Japan is known for its matcha, a type of tea made from a finely ground powder that’s whisked into hot water. Matcha is different from regular green tea: the latter involves adding tea leaves to water, letting them infuse, then removing the leaves entirely. With matcha, you’re essentially drinking the entire tea leaf in powdered form!
Drinking matcha gives you a lovely caffeine boost, keeping you alert and energized, but has less caffeine than coffee so it won’t make you jittery like a regular cup of joe would. The tea leaves are packed with antioxidants, as indicated by the bright vivid green color of matcha powder, so it’s got plenty of health benefits too. When drunk hot, matcha tastes creamy and full bodied with a sweet nuttiness and bitter undertones, but it’s often described as a more smooth and refreshing drink when it’s cold.
What is Uji Matcha?
All types of tea stem from the same plant: the Camellia sinensis. To create black tea, green tea, or indeed matcha tea, the Camellia sinensis leaves are processed in different ways – and in the case of matcha, they’re ground to a fine powder.
Uji matcha powder is regarded as the highest grade of matcha in Japan, prepared using the youngest tea leaves. It’s so named because it comes from the region of Uji, Japan, on the southeast border of Kyoto. The small city of Uji is renowned for its tea, and the region is widely considered to produce the best matcha. It’s thanks to the geographic location and climate of Uji, which gets hot sunny summers and really cold winters, thus ensuring the growth of the highest grade green tea leaves.
Uji is also the birthplace of the Japanese tea ceremony: back in the 13th century, a Japanese Zen Buddhist priest called Myōan Eisai visited China and brought back both tea seeds and the method for creating powdered green tea to Kyoto.
Present-day Uji is an undeniably tea-focused place, with wooden tea houses along the river that lend the uniquely subtle scent of Uji’s tea to the surrounding air. Here, exquisitely flavored green tea and matcha tea is both produced and exported around the world – including the famous Tsuen tea, from Japan’s oldest tea house, which has been in continuous business since 1160.
What is the difference between Uji Matcha and Other Matchas?
From farm to cup, the Uji tea leaves are subjected to an extensive and delicate process to reach the grade required for Uji matcha powder. The tea trees that fill Uji’s landscape are carefully kept shaded from the sun for two to six weeks before the leaves are harvested, which reduces photosynthesis and increases the chlorophyll content of the leaves. The youngest and greenest ‘first flush’ tea leaves are then harvested by hand, ensuring they’re of the highest quality.
Less than a day after being harvested, the leaves are steamed for 15-20 seconds to stop the oxidation process (this is the signifier for all green tea) and to retain the green color and aroma. The leaves are air dried, de-stemmed and deveined, before the final and most important step where the leaves are ground into a bright green powder using a traditional stone mill.
As you might expect, the popularity of Uji matcha has led to plenty of flavorings in products other than the drinkable kind, like matcha-flavored bread and creamy matcha pudding. Kit Kat jumped on the bandwagon with a Kit Kat Uji Matcha chocolate bar, and you can easily order both an uji matcha latte or an uji matcha bubble tea in cafes around Japan – or try making one for yourself.
How is Uji Matcha Consumed?
To make matcha, add one to three teaspoons of the matcha powder into a bowl. Add 2oz of hot water that’s just under a boil, and whisk until the tea becomes frothy. You can drink your matcha tea directly from the bowl like the Japanese do, or transfer it into a mug.
Traditionally, matcha is made with green tea powder and water to achieve the classic flavor of the drink, but many people do enjoy using steamed milk with their matcha – which can be dairy or a dairy-free alternative. You can also add sweeteners to suit a more particular taste. Remember: if using milk, you still need to whisk the matcha powder with water to start with, as it doesn’t blend as well.
Alternatively, Bokksu has plenty of easy-to-brew matcha products – like this Uji Sencha tea, or a ready to drink Uji Matcha Cappuccino. Just add water and you’re ready to go!