If you haven’t made your way to Washington DC during Cherry Blossom Season, put it on your bucket list. It’s such a beautiful time of the year here and often the weather is pleasant: not too hot – not too cold. This year was unusual in that we had a very warm Jan/Feb and then it dropped to freezing in early March. The Cherry Blossom bloom time was moved up and then moved again. It’s a reminder that Mother Nature is always in control. The National Cherry Blossom Festival lasts for 2 weeks and there are activities and events almost every day. Not only is it a fun time, the entire city is glowing with pink and white blossoms!
We have Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo City to thank for giving Washington DC its first cherry trees on March 27, 1912 as a gift of friendship to the people of the United States. These flowering cherry trees are called “Sakura,” and is a symbol of the “evanescence of human life and epitomizes the transformation of Japanese culture throughout the ages.” You can read a bit more about this here.
To celebrate this time of year, (which happens to be my favorite), I source a very small amount of Sakura Sencha. It’s a very refined blend of premium Sencha green tea and cherry blossoms, but this years blend has added Matcha and a few rose petals for added visual appeal. This is one of my all time favorite teas and what makes it so special is that you have to wait a whole year before you can enjoy it again!
Here are some tasting notes on this delightful healthy, flavorful green tea. You can purchase 2oz of this tea on our website – and it comes in a lovely cherry blossom tea storage tin! I hope you will give it a try.
• Overview: Yabukita Species Green Tea from Shizuoka, Japan • Dry Leaf: Smallish, long and slightly flat • Liquor (liquid): Gorgeous bright green • Aroma: Fresh, green, cherry fruit • Flavor notes: Subtle notes of cherry show up at the finish. The matcha powder added is not overpowering, but compliments the blend nicely. A very easy green tea to drink. • Brewing recommendation: 170° Fº / 1 minute / At least 2-3 infusions • Caffeine: Yes
Are you losing steam? Too much to do in the next 2 days to prepare for Santa’s visit down the chimney, gaggles of holiday visitors, cooking, cleaning, shopping, work projects, dog walking, cookie baking, present wrapping, sipping tea, reading blogs… your list is long.
I’m never more productive, focused and oddly calm then after a bowl of this green wonder. Matcha is gaining in popularity in the West for a heap of reasons with the obvious being its superior health benefits:
High antioxidants and EGCg (Epigallocatechin)
High in chlorophyll to aid wound healing
Anti-inflammatory, anti-aging properties
Lowers blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar
Vitamin C, selenium, chromium, zinc and magnesium
May boosts metabolism to burns calories
Protection against HIV
Cancer prevention from polyphenols
Helps Type-2 diabetes
Detoxification from high levels of chlorophyll
100% of the leaf is ingested and has 137 times more antioxidants than regularly brewed green tea.
One cup of matcha = 10 cups of regularly brewed green tea in terms of nutritional content
and last but certainly not least, my favorite: It enhances mood level, mental alertness AND is calming.
How does it do that? One of the chemical components of this treasure is L-theanine, a heavy-hitting amino acid that has anti-anxiolytic properties which boost alpha brain waves which encourages relaxation, seriously profound mental clarity and an alert state of mind – all while making you feel calm and in control. What else offers that without the need for a doctors prescription? Studies suggest that theanine acts as a neurotransmitter on the brain which is where that sense of calm comes from. It is said to help aid in deep concentration during meditation which Buddhist monks have known about for thousands of years. The anti-stress properties of theanine inhibits neuron excitation which helps lower physiological and psychological stress.
So what exactly is the wonder brew? Matcha is made from the raw material (leaves) called Tencha. Tencha is grown in the shade for about a month or so before actual harvest. The shading of the tea plant forces a reduction in photosynthesis which creates a higher lever of chlorophyll (resulting in a deep green color), and theanine which is what gives it a very robust yet slightly sweet flavor. Any gardener knows that shade grown plants usually have darker, greener leaves. Same is true for the tea plant camellia sinensis. As is the case with most fine teas, to produce Matchaonly the youngest leaves (two leaves in a bud) are used. After picking (which in Japan is often by machine), the leaves are steamed to stop the oxidation process, dried and cut. There is no need for Tencha leaves to be rolled or kneaded like Sencha or Gyokuro because the leaves (no stems or veins) will be ground into a powder using a granite wheel. A lot of work goes into producing Matchaand it is totally worth it once you see the rich, emerald green color and taste its distinct magical flavor.
There is a lot of history around Matcha, and many books and documents have been written on the subjest. A blog post could go on for days just discussing Matcha. Here is the super short version:
Tea was thought to have been introduced to Japan in the 9th Century CE by a Buddhist monk from China, where the custom of drinking tea for medicinal (and later pleasurable) reasons was already common. It didn’t take long for the Japanese to become smitten with tea. By the 12th century, Matcha, was introduced and used in religious rituals in Buddhist monasteries. By the 13th century, Samurai warriors got in on the action and started drinking Matchawhich laid the foundation for the Japanese Tea Ceremony. It was during this period in Japanese history (Muromachi) that art and architecture when through a transformation to an extreme simplified style used by the Samurai. By the 16th century, tea drinking was widespread throughout all levels of society in Japan.
The Japanese tea ceremony (Chado), which means: the Way of Tea, is the ceremonial preparation and presentation of Matcha, a powdered green tea. It is practice meant to transform with order (rules) and refinement, humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, asymmetry, simplicity, and respect for the time and care it takes to engage in the practice of being present and sharing that time and a bowl of tea. Sen no Rikyu, one of the most well know historical figures in tea “introduced the concept of ichi-go ichi-e, (一期一会, literally: one time, one meeting), a belief that each meeting should be treasured, for it can never be reproduced.” These principles still in practice in Japanese tea ceremonies today.
The tea ceremony (and just making an ordinary cup of tea) is a strong reminder to live in the moment, be present, and connect with others and with the earth. I can’t think of anything that tops that, especially this time of year.
So how do you make Matcha? Its actually quite easy and no need for an elaborate ceremony to enjoy. The classic way is to use a bowl and whisk, but as its gained in popularity many people are just putting the powder into smoothies. I’ve done that on occasion but still prefer to whisk up a bowl in the morning. A Japanese Tea Ceremony goes on for hours and no one has time for that in everyday life, so here is a shorted way to make Matchawith 3 tools: spoon, whisk, and bowl:
Step 1: Take a bamboo scoop (or measuring teaspoon) and scoop the powder into a bowl. A scoop or two is about right. Step 2: Heat water to about 175˚ – not boiling – and pour 2-4 oz of water into the bowl. Step 3: Take whisk, called a chasen, (which ideally has been soaked in warm water to soften the bamboo) and using a back-and-forth motion whisk the tea until it is frothy. Ideally you want to keep the whisk straight and make like you are whisking the letter “W”. There should be no lumps in your final product. Step 4: Sip your Matcha and enjoy the energy and serenity it will gift you. (If you are feeling cheeky, enjoy 1 simple butter cookie with your bowl of tea. The sweetness enhances the experience.)
Pearl Fine Teasoffers 3 grades of Matcha, but below are some general notes on the tea overall: • Overview: An ancient tea made from Tencha leaves that are ground into a fine powder. • Dry Leaf: Ground, bright green powder • Liquor (liquid): Thick and frothy, also bright green • Aroma: Vegetal, melon fruit, very slight toast • Flavor notes: Intense, crisp, clean, tangy, vegetal, artichoke, strong and slightly astringent, sweet notes on the finish • Brewing recommendation: 160-70˚F for 1-2 minutes. • Caffeine: Yes
Beware of a new tea addiction. If you have not tried this hearty green tea from Japan, I encourage you to give it a chance. It’s Umai!You may have sampled it without even knowing if you’ve had tea at a sushi restaurant. It’s a classic Japanese green tea, blended with toasted and popped rice. (Genmaimeans roasted rice and Cha means tea.) Ours contains added Matcha (green tea powder used in Japanese tea ceremonies). Traditionally Genmai was made with Bancha, but Sencha is often used nowadays as in our blend. It can also be made with Hoji Cha and Gyukuro but that seems to be less common. The combination of popped and roasted white rice along is delightful and is one of my all time favorite green teas to sip in the morning to start the day because of its distinctly “nutty” flavor, and that it almost feels like breakfast my cup. With the addition of matcha, it increases my energy level.
I’ve read a few different stories on how this tea originated. One being that a man from Kyoto dropped his mochi rice cake and instead of wasting it, he broke it into small pieces and added them to his tea. Another is that it originated in Korea given that they drink a roasted brown rice tisane.And still another is that rice was added to green tea during at time when tea was in short supply, thereby making it more affordable and last longer. The most legendary story dates back to the 15th century when a samurai met with warlords. Since green tea is the customary drink served in Japan, the samurai had his servant serve the beverage to his guests. As he was pouring the tea a few bits of a rice snack he had stored in the sleeve of his robe fell out and into the samurai’s cup. The samurai was so angry, he took out his sword and beheaded his servant. Then without hesitation, he sat back down to drink his “ruined” tea. To his genuine surprise, he discovered that the flavor of the Bancha was made better with the addition of the popped rice. He felt remorse and guilt for his cruelty and demanded that this new style of tea be served each morning to honor the servant whos life he took and named it after him: Genmai (rice) Cha (tea).
If you made the Full Moon Waterlast night, try using that water to infuse this beauty. If you didn’t get a chance, you can also still make the water tonight (Dec 14, 2016). Here are some notes about this green tea.
• Overview: Easy to drink green tea that feels filling in the belly. A great morning send off, which could turn into a daily addiction. • Dry Leaf: Flat green sencha leaves, popped and brown rice. Matcha powder. • Liquor (liquid): Gorgeous deep green, slightly cloudy from the matcha • Aroma: Starchy, toasted • Flavor notes: Fresh, crisp, toasty, strong taste of rice. Matcha powder adds a slight astringency but there is a sweet finish to this tea. • Brewing recommendation: 175-185° Fº – steep for 2 minutes • Caffeine: Yes