840 years ago, after a momentous trip to China, a Japanese monk named Eisai Myoan returned home to Japan from his travels with new experiences in tow. His findings would go on to influence the course of Japanese culture for centuries to come.
While in China, Eisai discovered the wonders of both Zen Buddhism and powdered green tea (AKA the topic of the hour…matcha) – both unknown in Japan at the time. Enamored, Eisai introduced his findings to the people of Japan.
Initially revered for its health properties, matcha was also employed as a meditation aid by Zen Buddhists to help them stay awake during extensive meditation regimens. Over hundreds of years, matcha and Zen Buddhism continued their symbiotic evolution in Japan. Eventually, matcha became popular with the Japanese elite, particularly with the Samurai class who embraced Zen. The art of preparing and consuming matcha, famously known as the Japanese Tea Ceremony or chanoyu, continues to serve as a sacred practice in Zen mindfulness to this day.
Surprisingly, black, white, yellow, green, puh-er and oolong teas are all derived from the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis. The dramatic difference between each type of tea lies in their cultivation, harvest, processing, and preparation. Of those, matcha is considered the among highest quality teas in the world, setting itself apart from the pack in three key ways:
One month before harvest, select tea plants are shaded with dark mesh cloth to reduce sun exposure. If shading is done carefully, the tea leaf’s color, shape, and nutrients are transformed into the bright green, nutrient dense and flavor packed tea known as tencha, the pre-ground matcha.
Matcha tea plants under their shade-cloth after a recent harvest. Nishio, Japan
Matcha leaves being hand-selected in Nishio, Japan.
The art and science of tasting and blending tencha leaves is the key to achieving optimal flavor and consistency in matcha.
Only the young leaves are hand-picked, then quickly steamed and dried. These tencha leaves are then stone-ground in small batches, finally becoming the esteemed matcha—vibrant in flavor, and verdant in color!
Unlike nearly all other teas, matcha is not steeped in water and removed. Due to its careful cultivation and grinding, the powdered green tea is simply mixed into water and consumed whole, giving an immense depth of flavor and packing one heck of a nutritional punch.
Not all matcha is created equal. Some is designed for ceremonial purposes and sells for many hundreds of dollars a pound, while other grades of matcha target various culinary uses (like matcha donuts or mochi). The finest matcha producers carefully manage each step of the process from tea plant to cup, tasting at every step along the way.
Matcha's unparalleled color is thanks to a high concentration of chlorophyll - the chemical that absorbs sunlight for plant energy. Shading the leaves causes an increase in chlorophyll and other nutrients, including flavor compounds.
We’re super into these slow-and-low processes and careful cultivation of flavor (obvs). So natch, we used this most recent round of inspiration to craft a new Maker’s Series micro batch!
For the 8th Maker’s Series bar, we wanted to celebrate the pure depth of flavor that only the best matcha can bring. Last June, we traveled to Nishio, Japan to hand-select the matcha we folded into our lush white chocolate. Using the finest quality matcha, this bar features notes of clean fresh grass, jasmine flowers and hints of umami.