reiganji Temple and planted the first tea seeds in this region.
1751-1788: Wild tea on mountains in Yame became a point of interest for locals who began harvesting it for profit.
1863: Sales and demand for Yamecha increased as foreign traders in Nagasaki Prefecture began buying it.
1914-1937: Yamecha tea farms became part of a reform which encouraged higher quality products.
2001-2012: Yamecha gyokuro won the national tea fair held by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for being the best gyokuro produced that year. It continued to win this award for 12 consecutive years.Yamecha gyokuro still wins this award frequently.
Gyokurois a type of shaded green tea from Japan. It differs from the standard sencha (a classic unshaded green tea) in being grown under the shade rather than the full sun. Gyokuro is shaded longer than kabuse tea (lit., "covered tea"). While gyokuro is shaded for approximately three weeks, kabuse-cha is shaded for approximately one week. The name "gyokuro" translates as "jewel dew" (or "jade dew", referring to the pale green colour of the infusion). While most sencha is from the Yabukita, gyokuro is often made from a specialized variety such as Asahi, Okumidori, Yamakai, and Saemidori.
Gyokuro is prepared differently from other green teas:
use twice the weight in dry tea leaves for a given quantity of water (e.g. 6 to 10gramsfor 180ml, or 2 to 3 heapedteaspoonsfor 2 small cups);
use a lower brewing temperature (in the range of 50 °C–60 °C (122 °F–140 °F) instead of 65 °C–75 °C (149 °F–167 °F) for sencha; for high-end Gyokuro such as National tea jury rank, a temperature of 40 °C (104 °F) is recommended.);
a longer steeping duration, at least for the first infusion (90 seconds instead of 1 minute for sencha).
Since gyokuro is typically steeped at such a low temperature, sources may recommend preheating both the pot and cup to maintain the warmth of the tea as one drinks it.
Gyokuro is one of the most expensive types of sencha available in Japan.
The greatest appellation of gyokuro in terms of both quality and quantity is Yamecha, which is produced inYameinFukuoka Prefecture. More than 40% of gyokuro is produced in Yame, and in the national tea jury in August 2007,Yamechaheld all the ranking positions from first to 26th as the best gyokuro.
Sencha is a type of Japanese ryokucha (green tea) which is prepared by infusing the processed whole tea leaves in hot water. This is as opposed to matcha, powdered Japanese green tea, where the green tea powder is mixed with hot water and therefore the leaf itself is included in the beverage. Sencha is the most popular tea in Japan.
Among the types of Japanese green tea prepared byinfusion, "sencha" is distinguished from such specific types asgyokuroandbancha. It is the most popular tea in Japan, representing about 80 percent of the tea produced in Japan.
The flavour depends upon the season and place where it is produced, butshincha, or "new tea" from the first flush of the year, is considered the most delicious. Tea-picking in Japan begins in the south, gradually moving north with the spring warmth. During the winter, tea plants store nutrients, and the tender new leaves which sprout in the spring contain concentrated nutrients. Shincha represents these tender new leaves. The shincha season, depending upon the region of the plantation, is from early April to late May, specifically the 88th day afterSetsubunwhich usually falls around February 4, across-quarter daytraditionally considered the start of spring in Japan. Setsubun orRisshunis the beginning of thesexagenary cycle; therefore, by drinking sencha one can enjoy a year of good health.
The ideal colour of the sencha beverage is a greenish golden colour. Depending upon the temperature of the water in which it is decocted, the flavour will be different, adding to the appeal of sencha. With relatively more temperate water, it is relatively mellow; with hot water, it is more astringent.Some varieties expand when steeped to resemble leaf vegetable greens in smell, appearance, and taste.
Thetea production processby which sencha and other Japaneseryokuchaare created differs fromChinesegreen teas, which are initially pan-fired. Japanese green tea is first steamed for between 15–20 seconds to prevent oxidization of the leaves. Then, the leaves are rolled, shaped, and dried. This step creates the customary thin cylindrical shape of the tea. Finally, the leaves are sorted and divided into differing quality groups.
The initial steaming step imparts a difference in the flavour between Chinese and Japanese green tea, with Japanese green tea having a more vegetal, almost grassy flavour (some taste seaweed-like). Infusions from sencha and other green teas that are steamed (like most common Japanese green teas) are also greener in colour and slightly more bitter than Chinese-style green teas.
Shincha, "new tea", represents the first month's harvest of sencha. Basically, it is the same as ichibancha, "the first-picked tea", and is characterized by its fresh aroma and sweetness. "Ichibancha" distinguishes "shincha" from both "nibancha" ("the second-picked tea") and "sanbancha" ("the third-picked tea"). Use of the term "shincha" makes emphatically clear that this tea is the year's earliest, the first tea of the season. The opposite term is kocha, or "old tea", referring to tea left over from the previous year. Besides the fresh aroma of the young leaves, shincha is characterized by its relatively low content of bitter catechin and caffeine, and relatively high content of amino acid. Shincha is available only for a limited time. The earliest batch, from southern Japan, comes on the market around late April through May. It is popular in Japan, but is available in only limited amounts outside Japan. It is prized for its high vitamin content, sweetness, and grassy flavour with resinous aroma and minimal astringency.
Kabusechais sencha grown in the shade to increase amino acids, such astheanine, which contribute to its distinctive flavor.About a week before the tea leaf buds are picked in the spring, the plantation is covered with a screen to cut out the direct sunlight. This shading produces a milder tea than standard sencha. The shaded tea known asgyokurodiffers from kabusecha in that it is shaded for a longer period: about 20 days.
Special nets (kabuse) are hung over the plants to obtain a natural shade without completely blocking out sunlight. Kabusecha sencha has a mellower flavour and more subtle colour than sencha grown in direct sunlight.
Matchaormachais finely ground powder of specially grown and processedgreen tea leaves. It is special in two aspects of farming and processing: the green tea plants formatchaare shade-grown for three to four weeks before harvest, and the stems and veins are removed during processing. During shaded growth, the plantCamellia sinensisproduces moretheanineandcaffeine. The powdered form of matcha is consumed differently from tea leaves or tea bags, and is suspended in a liquid, typically water or milk.
The traditionalJapanese tea ceremonycenters on the preparation, serving, and drinking ofmatchaas hot tea, and embodies a meditative spiritual style. In modern times,matchahas also come to be used to flavor and dye foods such asmochiandsobanoodles,green tea ice cream,matchalattes, and a variety of Japanesewagashiconfectionery.Matchaused in ceremonies is referred to as ceremonial-grade, meaning that the powder is of a high enough quality to be used in the tea ceremony.
InChinaduring theTang dynasty(618–907), tea leaves were steamed and formed intotea bricksfor storage and trade. The tea was prepared by roasting and pulverizing the tea, anddecoctingthe resulting tea powder in hot water, then adding salt.During theSong dynasty(960–1279), the method of making powdered tea from steam-prepared dried tea leaves, and preparing the beverage by whipping the tea powder and hot water together in a bowl became popular.
Preparation and consumption of powdered tea was formed into a ritual by Chan orZenBuddhists. The earliest extant Chan monastic code, entitledChanyuan Qinggui(Rules of Purity for the Chan Monastery, 1103), describes in detail the etiquette for tea ceremonies.
Zen Buddhismand the Japanese methods of preparing powdered tea were brought to Japan in 1191 by the monkEisai. In Japan, it became an important item at Zen monasteries and from the 14th through to the 16th centuries was highly appreciated by members of the upper echelons of society. Although powdered tea has not been popular inChinafor some time, a global resurgence is now occurring in the consumption ofmatcha, including in China.
Matchais made from shade-grown tea leaves that also are used to makegyokuro. The preparation ofmatcha'starts several weeks before harvest and may last up to 20 days, when theteabushes are covered to prevent direct sunlight.This slows down growth, stimulates an increase in chlorophyll levels, turns the leaves a darker shade of green, and causes the production ofamino acids, in particulartheanine. Only the finest tea buds are hand-picked. After harvesting, if the leaves are rolled up before drying as in the production ofsencha, the result will begyokuro(jade dew) tea. If the leaves are laid out flat to dry, however, they will crumble somewhat and become known astencha. Then,tenchamay be deveined, destemmed, and stone-ground to the fine, bright green, talc-like powder known asmatcha.
Grinding the leaves is a slow process, because the mill stones must not get too warm, lest the aroma of the leaves gets altered. Up to one hour may be needed to grind 30 g of matcha.
The flavour of matcha is dominated by its amino acids.The highest grades ofmatchahave more intense sweetness and deeper flavour than the standard or coarser grades of tea harvested later in the year.
Tencha refers to green tea leaves that have not yet been ground into fine powder asmatcha, as the leaves are instead left to dry rather than be kneaded. Since the leaves' cell walls are still intact, brewing tencha tea results in a pale green brew, which has a more mellow taste compared to other green tea extracts, and only the highest grade of tenchaleaves can brew to its fullest flavor. Tencha leaves are half the weight of other tea leaves such as gyokuro and sencha, so most tencha brews require double the number of leaves. About an hour is needed to grind 40 to 70 g of tencha leaves into matcha, and matcha does not retain its freshness as long as tencha in powder form because powder begins to oxidize. Drinking and brewing tencha is traditionally prohibited by the Japanese tea ceremony.
Commercial considerations, especially outside Japan, have increasingly seen matcha marketed according to 'grades' indicating quality.
Of the following terms, 'ceremonial grade' is not recognised in Japan; 'food grade' or 'culinary grade' certainly is.
Ceremonial gradesupposedly designates tea of a quality sufficient for its use in tea ceremonies and Buddhist temples. Almost always ground into a powder by granite stone mills, it is expensive (aroundUS$100–140 for 100 g). The unschooled drinker is unlikely to notice a large difference between ceremonial and premium grades. There is no distinct set of flavour characteristics designating the highest grade of matcha; some matchas are conspicuously sweet, some can be comparatively bitter with other characteristics to 'compensate'; the full suite of aesthetic properties such as flavour, colour, and texture are important in the grading of matcha. All must necessarily be of a quality that can support the making of koicha , the 'thick tea' with a high proportion of powder to water, since this is the form of tea that defines the traditional tea ceremony.
Premium gradeis high-quality matcha green tea that contains the tea leaves from the top of the tea plant. Price point is around $50–80 for 100 g. Best for daily consumption, it contains the typical range of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.Is characterized by a fresh, subtle flavor, usually perfect for both new and everydaymatchadrinkers alike.
Cooking/culinary gradeis the cheapest of all ($15–40 for 100 g). Suitable for cooking purposes, it is slightly bitter due to factors such as its production from leaves lower down on the tea plant,terroir, the time of harvest, or the process of its manufacture.
In general,matchais expensive compared to other forms of tea, although its price depends on its quality.
Location on the tea bush
Where leaves destined fortenchaare picked on the tea bush is vital. The very top should have developing leaves that are soft and supple. This gives a finer texture to higher grades ofmatcha. More-developed leaves are harder, giving lower grades a sandy texture. The better flavour is a result of the plant sending the majority of its nutrientsto the growing leaves.
Treatment before processing
Traditionally,senchaleaves are dried outside in the shade and never are exposed to direct sunlight; however, now drying mostly has moved indoors. Qualitymatchais vibrantly green as a result of this treatment.
Without the correct equipment and technique,matchacan become "burnt" and suffer degraded quality. Typically in Japan, it is stone-ground to a fine powder through the use of specially designed granite stone mills.
Oxidationis also a factor in determining grade.Matchaexposed to oxygen may easily become compromised. Oxidizedmatchahas a distinctive hay-like smell and a dull brownish-green colour.
The two main ways of preparing matcha are thin (usucha)and the less common thick (koicha).
Prior to use, thematchaoften is forced through asieveto break up clumps. Special sieves are available for this purpose, which usually are stainless steel and combine a fine wire-mesh sieve and a temporary storage container. A special woodenspatulais used to force the tea through the sieve, or a small, smooth stone may be placed on top of the sieve and the device shaken gently.
If the sievedmatchais to be served at aJapanese tea ceremony, then it will be placed into a small tea caddy known as achaki. Otherwise, it can be scooped directly from the sieve into achawan.
About 2-4 g ofmatchaare placed into the bowl, traditionally using a bamboo scoop called achashaku, and then about 60–80 ml of hot water are added.
While other fine Japanese teas such asgyokuroare prepared using water cooled as low as 40° C, in Japan matcha is commonly prepared with water just below the boiling point,although temperatures as low as 70–85 °C or 158–185 °F are similarly recommended.
The mixture of water and tea powder is whisked to a uniform consistency, using a bamboo whisk known as achasen. No lumps should be left in the liquid, and no ground tea should remain on the sides of the bowl. Becausematchamay be bitter, it is traditionally served with a smallwagashisweet(intended to be consumed before drinking), but without added milk or sugar. It usually is considered that 40 g ofmatchaprovides for 20 bowls ofusuchaor 10 bowls ofkoicha:
Usucha, or thin tea, is prepared with about 1.75 g (amounting to 1.5 heapingchashakuscoop, or about half a teaspoon) ofmatchaand about 75 ml (2.5 oz) of hot water per serving, which can be whisked to produce froth or not, according to the drinker's preference (or to the traditions of the particularschool of tea).Usuchacreates a lighter and slightly more bitter tea.
Koicha, or thick tea, requires significantly morematcha(usually about doubling the powder and halving the water): about 3.75 g (amounting to 3 heapingchashakuscoops, or about one teaspoon) ofmatcha and40 ml (1.3 fl oz) of hot water per serving, or as many as 6 teaspoons to 3⁄4cup of water. Because the resulting mixture is significantly thicker (with a similar consistency to liquidhoney), blending it requires a slower, stirring motion that does not produce foam.Koichais normally made with more expensive matcha from older tea trees (exceeding 30 years), thus, produces a milder and sweeter tea thanusucha; it is served almost exclusively as part of Japanese tea ceremonies.
It is used incastella,manjū, andmonaka; as a topping for shaved ice (kakigōri); mixed with milk and sugar as a drink; and mixed with salt and used to flavourtempurain a mixture known asmatcha-jio. It is also used as flavouring in many Western-stylechocolates,candy, anddesserts, such as cakes and pastries (includingSwiss rollsandcheesecake),cookies,pudding,mousse, andgreen tea ice cream.Matchafrozen yogurtis sold in shops and can be made at home usingGreek yogurt. TheJapanesesnackshave amatcha-flavoured version. It may also be mixed into other forms of tea. For example, it is added togenmaichato formmatcha-iri genmaicha(literally, roasted brown rice and green tea with addedmatcha).
The use ofmatchain modern drinks has also spread to North American cafés, which introduced "green tea lattes" and othermatcha-flavoured drinks after it became successful in their Japanese store locations. As in Japan, it has become integrated intolattes, iced drinks,milkshakes, and smoothies.
Asmatchais a concentrated form of green tea, it has been long reputed by enthusiasts for centuries thatmatchapossesses stronger health benefits associated with green tea, and such effects have not been scientifically proven until recently. Caffeine is more concentrated in matcha, which Japanese Zen monks have used to stimulate awakeness, but the mainmatchaconstituent expected to have a stress-reducing effect istheanine. Theanine is the most abundant nonprotein amino acid in green tea and is what givesmatchaits umami flavor. The preparation ofmatcharequires the tea leaves to be protected from sunlight, resulting in reduced biosynthesis of theanine into catechin and a higher concentration of theanine than in traditional green tea brewing.
Theanine's stress-reducing effects were tested at Japan's University of Shizuoka, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, where studies show that lab mice that consumed more than 33 mg/kg ofmatchahad significantly suppressed adrenal hypertrophy, a symptom that shows sensitivity to stress. The School of Pharmaceutical Sciences also tested the stress-reducing effects on university students and confirmed that students who ingested 3 grams ofmatchain 500 ml of room-temperature water had reduced anxiety (state-trait anxiety inventory or STAI), than students who consumed placebo.Green tea leaves also contain thecatechin,epigallocatechin gallate, an antioxidant found to be able to mildly prevent cancer, diseases, and aid in weight loss.
As mentioned before,matchais a higher concentration of green tea and contains caffeine, so the health risks associated with caffeine, such as increased heart rates, can also apply tomatchaif overingested. Green tea leaves also absorb metals from soil, such as aluminum, which can accumulate in the body and cause neurological damage. The study ofmatcha'shealth effects is also limited, so further investigation is required.