Sunday, July 29, 2007

Matcha Madness: Part III

Continuation of Matcha Madness: Part I and Part II.

The Tools of the Trade:

Preparing matcha with the traditional method requires quite a bit of specialized equipment, as you can see here.Matcha Equipment From left to right we have a chasen (whisk) held on a whisk holder, a chashaku (tea scoop), a chawan (tea bowl), a can of matcha, and a measuring cup. You don't technically need everything shown here, but I would really suggest investing in this kind of setup. So, what do all these items do?

Whisk/Chasen: The chasen has two purposes; it mixes matcha powder with water and incorporates air into the mixture (think of beating an egg white into a meringue), thus forming a homogenous suspension with a foamy froth on top. This is probably the single most important item in preparing matcha by traditional means.

These bamboo whisks are usually handmade by cutting a short section of bamboo lengthwise into many small tines. How many tines, you ask? The short answer is that it depends what kind of tea is being made. Don't worry though; as is the case with many aspects of matcha preparation, the number of tines on the whisk is important to performers of the tea ceremony and true matcha buffs, but likely makes no difference to the casual matcha drinker. So don't sweat it, and just buy whatever whisk feels right to you.

Whisk Holder: This is used to maintain the optimum shape of a bamboo whisk, which is easily warped by hot water. I've seen porcelain and wooden models, but I'm not convinced either is significantly better than the other. So, once again, it's up to you.

Matcha ScoopScoop/Chashaku: The chashaku is used to scoop and measure matcha. This is not an exact measure, but the picture shown here should give you a general idea how much one scoop's worth is equivalent to. The mass of one scoop's worth is approximately 0.75g, though this can vary from person to person or from tea to tea, depending on your technique or how densely packed your matcha powder is. Matcha scoops are almost always made from bamboo, and there isn't much variation in design unless you're getting really fancy.

Matcha Bowl/Chawan: The chawan is the second most important item in traditional matcha preparation. It is much larger than a typical Japanese teacup, despite the fact that the typical serving of matcha is only around 4 fl oz (approx. 120mL). The larger size gives the whisk more space to move around and effectively mix the tea (more on this later). There are a number of chawan forms and styles, but I am hardly an expert in Japanese pottery or art. I think the wide cylindrical shape (like mine, or this one) is the easiest to work with, as it contains splatter much better than the flat, conical-shaped bowls (examples here and here).

Matcha bowls can be very expensive, as you can see by the list prices on the linked examples above. These are mostly intended for Japanese art collectors and tea masters. However, there are many cheaper ones available on the internet for the rest of us. I particularly like the selection at Artistic Nippon, but almost all Japanese tea vendors carry at least few of the more affordable models.

Measuring cup: Fairly obvious. This isn't really necessary once you get a feel for the ideal amount of water to use, but it's still useful if you want really consistent results.

Also needed but not pictured is a towel of some sort. I just use paper towels, but it doesn't really matter as long as it can be used to dry things.

How to Prepare Matcha the Semi-Traditional Way:

First off, this is a purely functional method for preparing matcha. If you want to learn the Japanese tea ceremony, you will likely have to pay a good deal of money for the proper training. This is the next best way to enjoy matcha, and it's a lot cheaper!

Step 1: Setup and Preheating

First, set out all of your tools in a logical order so you don't have to fuss around or think too much. Bring your water to temperature (I like 170°F or so, but temperature doesn't matter nearly as much for matcha preparation as it does for steeping loose leaf tea), and fill your chawan about 1/3 full. Rinse the business end of your whisk in the bowl, then discard the water and thoroughly dry the bowl with a towel. Both of these rinses prevent clumping later on, and rule #1 about matcha is that clumping = bad.

Dry Matcha in BowlStep 2: Dry Team***

For usucha or thin matcha, add 1-2 scoopfuls of matcha powder to the warm, dry bowl. For koicha or thick matcha, add 3-4 scoopfuls. You can swirl the powder around with the scoop if you like, but I don't think it helps much.

Unmixed Matcha in BowlStep 3: Wet Team***

Add approximately 4 fluid ounces / 120mL of hot water (like I said before, temperature is up to you) to the bowl. Pour it somewhat slowly to keep the powder from flying.

WhiskingStep 4: Whisking

Put your recently rinsed whisk in the bowl and move it back and forth in an M or W pattern, occasionally giving the entire bowl a quarter-turn. Just like whisking when cooking, this requires a good deal of speed and elbow grease— wimpy whisking will almost definitely earn you a bowl of powdery tasting matcha. It takes about a minute of good, solid whisking to mix everything and work up a nice froth. Enjoy!

Matcha FrothWhen you're done, you should end up with a nice frothy bowl of matcha. Drink it fairly quickly, because the matcha powder is not dissolved and will settle out of suspension if given enough time. Settling makes the tea taste powdery, which is bad. If this happens, whisk again or just swirl it around to re-suspend.

But wait, there's more!

The observant among you may have noticed that I mentioned food grade matcha back in the second installment of this series. Why did I purchase so much food grade matcha, you ask?

Ice cream!

I'm not big on tea recipes, but matcha ice cream, more commonly and ambiguously known as "green tea ice cream," has always been one of my favorite desserts. So, I thought I'd share my recipe. Yes, you will need an ice cream maker.

Matcha Ice Cream

Matcha Ice CreamIngredients:

3 tbs food grade matcha powder
2 oz hot water
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar


Add the cream, milk, and salt to a medium-sized saucepan. Heat until bubbles begin to appear around the edge of the saucepan (Do not bring this to a boil, or you will have a big mess on your hands).

Whisk together your matcha powder and hot water in a medium-sized work bowl. Just use a regular kitchen whisk (not a chasen), and don't bother trying to whip up a froth; not only is it extremely difficult, but it is entirely unnecessary. This step is just to reduce any powdery consistency in the final product.

To the matcha and water mixture, add the sugar and egg yolks, and whisk to combine.

Temper the egg mixture by SLOWLY adding the hot cream mixture, whisking constantly, until about half of the cream mixture has been added to the egg mixture. I can't stress enough that you must add the cream mixture slowly. If you do this too quickly you could literally scramble your eggs. This is bad.

Return everything to the saucepan. Cook the custard on low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. Continue cooking until the custard coats the back of the spoon. If you've never done this before, this is how you know if it coats the back of the spoon: dip the spoon in the custard, and run your finger down it. If your finger leaves a mark with defined and stable edges, you're set.

Take the custard off the heat and pour through a strainer into a metal bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, placing the plastic directly on the surface of the custard to prevent it from forming a skin. Place this metal bowl inside a larger bowl filled with ice water. Chill in the water bath until the mixture is cold (this should take about one or two hours), adding ice to the ice bath as needed.

From this point, follow your ice cream maker's instructions. Put the soft ice cream into the freezer to harden for at least 2-3 hours, and devour.


Well, that was certainly a lot about matcha. All of this information can be found somewhere on the internet, but I haven't yet seen it all in one place. I hope this serves to educate and interest you loyal readers in the casual enjoyment of matcha, because I'm not writing anything more about it for a long time. :)

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this three-part series. I have a couple new and somewhat oddball articles in the works, so as always, stay tuned!

***If you get the reference, you're awesome.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Matcha Madness: Part II

Continuation of Matcha Madness: Part I

Comparison of Three Different Matchas:

Matcha ComparisonTo illustrate the difference between food and ceremonial grades of matcha, and the importance of keeping your matcha fresh, I present to you three different matchas:

1. Ingredient Grade Matcha from Matcha Source on Amazon [Ingredient Grade is another term for Food Grade]
2. An old order of "Kiri no Mori" Matcha from
3. A new order of "Kiri no Mori" Matcha from

The old order of "Kiri no Mori" (henceforth called K.M.) was purchased and opened several months ago, the new order of K.M. was receieved 5-6 weeks ago and opened in the past week, and the food grade matcha was received and opened within the past week.

I should note that because I am a horrible photographer, I did have to do a little bit of editing to the photos in order to bring out the colors. (I did my best to match the actual color of the matchas, and since I'm not selling anything I have no desire to present false information.) Anyway, compare the color of number 1 and 3 for an illustration of the difference between fresh food grade and fresh ceremonial grade matcha, and the color of numbers 1 and 2 for an illustration of what time does to matcha powder.

Color is one thing, but what about taste? The new K.M. is quite good, despite being the cheapest matcha available from It is has a vibrant, rich green flavor, with plenty of creaminess and sweetness. There is only a touch of bitterness, and there is a pleasantly sweet aftertaste and hui gan. The old K.M. is still good, though there is less richness, more of a light grain taste, and a little more bitterness. It's not nearly as different from the new K.M. as I expected it to be after all this time, but it was noticeably changed. The food grade matcha is, frankly, quite awful. It is bitter, with almost none of the sweetness or creaminess found in the ceremonial grade matchas, though there is the same sweet aftertaste. To be fair, it wasn't sold for this purpose— food or ingredient grade matcha is, as you would expect, intended for use in food where delicate flavors aren't important.

Even though as much as several months of storage won't turn your matcha into ash, it's still a good idea to know how to keep it properly.

Storing your Matcha:

Just like with loose leaf tea, keep your matcha away from light, air, and moisture. Be even more vigilant though, because matcha's fine texture makes it more sensitive than loose leaf teas: smaller particles mean more surface area per volume, and more surface area means more exposure to the elements. Fortunately, most matcha vendors are aware of this, and package their product well. Generally, you will find matcha packed in a mylar bag and/or a sealed, airtight aluminum canister.

At this point, the best place to store your matcha is in the fridge. HOWEVER, there are some rules about keeping tea in the fridge, and these are doubly important for matcha. The fridge is a good place to keep hermetically sealed packages because it prevents heat-related damage. Once you open the packaging though, don't put it back. The heat damage you would prevent is negligible compared to the negative effects of moisture, airflow, and odors that your tea will likely endure inside a fridge without any protection. Also, when you take your matcha out of the fridge, let it warm up to room temperature before opening it in order to avoid condensation. Once you open the container, keep it in a cool, dark place just like the rest of your opened packages of tea.

I would not suggest storing your matcha in a natsume (example) or cha-ire (example). They're really only useful in a ceremonial setting, when an unsightly aluminum can is inappropriate. If you want, you can store your matcha in a mylar bag and then put that inside the pretty container of your choice, but the important thing is that very few of these containers are airtight. Of course, if you go through matcha fairly quickly this won't be as much of an issue, but if you're like me you'll want a more long-term storage solution.

In any case, try to finish it up within a few months, as that's when you begin to notice staleness. Again, we are fortunate that matcha producers know about the short shelf life of their product, and typically package matcha powder in small 30g amounts. I forget where I heard this, but supposedly matcha is traditionally sold in 30g packages because that was just enough for a tea ceremony practitioner to serve usucha matcha to 20 people without leaving any leftovers that could go stale. Chances are you won't be making 20 servings in a day, but it's the same principle.

What's that? You want to learn how to make your own matcha? I hate to say it but...

Stay tuned for the third and final installment of Matcha Madness!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Matcha Madness: Part I


Matcha is one of the more unique teas out on the market today. Matcha is a Japanese green tea, ultimately derived from gyokuro. The most important use of matcha is in the Japanese tea ceremony, which I am thoroughly unqualified to explain. Though the tea ceremony is certainly interesting, my greater concern is with the tea itself.

As matcha is different than most teas, it requires extra care and specialized equipment. In the next two or three articles I will briefly explain the how matcha is produced, how to select your own, how to store your matcha, and how to prepare matcha for your own casual enjoyment. Who knows, I might even do a review at the end.


It all starts with gyokuro. Gyokuro is a Japanese green tea, grown under roughly 90% shade for 14-20 days before harvest, typically in the Uji and Yame regions. This produces a sweeter, richer tea. Without this shading step, the end product would be powdered sencha, not matcha, and it would have a much stronger bitter flavor.

After harvest, the leaves are steamed and then dried. While leaves destined to become gyokuro would now undergo repeated rolling and drying steps, leaves for matcha (known as tencha) are not rolled but are still dried. After drying, the leaves are de-stemmed and de-veined, so that only the most tender parts of the leaves enter the next stage of production.

Next, tencha is ground into an extremely fine powder. Traditionally, this is done with stone mills. Immediately after grinding, the finished matcha is packaged in airtight mylar bags and/or containers to preserve it for as long as possible.

There's a nice video of the process here.

Matcha Grading:

As you have likely guessed, not all matcha is created equal. As far as you and I are concerned, the various categories of matcha quality can be broken down like this:
Matcha Flowchart

For non-cooking purposes, we will be interested in ceremonial grade matcha. Food grade matcha can be used in matcha lattes and what not, but it's not very good by itself.

Ceremonial grade matcha is often described as falling into one of two categories; "thin" or usucha matcha, and "thick" or koicha matcha. Technically, these terms refer to two forms of the drinkable tea (more on this later), but for now, just remember that koicha matcha powder, if honestly labeled, is usually of superior quality than usucha matcha powder. There is no technical difference between the two kinds of matcha powder other than quality (it is similar to words like "premium" and "select"), so take such descriptions with a grain of salt.

Choosing and Purchasing Matcha:

So, how does one choose a good matcha over the internet? The typical rules of finding an honest vendor and being skeptical about the "high price = high quality" trend apply just as they always do. The one additional piece of advice I can offer is that color is important. With matcha, the ideal color is *bright* green. Dull color is likely a sign of stale or low quality matcha, so in general, the brighter the better. Of course, photoshop magic can deal with a dull looking matcha, which takes us right back to finding a vendor you can trust...

Anyway, a few trustworthy vendors I've heard good things about or personally ordered from are, Hibiki-an, and These should get you started, and you can branch out from there.

Stay tuned for Matcha Madness: Part II...

References:, "Green Tea Processing"
Hibiki-an, "Four Seasons of Green Tea"

Friday, July 13, 2007

2006 Wuyi "Seasonal" Rou Gui from Jing Tea Shop

Class: Oolong
Origin: Wuyi Mountain, Fujian Province, China
Year: 2006
Vendor: Jing Tea Shop
Price: Part of the "Most Wanted Wuyi Oolong Teas" tasting set, priced at $19.00 (25g of four teas)
Verdict: 7.5/10

The name "Rou Gui" carries a lot of baggage. Before I tried Rou Gui, I heard about its "amazing cinnamon aroma and flavor" a countless number of times. When I ordered my first sample, I nearly expected to open the package to find a piece of cassia bark chopped up into little tea leaf shapes.

Let me be blunt: don't trust the hype.

I realize that there may be other batches of Rou Gui that taste and smell more like cinnamon/cassia (As I understand it, the name "Rou Gui" implies such a characteristic), but I think it is an over-generalization to assume all Rou Gui is chock full of cinnamon goodness. As a result of this association, my palate wants to find a touch of cinnamon/cassia in Rou Gui, even though I don't really perceive any. This is unfortunate, but my best advice is that the next time you brew yourself some Rou Gui, try to think "tea," not "cinnamon."

Now that my rant is over, here's the review:

Dry LeafDry Leaf:

Nice, long, wiry leaves. They are quite a bit greener than the leaves of the other Wuyi yancha I have reviewed. These leaves give off an above average aroma— rich, creamy, and kissed with tropical fruit (kiwi, I think). This strange kiwi-esque aroma/flavor managed to baffle me throughout the tasting session, and I still don't feel like I have it pinned down. In any case, it's a nice fragrance, and the fact that I can't identify it only makes it more enjoyable.


4.6g leaf; 90mL yixing pot; 195°F tap water; rinse, 30s, 36s, 41s, 44s, 48s, 51s, 55s

***Note: Because my yixing teapots take a significantly long time to decant their liquid relative to the total infusion time, infusion times include the approximate 10-12s pour.***

1st InfusionLiquor:

This was a pleasant, though slightly elusive, tea to drink. There was essentially no fire or charcoal taste (which played well with the other flavors), and a slight astringency throughout the session, which was just enough to brighten the tea without getting in the way of its flavor. There was also a long, cooling hui gan that was nicely refreshing.

However, my greatest interest in this tea is the kiwi-esque flavor I alluded to earlier. It's like one removed the sugary sweetness from the fruit and replaced it with a hint honey and cream. Still... this description isn't perfect. I'm curious whether it can be compared to another taste I just haven't experienced, or if it is a novel flavor. On the downside, there was a fair amount of dust that made its way through the filter and into the cup, and the liquor consistently had a thin mouth feel. Nevertheless, this tea's mystery managed to hold my attention (which is not an easy feat, I might add), and earned it high marks in my book.

Wet LeafWet Leaf:

Believe it or not, this picture is pretty much representative of the wet leaves. Usually I try to pick out the best ones for these photos, but I picked these out right away and just kept finding similarly large and whole leaves. Inevitably there were a few broken ones here and there, but it really seems like a good amount of effort was put into producing this tea.


This was a much better tea (in my opinion, of course) than the Seasonal Shui Xian I recently reviewed. There was a pleasant lack of charcoal, and a novel yet balanced flavor. Most importantly, this tea demanded my attention and required me to really concentrate. Still, mystery alone does not a great tea make. While this seasonal Rou Gui had good balanced flavor, it wasn't out of this world. With these things taken into consideration, I give this tea a 7.5/10.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Tea Nerd Feed + Search Box

So I was fiddling around with my Blogger settings and I seem to have solved my feed problem. Basically, I couldn't figure out how to get images to look the same in the feed as they do on the web, and it turns out the solution was a lot simpler than I thought it was.

Anyway, you will now find a "Subscribe to Tea Nerd" link on the left, and you can keep up with new posts with a newsreader application (Such as Google Reader, or Firefox's built in reader). Enjoy!

Update: I've also added a Google search box to my sidebar, in case you mistakenly think I have any old posts worth taking a second look at.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

2006 Wuyi "Seasonal" Shui Xian from Jing Tea Shop

Class: Oolong
Origin: Wuyi Mountain, Fujian Province, China
Year: 2006
Vendor: Jing Tea Shop
Price: $14.20 (100g) / $4.80 (25g)
Verdict: 6/10

Been a while, eh? Well, it was worth it, because I am now continuing (this being the second review) the promised mega-series of Wuyi mountain oolongs. I doubt that series will ever really happen though, as most of those teas have been consumed already. :)

Anyway, this tea was bought as part of Jing Tea Shop's "Most Wanted Wuyi Oolong Teas" tasting set. The set includes two samples of Shui Xian and two of Rou Gui, one of each produced in the "seasonal" style, the others in the "traditional" style. This tea is the counterpart of the Lao Cong Shui Xian I reviewed earlier.

I'm still not sure what the difference is between seasonal and traditional style Wuyi oolongs, but it seems to me that seasonal oolongs are less-oxidized. I've also heard things about differences in roasting and the age of the tea trees, but I'm not really sure how I would go about judging that for myself.

On to the review:

Dry LeafDry Leaf:

Long, wiry, dark leaves. The dry leaf doesn't look much different than that of most other Wuyi oolongs, presumably due to the heavy roasting. The smell is decent, but nothing to write home about. There is some chocolate/charcoal, and some generic dark berry aroma. Maybe a little floral character, but the fragrance just isn't strong enough for me to detect any little gems that may be hiding in there. This may be due to how long I've had this tea, but some notes from an earlier tasting don't seem to be much different.


4.8g leaf; 90mL yixing pot; off-boiling tap water; 23s, 25s, 25s, 38s, 42s

First InfusionLiquor:

Nothing too interesting. Starts out with the chocolate/charcoal found in many Wuyi oolongs, and slowly morphs into a light honey/charcoal flavor in the end. It had a medium to thin mouth feel. The one thing that caught my attention was a drying sensation left on the tip of my tongue which lasted a minute or two. It wasn't strong enough to be unpleasant-- it was rather nice, actually.

Perhaps I just didn't brew it very well (which is quite likely), but I thought this was pretty boring and mediocre as far as Shui Xian goes. I even bumped up the leaf amount to 8g as a later experiment, and I didn't get much more than some extra charcoal flavor and a thicker body.

Wet LeafWet Leaf:

You can't see it very well in this picture, but these wet leaves are greener than their Lao Cong Shui Xian counterparts, which is what makes me think that traditional-style teas are more oxidized than seasonal-style ones. The leaves are nice; often long, and sometimes whole. I get too frustrated when I try to flatten out more than a couple leaves, but you can at least judge the still-twisted leaves on their length.


Overall, this was just a little better than mediocre. It tastes good, with nothing particularly bad about it, but I thought it was pretty boring. This may be attributable to age, but it really isn't that old, especially for a Wuyi oolong— it has only been 2 months since I first opened it. Anyway, this tea was good enough that I finished it up, but given how much more I liked the Lao Cong Shui Xian, I probably won't buy any more of this stuff. A 6/10.