Powdered Green Tea (抹茶)

Powdered green tea is a kind of green tea.

Powdered green tea is widely used, not only for tea ceremony, but also as ingredients for Japanese-style confectionery, ice shaving, ice cream, chocolate and other cooking.

Summary

Powdered green tea is just tea powder made from leaves of tea plants (tea leaves), but its manufacturing process is different from that of green tea for brewing, since powdered green tea is firstly dried after being steamed, then pounded down to eliminate such impurities as the veins of leaves, and further ground by so called "chausu" (a set of millstones for tea leaves.)
Before the Edo period, people used to drink powdered green tea which is made from freshly ground tea powder taken directly from chausu (a set of millstones for tea leaves.)
Powdered green tea for tea ceremony must be prepared within the previous day by grinding it with chausu. For domestic use, green tea powder packed in airtight plastic bags is available on the market. Once unpacked, powdered green tea must be kept in an airtight container and be put in a cool dark place, in order to avoid change in quality..

Two kinds of powdered green tea are available, namely full-flavored tea with blackish deep green color and weakly-flavored tea with bright blue-green color. If a person wishes to drink full-flavored tea, it is recommended to pour small quantity of hot water and add three heaping spoonfuls using a chashaku (a small spoon for powdered green tea) just to make thin potage. Accordingly, people may say that full-flavored tea is kkneaded.
To prepare weakly-flavored powdered green tea for one person, into a generous volume of hot water add as much as one and half spoons of green tea powder (using a chashaku, a small spoon for powdered green tea.)

When using a chasen (a bamboo tea whisk) to stir green tea, each school of tea ceremony follows a different way of whisking. Among the Senke schools, the Omote-Senke school makes a thin cover of bubbles, while the Ura-Senke school produces a generous foam. The Mushanokoji-Senke school insists on producing the least amount of bubbles.

Powdered green tea is classified into a single type, despite its variation in quality between high grade and standard products. Powdered green tea with a sweeter taste and less astringency and bitterness is regarded as the better quality and is accordingly expensive. Generally, high quality tea powder is used for full-flavored tea, but it may, of course, be used to prepare weak-flavored tea as well. In current tea ceremonies, full-flavored green tea is considered as the main, with weak-flavored green tea as substitute or informal.

The brisk bitter taste of powdered green tea contrasts well with the sweetness of sugar and emphasizes its flavor, so powdered green tea is commonly used for flavoring in confectioneries like icecream, which has become one of the standard flavors now in Japan (according to a survey conducted by The Japan Ice Cream Association, it was ranked third after vanilla and chocolate icecream in consumption between 1999 and 2007.)

History

The tea drinking custom was originally developed in China from the Tang dynasty through the Song dynasty.
According to ancient documents named "Chakyo (Chaijing)" written by a Chinese, U RIKU, in about 8th century, on the effects and usages of tea drinking, people at that time were said to have prepared tea to drink by dancha-ho, a method of preparing tea to drink by reducing a block of solid tea into powder and decocting it in a pot (called fuku.)

It is believed that this new way to prepare powdered green tea to drink (tencha-ho method) came into being during the 10th century. According to ancient records and documents, the history of powdered green tea which was believed to have originated with dancha, is clearly seen in a story about high-grade dancha such as Ryuhodancha that was ground in a chaden to produce powdered green tea, mostly from the Song Era, including the famous "Charoku" and "Taikansaron" written by Jo SAI in 1064 and by So KI in the 12th century. It was the tencha-ho method developed in the Song Era in China to put green tea powder in wan (a bowl), then pour hot water into it from tobin (a kettle) and knead the tea powder and hot water with chasen (a bamboo tea whisk), and such method is being now pursued by Yotsugashirachakai (the Yotsugashira tea-ceremony party) at Kennin-ji Temple in Kyoto and Engaku-ji temple in Kamakura.

The method for tea drinking, most probably the Dancha-ho method, was transferred to Japan in the beginning of the Heian period, while macha-ho method (the method using powdered tea) is considered to have come to Japan in Kamakura period.

As for introduction of macha-ho method to Japan, it is popularly accepted that Eisai Zenji (the great Zen teacher Eisai), the originator of Rinzai-shu denomination (Rinzai-shu sect), brought back with him from China in 1191 several kinds of tea along with the manners on how to drink them, which subsequently spread in Japan (for details, please refer to the section on Sado, History of Sado)

In his "Kissayojoki," Eisai explains about the different kinds of tea, methods for making powdered green tea, tea drinking for promoting health, etc. It was reported that Eisai presented his "Book to Honor the Benefits of Tea Drinking (Chatoku wo Homuru Tokoro no Sho)" to MINAMOTO no Sanetomo in 1214.

Japanese Method of Producing Tea

Material for powdered green tea is called Tencha

Tea plants that produce tencha leaves, for powdered green tea, are grown in the shade "under reed screens for ten days" and "under straw sheets for ten days" in order to keep them out of direct sunlight, this is the same method used to grow tea plants for the highest quality green tea called gyokuro, and which is very different from the method for growing ordinary tea. Such method of growing tea plants produces thinner tea leaves with a richer taste and flavor.

Leaves for tencha are picked once a year.
Young leaves are carefully picked by hand

Tea leaves picked by hand are steamed later the same day and then they are dried without doing junen (crumpling up leaves.)
In contrast to ordinary tea as well as Gyokuro, for the highest grade tea, the tencha does not undergo a crumpling process.

Tencha leaves are minced to remove leafstalks (petioles), leaf veins and other impurities, so that only pure leaves may be ground into powder. A stone mill (chausu) effected little by temperature change, is used.

The Names of Tea and Otsume (packer)

Various names are given to powdered green tea, such as "Hatsumukashi (literally, the first old days)," "Atomukashi (literally, later old days)," "Chiyomukashi (literally, very old days)," "Aoi-no-shiro (literally, the white of marrows)," "Seikaihaku" and so on. It is believed that, only after the Edo period, masters of tea ceremony began to use elaborate names for tea.

Tea plantations are called "chaen (tea gardens)" and tea manufacturers are called "chasi (tea masters)."

Chasi (tea masters) are also called "otsume (packers)," because they were originally engaged in packing tea leaves in tea canisters for shipment.

Constituents and Effects

While, in general, tea has various positive effects such as the elimination of sleepiness, diuretic benefits, etc, especially powdered green tea has the advantage of nutrients that can be directly ingested.
Main constituents of powdered green tea are as follows:

caffeine

tannin

vitamins

minerals

amino acids/proteins

cellulose

saponin

catechin/polyphenols

fragrant constituents (several tens or hundreds kinds)

Full-flavored Tea

One of tea tasting methods at tea ceremonies is to drink full-favored tea prepared in one bowl for several guests by passing it from the main guest to the other guests. This method is not recommended for such tea ceremony parties with large numbers of attendants.
In the tea ceremony, fresh (and moist) sweets are offered and they are called "omogashi (literally, the main sweets.)

Weak-flavored Tea

In a tea ceremony party with a number of attendants or during entertainment at a Zen temple, each guest is served with one bowl of weak-flavored tea. This bowl of weak-flavored tea is called "ousu." In a tea ceremony, dry sweets are served before offering weak-flavored tea, but fresh (and moist) sweets may often be served in such tea parties or during entertainment, where the tea served is not full-flavored.

How to Prepare Weak-flavored Tea

Pour hot water into a bowl to warm it up, and move the chasen (a bamboo tea whisk) around in the water to dampen it.

Chuck off the hot water, and wipe the inside of bowl with chakin (a cloth used in the tea ceremony.)

Scoop up with chashaku (a small spoon used for powdered green tea) about 2 grams of powdered green tea (about one and half of the chashaku) and put it into the bowl.

Then, pour 60 to 70 cc of hot water into the bowl.

Hold the bowl lightly with your hand, and stir the powdered green tea inside the bowl swiftly with chasen (bamboo tea whisk), and this process is called "to making up tea, " "to whipping up tea" or "to waking up tea." Depending upon the tea ceremony school, the chasen (a bamboo tea whisk) is shaken until the surface becomes entirely foamy.

Put the bowl in the palm of your left hand, and hold it with your right hand, turn it slightly to avoid the front face of the bowl to drink, and then drink the tea.

Green Tea

For use at home and for sale at retail shops, powdered green tea and sugar are mixed and agitated in hot water and milk, and then cooled down before drinking.
Some people call this product "usuchato (weak tea sugar)" or "powdered green tea milk (milk with powdered green tea.)
This is so palatable that even children may drink it comfortably.

As an Ingredient for Recipes

Powdered green tea is widely used also as an ingredient for various cuisine.
Typical examples are as follows:

Japanese-style confectionery

Uiro (confectionery)

Momiji-manju (maple leaf-shaped steamed (bean-jam) bun)

Kasutera (sponge cake), a sweet roll (a bun), a cookie, baked confectionery

Shaved ice (flavored with syrup), ice cream with powdered green tea, soft ice cream, chilled sweets, frozen sweets

As a seasoning ingredient to add Japanese flavor to such Western-style confectionery as chocolate, candy etc.

As a seasoning ingredient to add Japanese flavor to such dessert as pudding, a parfait, etc.

Tempura (Japanese deep-fried food) may sometimes be served with macchajio (salt with powdered green tea), a seasoning being on the table with other spices.