From a drink that was considered the preserve of the cognoscenti of only the Japanese tea ceremony to a world-wide “superfood” matcha has come a very long way.
But what is this 'malcha'? Malcha is the Korean pronunciation of the characters 抹茶 (pronounced ‘matcha’ in Japanese and ‘muocha’ in Chinese). Once the preserve of those in the know, malcha can now be said to be ubiquitous. From the bowl of tea made by the Tea Master, through malcha cakes, confectionary and cookies, to malcha lattes and smoothies and other culinary delights and dietary supplements with magical properties. The journey though long in the making was swift in the final stages of achieving fame.
Malcha is powdered green tea but not all powdered green teas are malcha. To be malcha the tea leaves must be 연차 or ‘yeoncha (Jap: sencha)’, partially or fully shaded, steamed, dried, deveined and finally milled into a fine powder using only stone mills. Lower grade malcha and matcha is often ground using steel mills or other metal mills which causes a heating of the powder resulting in a degradation of colour, aroma and taste. These teas are destined for the cooking and additives markets.
It is supposed by many that Korean malcha is the new kid on the block. This is far from the truth. I have been informed that malcha was first used in the Goryeo dynasty which was founded in 918 by King Taejo. The kingdom fell in 1392 and gave way to the Joseon Dynasty. Whether malcha was introduced in 918 or 450 odd years later is not known. As tea drinking fell from favour in the Joseon dynasty due to the change from Buddhism to Confucianism we may surmise that malcha drinking also fell by the way. There was certainly the introduction of matcha from Japan during the Japanese invasion of the Korean peninsular. All this left malcha in a rather parlous state.
Over the years that I have travelled Korea when malcha was served the host was always keen to point out that the tea was an import from Japan and not the domestic malcha. In fact, the locally produced malcha that I did find to taste was a pale greenish-yellow colour, did not hold frothing well and was bitter in taste. So why would one bother?
On my last trip to the Hadong Wild Tea Festival I stumbled across something quite extraordinary. A small booth with two stone grinding mills and a group of workers hand deveining tea leaves and feeding them into the mill. I asked to see the tea. It was a deep emerald colour with an aroma of such freshness of spring meadows. I asked to taste.
The foam was thick and redolent of the best matchas I had ever tasted. The taste was creamy, full, sweet, full of vanilla, brazil nuts and maple syrup with a chimera of astringency that harmonised the complete symphony. If that sounds a little over-the-top….well, you really needed to be there.
How was this sensation achieved? Areas of Hadong teas are covered for three weeks prior to harvest, this increases the theanine levels that has a direct influence on flavour. For the scientists amongst us theanine also known as L-γ-glutamylethylamide and N5-ethyl-L-glutamine, is an amino acid analogue of the proteinogenic amino acids L-glutamate and L-glutamine and is found primarily in particular plant and fungal species. It was discovered as a constituent of green tea in 1949. Lots of health claims are associated with theanine including being an anxiolytic and an antihypertensive. Shading either fully or partially is done on a day-to-day and hour-to-hour basis depending on the strength of the sun.
Next, careful and premium processing is considered essential to preserve flavour and then rolling using stone mills at a painfully slow rate that only produces 30 grams of malcha per one hour from each mill. The producers of the malcha I tasted have 17 stone mills and are committed to producing extraordinarily high quality, organicall certified malcha. This is a labour of love.
Here at Tea Total we are fortunate to have the first malcha produced by this company for sale in Australia. We shall launch this at the Sydney Tea Festival on the 21st August 2016 and it will then be available via our online Tea Shop here. This is a tea experience that I was glad I did not miss.