I had my little bamboo whisk and a pretty ceramic bowl, so why was my matcha bitter and flat instead of frothy and sweet like it should be? I wanted the brilliant green color, subtle umami flavor, and almost-creamy texture (not to mention the purported health benefits) of this tea at its best. After taking tea ceremony lessons for a month in Japanit always turned out delicious thereI still didnt know how to make good matcha consistently (maybe because my grasp of the Japanese language is elementary at best).
When I brought home a tiny tin of high-grade matcha from Kyotos famous Ippodo tea shop, it whisked up frothy and sweet in seconds. That was the first and most important thing I needed to learn about making good matcha: high-quality tea is essential (later Id learn that not only is it sweeter, but the tea leaves are ground finer). The culinary-grade stuff that I thought was a bargain was suitable for making sweets, but not for drinking straight.
To learn more, I visited Zach Mangan, cofounder and director of Kettl, at his small showroom in Brooklyn. Kettl works directly with farmers in Japans best tea-producing regions to distribute fine tea in America. We drank a lot of matcha together and talked about what you need and dont needto prepare it at home. (Shortcut: Kettl sells a kit with everything youll want to get started, and so does Ippodo.)
Japanese tea ceremony revolves around the making and serving of matcha. Its said to be the essence of hello and goodbyea highly ritualized social interaction. Each gesture, from how to enter the room to how to clean the bowl when you finish, is choreographed, deliberate, and delicate. You dont need to be that precise to enjoy matcha, but channeling just a little of the focus and grace of tea ceremony makes it more enjoyable to prepare and drink your tea.
1. Buy good matcha.
Matcha is expensive because growing, harvesting, and grinding the tea leaves into powder is a labor-intensive process (and then it has to get here from Japan). It might seem like a bargain, but you definitely dont want to drink culinary-grade matcha (except maybe in a smoothie or sweetened latte). In the U.S., higher grades of matcha are often labeled as ceremonial. In Japan, they are categorized as usucha, for making thin tea (most likely the matcha you know), and koicha for making thick tea (more like the texture of a very rich hot chocolate, often an acquired taste).
2. Have the right (simple) equipment.
In tea ceremony, appreciation of the bowl is part of the ritual. For everyday use you dont have to invest in a ceramic work-of-art, but you do need a vessel that allows plenty of room for whisking (and feels nice in your hands and on your lips). A big café-au-lait mug or a delicate soup bowl that you already have will do fine to get started. If you drink matcha often, treat yourself to a bowl that you will treasure.
3. Use hot water.
4. Sift the tea.
5. Get the right ratio.
6. Whisk vigorously.
Bonus: Serve with sweets.
Hannah Kirshner (March 31, 2016)