The Basics of Preparing Matcha

Matcha is Japanese green tea that has been ground to a fine powder. There are a lot of different places to get matcha – I’ve bought some very inexpensive matcha, and I’ve also gotten my hands on some very expensive matcha. The general rule of thumb is that you get what you pay for – meaning that the higher the quality, the higher the price is likely going to be. I tend to reserve the less expensive (read: lower quality) matcha for baking purposes, and I’ve also bought flavoured matcha blends before, which are great for drinking straight, or as a latte.

But how do you prepare it? I have tried preparing matcha without a bamboo whisk before – and let me tell you, the result was less than desirable. Ideally, the traditional tools you’ll have are as follows:

Fine sifter
Spoon
Bowl
Bamboo whisk (chasen)

Sifting the matcha is important. It helps break up any clumps in the powder and makes the whisking part of your matcha preparation a lot easier. Even if you are preparing matcha in a blender bottle (and let’s face it, if you’re adding matcha to a smoothie or making a matcha latte on-the-go, this is a viable option), sifting the matcha powder will help it blend a lot easier.

I start by spooning the matcha powder into the sifter that’s sitting in my bowl. Then I use the spoon to push the powder through the sifter, getting rid of any unsightly clumps that may exist. I find with ‘older’ matcha powder or flavoured matcha powders (that have sugar), they’re more likely to be clumped. Sifting it helps a lot in getting a smoother drink.

Once the matcha has been sifted, I add a small amount of warm water. Then the whisking begins! For those who do not have a bamboo whisk, I found that using a fork or a regular (small) whisk can sometimes work, but takes a longer time to get the powder well suspended. I’ve heard from many people that you should whisk in either a M motion (M for matcha) or W motion (W for whisk). Whichever letter you decide on, just keep doing it repeatedly in the bowl. The more vigorous you whisk, the faster the matcha powder is suspended in the water. It becomes a thick green (smooth!) paste in the bowl – I generally wind up with something that reminds of a syrup consistency.

Then I add more water so it’s closer to the top of my bowl, and continue whisking in an M or W motion. Once I’m satisfied with my whisking, which happens when there’s some foam on the top, I will either drink directly from the bowl, or pour into a larger cup if I’m making a matcha latte.

Take care of your whisk! I rinse out my bowl with warm water, and whisk the water to help clean off the whisk. There are whisk holders that you can purchase which help keep the whisk’s shape and you can pop the whisk onto the holder to dry.

Lastly, practice makes perfect! The first time I tried to whisk matcha, it was pretty terrible. But I also did not sift the powder beforehand because I didn’t think it was necessary (not-a-spoiler: it was and it is important to sift your matcha!). I have gotten a lot better with my whisking skills now, although I don’t always get a crazy amount of foam on top – which is okay too!

Steeping Times for Different Teas

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The majority of tea companies are very good about including steeping instructions for the teas that they sell. A full set of instructions should include, at minimum, the temperature of water to use and the time that the tea should be steeped for.

If I come across a tea that doesn’t include instructions (or I have trouble finding the instructions), I fall back onto the following water temperatures and length of time:

  • White – 76-85°C (170-185°F), steep for 2-5 min
  • Green – 60-85°C (140-185°F), steep for 30 seconds-2 min
  • Oolong – 85-90°C (185-195°F), steep for 2-3 min
  • Black – 93-100°C (200-212°F), steep for 3-5 min
  • Herbal/Fruit Tisanes – 93-100°C (200-212°F), steep for 3-5 min

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You may notice that these times or temperatures may vary a bit from what various tea companies recommend for their own tea. As a general rule of thumb, I find all steeping instructions to be more guidelines rather than hard or fast rules. For instance, if I get a very bitter cup of green tea after following the steeping instructions to the letter, I will do a second cup (with new leaves) at a lower temperature of water at a lower steeping time. You can always play around with water temperature and steeping time until you get a cup that you enjoy because there’s no sense in having a cup of tea that isn’t any good.

Tea Storage Tips

There are people who don’t think that tea can go bad because it’s dry leaves and it just stays in a cupboard for when you need it. But tea can go bad and nobody wants to open up a bag, hope to inhale the beautiful aroma of their favourite tea and be left with a hint of what the tea used to smell like – before it was left to mingle with air and the heat from being stored above the stove. In general, the factors that cause tea to go bad or to go stale include exposure to:

  • Humidity/moisture,
  • Heat,
  • Air, and
  • Light

There is a reason why it’s recommended to keep tea in a cool, dry, dark place – like a cupboard.

Humidity/moisture is a big one – if your tea leaves get wet and then continue to stay wet or don’t dry out properly, you end up with mold. Dry tea is shelf stable, but only if it’s dry.

Heat is a problem for tea because heat speeds up the degradation process. The quality of tea degrades when it is exposed to heat, one of the reasons why a “cool” tea storage place is idea.

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Air is a tricky one for a myriad of reasons. Air flow can introduce unpleasant odours to your tea as they can pick things up, but it can also introduce moisture to the tea leaves as there is water content in the air. A good air tight seal is ideal for most teas unless you happen to have pu-erh teas. Pu-erh teas do better when they can “breathe” and will benefit from air circulation (pu-erh teas is a tea that gets better/stronger with age as it ferments, but it can only do this if it’s allowed to have contact with air, so an air tight container is not necessary).

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And then there’s light. Sunlight can degrade tea leaves by damaging the tea leaves. This is one of the reasons why clear glass jars are not ideal for tea storage. I do have some tea in glass jars, but I also keep them in a dark box so they’re not exposed to light all the time. The rest of my tea lives in tea tins or bags that can be sealed.

I personally use a combination of methods to store my teas. A lot of my teas live in their original packaging (especially if that packaging includes the dry leaf being in zipped baggies that live in metal tea tines), while some have gotten transferred. I find a lot of retail packaging is sufficient, but I will transfer the tea into clear zipped bags if necessary. And when I have a spare tea tin, I like to wash it out, dry it, and refill it with a tea that could benefit from being in a tea. A lot of my tea tins are from DavidsTea, but a lot of places now carry similar storage tins (e.g. dollar stores, kitchenware stores, other tea retailers).