Since I’m starting a blog about the Japanese green tea powder called matcha, it only makes sense to write a quick post detailing my first experience with this wonderful tea. I was living in Japan at the time and had seen the word matcha written on packages of tea in my local grocery store, but I had no idea what that word actually meant and how that type of tea was different from any other.
As I grew more accustomed to living in Japan, I started to learn more about the culture and the daily life of the Japanese people. Eventually, I learned that matcha is a powdered form of green tea and that it is the variety used in the Japanese tea ceremony. At that point I had never seen the tea ceremony, but I knew enough about it to know that the brewing process was quite involved and that the ceremonial procedures were extensive and complicated and that it takes practitioners years to master them.
One day, I decided to try some of this tea for myself and bought my own package of matcha green tea powder. I bought the cheapest one available at the grocery store and when I opened it up, it had a dull green color. I did not know this at the time, but that is not the color you want to see. The highest quality varieties have a bright green color and look fresh instead of dull. Basically, I bought a low-quality tea, but I should’ve known that just from the price alone.
As if that wasn’t enough, I simply dumped the powder into some hot water and stirred it with a spoon. I had no idea you’re supposed to whisk it in a bowl and I also had no idea there were special implements for the process. I had never heard of a chashaku, the bamboo spoon used to scoop the powder into the bowl, a chawan, the bowl itself, or a chasen, the whisk. I certainly had no idea you were supposed to put the powder through a strainer and I didn’t even know the correct water temperature. You guessed it! I use boiling water. Needless to say, my brew tasted horrible.
I’ve heard many people say they don’t like the taste of matcha and I’m guessing it’s for the same reason I didn’t originally like it much—they simply brewed it incorrectly. In my case, it wasn’t until over a year later when I began traveling around Japan and found myself in Kyoto, that I finally had a couple of matcha prepared the way it was meant to be prepared. Technically, I was in Uji, a small town near Kyoto. I was staying in Kyoto and had spent a few days sightseeing there already, when I decided to take a day trip to the nearby village of Uji.
It is a traditional Japanese town and is famous for its matcha. Visitors can observe the traditional tea ceremony and try a cup of traditional tea. I did both and both were an incredible experience. I finally learned how amazing this type of green tea can taste when it is prepared in the traditional and the correct way and I also felt like I was watching a piece of history unfold when I observed the tea ceremony.
If you ever find yourself in Japan I suggest you find an opportunity to view a tea ceremony for yourself and to try a cup of this wonderful tea. Ideally you will do it in a town famous for its tea, like Uji. Should you find yourself in Kyoto, getting to Uji is easy. This budget travel guide for Kyoto has a few paragraphs on getting to Uji, if you are interested in experiencing this piece of Japanese culture. And more importantly, if you are interested in experiencing the deliciousness that is matcha green tea.
For more on Kyoto, try the Japan Guide website.
For more on the Japanese tea ceremony.