January 4, 2013

Matcha: My Five-Minute Office Tea Ceremony

This is yet another post about something Japanese. Matcha. What the hell is matcha? According to Wikipedia, matcha "refers to finely milled or fine powder green tea." According to me, matcha is "awesome."

Although I had been intrigued by matcha for a long time, I didn't actually try it until about a year ago. I delayed my introduction to matcha for a number of reasons. First, good matcha is expensive. Second, all good matcha comes from Japan, and I was concerned about radioactive tea caused by the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011 (I later learned that good matcha is produced from tea grown in the Uji region of Japan, which was not affected by the meltdown). Third, I really didn't want to get sucked into yet another obsession/interest (too late). Fourth, making a proper bowl of matcha (that's right, you use bowls, not cups) requires specialized gear and techniques; what a hassle:

Matcha Gear
After doing some online research, I realized that a bamboo whisk (a "chasen") is absolutely required. So I bought a "starter kit" that included a chasen and a bamboo spoon/scoop thing (a "chasaku"). I decided to buy a medium tier Uji matcha from a Japanese vendor. So my initial investment was less than $35.00, and I was prepared to be disappointed and write it off. I wasn't, and I didn't.

You can read more about my office matcha set-up after the jump. [Edit: jumps are silly; removed it]

I drink both coffee and Japanese green tea at the office almost every day, so I took my matcha making gear to work. After making a few bowls (somewhat successfully), I realized that I needed additional equipment: a Japanese matcha bowl (rather than an American soup bowl); a sifter; and a Pyrex measuring cup. More gear = just great. I also use an electric kettle that has a programmable temperature setting.

The Japanese tea ceremony involves the preparation of thick matcha (known as "koicha") in accordance with a ritualistic and anal retentive sequence of ninja-like moves and events. The Acquirer office tea ceremony involves the preparation of thin matcha (known as "usucha") in accordance with the following steps. First, if I have a little extra time, I will preheat the matcha bowl with hot water, and then dry the interior of the bowl. Next, I use the chasaku to add a couple of scoops of the matcha powder to the sifter, shake rattle and roll, and use the chasaku if needed to tap all of the matcha powder out of the sifter and into the bowl:

I forgot to mention that during this time, I have the chasen soaking in some hot water in the Pyrex cup. This softens the "fingers" of the chasen and preheats the Pyrex cup, which some thermodynamically sensitive matchaficianados say is important.

Meanwhile, the electric kettle is also doing its thing, keeping some water at the appropriate temperature and ready for the bowl. I usually run the kettle at about 175-180 degrees for my matcha, because that's how I roll. Now for the grand finale. I remove the chasen from the Pyrex, discard the old water, add new hot water into the Pyrex (usually between 75 and 100 ml of water), pour the water into the bowl, and go to town with the chasen. This "go to town" step is critical, and it requires some skill. Not kidding - Google it. Anyway, the chasen is used to thoroughly integrate the matcha powder into the hot water, aerate the liquid and, as Devo would say: "whip it good." The end result is a frothy, creamy, full-flavored bowl of matcha:

The amount of prepared matcha is usually enough for three or four large sips. I believe that you are supposed to drink the matcha rather quickly, similar to how one might drink a triple shot of espresso. I've also heard that the last sip should be slurped up to get the most flavorful experience you can get. Whatever, I just drink it. It's good stuff.


  1. I would like to suggest another way to distract yourself away from presence and the present. roast. your. own. coffee. It is much better to be able to control the coffee, don't you think? Might I point out that there are oh-so-many parameters to be balanced and therefore learned; all of that needs an obsessive level of detail. drum roaster? air roaster? what bean temp? what bean type? what bean region? what choice do you have? you know you need another eclectic hobby of low penetration but which has room for you to penetrate.

  2. I'm not prepared to go down that path just yet. Sounds cool and interesting, but also time-consuming and, to be honest, a hassle. I already spend too much time and money on good beans and brewing equipment. In fact, I'm currently working on a post related to this topic.

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