Beginner’s guide to matcha – How to make matcha (Part 4 of 5)
guide, japan, matcha
This is part 4 of the beginner’s guide to matcha. Access the other parts here:
How to make matcha - usucha 薄茶 and koicha 濃茶
While matcha has a rather unique style of preparation, with a little bit of practice making it will become second nature.
Traditionally, there are only two ways to drink matcha: as usucha (thin tea) or koicha (thick tea). Specifics of preparation for each type vary slightly between tea schools (e.g. the Urasenke school whisks usucha until thick foam floats on the surface; the Omotesenke school does not), but if you are drinking matcha outside of tea ceremony, feel free to create your own style after mastering the basics!
Just a heads up – the following guide uses a simplified Urasenke style of preparation since that’s what I know best.
Usucha 薄茶 (thin tea)
This video explains how to beautifully prepare a cup of usucha in just over one minute. It is really that simple. But for those of you who need a little bit more instruction, here’s the breakdown:
1) Pour a bit of hot water into your tea bowl to pre-warm it. Lightly whisk your chasen (bamboo whisk) in the water. Pre-warming the bowl keeps your tea hot longer and wetting the chasen helps to keep the prongs from breaking while whisking the tea. Discard this water.
2) Measure and sift your tea. Use 1.5 -2 grams (.3 – .4 tsp) of tea per ~60ml (~2 fl. oz.) of hot water. Sifting your tea through a fine mesh strainer will keep it from clumping when whisked.
3) Add hot water (80C – boiling; your preference. I almost always use near-boiling water.)
4) Begin to whisk the tea. Try to keep your arm level above the bowl, whisking in a straight line by only moving the wrist. Don’t push the chasen too hard against the bottom of the bowl, or the prongs may break. It will take some practice to whisk quickly but controlled.
5) Once you have achieved the amount of foam you want, begin to whisk the very top layer of foam. Use a back and forth motion like a sideways 8, again keeping your arm still but moving the wrist. This pops the large bubbles and creates a beautiful, smooth foam.
6) To finish in Urasenke school style, before removing the whisk from the tea, move the whisk slowly from the center of the bowl, around the perimeter, and finally back to the center. Remove the whisk from the middle of the bowl, making a small peak of foam there. (This is an optional step for aesthetics more than anything.)
Drink it while it’s hot! Matcha can get quite bitter as it cools.
Help! I can't get my usucha to foam!
Don’t worry – everyone who’s made matcha has been there before. In my experience, the major culprit is a water:tea ratio that’s too high. Try using slightly less water next time.
The second culprit is usually a tired arm. Make enough matcha and eventually that won’t be an issue!
Lastly, low quality matcha that’s ground to a sandy consistency will fall out of suspension relatively quickly (though it can foam). Save yourself the trouble and make sure to buy quality matcha.
Koicha 濃茶 (thick tea)
Koicha is a strong tea with a paste-like consistency. During an Urasenke-style tea ceremony in which koicha is served, the host will prepare three servings in a single bowl. The bowl is passed between three participants who each take a few sips.
For an overview of how to make koicha, check out this short video first.
Just a fair warning – koicha can be an acquired taste. I’ve seen more than a few people make a face like they’ve been poisoned when trying koicha for the first time. (It’s really quite a lot of fun to introduce friends to koicha!)
Getting the water:tea ratio correct for a single person serving of koicha is tricky. I’ve found the ratio from Sazen Tea has good results and will use it here.
1) Pre-warm your teabowl and wet the chasen just like when making usucha. Discard the water used.
2) Measure and sift your tea. Use ~4 grams (0.8 tsp) of tea per 15 ml (0.5 fl. oz., ~ 1 Tbsp) of hot water. Sifting matcha when making koicha is almost an indispensable step. I didn’t have a sifter when taking these pictures, which made the whisking laborious!
3) Add hot water. Water for koicha is cooled slightly before using. An easy way to achieve the right temperature is by pouring ~70 ml of cold water into a kettle of boiling water.
4) Knead the tea. Be sure to watch the video linked at the beginning of this section for visuals of the correct kneading motion and speed. The motion looks a bit like making two parentheses ( ) or the Japanese character い. Repeat this until the water and tea are well blended. Don’t create a foam!
Be very careful to knead away any balls of matcha during this stage. These are unpleasant to drink! Because I didn’t have a strainer, many clumps of matcha appeared and it took a long time to create a smooth paste.
5) If the tea is too thick, pour a small amount of extra hot water over the chasen (this helps remove tea clinging to the prongs) and into the bowl. Lightly mix this water in with the tea paste.
4) Carefully remove the chasen, holding it over the tea bowl for a moment in case some tea drips off.
And that’s how to make koicha – Drink it while hot! Koicha can become extremely bitter when cooled.
Bonus! Usucha from koicha
After drinking koicha, you may find that a large amount of tea remains at the bottom of the bowl.
Don’t waste it – just add a small amount of hot water and make usucha!
Proper care is the key to a long life (for your tea utensils).
After finishing drinking, pour hot water into your bowl and discard to clean away the remaining matcha. You can now pour a bit of room temperature water into the bowl and quickly whisk your chasen to clean it. Discard this water.
After making tea with your chasen, gently wash it in water. Use a fingernail to gently dislodge any stubborn matcha particles.
After making tea – carefully clean your chasen (no soap!) in water to remove the residual matcha. I like to whisk the chasen in a bowl of hot water to dislodge clumps of matcha before cleaning the prongs in running water.
Finally, don’t forget to let your chasen air dry after use! Since chasen are made of bamboo, they can mold easily if packed away wet. Keep the chasen out of direct sunlight and somewhere with good ventilation. If you have a chasen-naoshi, you can let the chasen dry on it.
If using a soup/cereal bowl, feel free to wash it in your normal way (dishwater, soap and water, etc.).
If using a specific use matcha bowl (chawan), you may need to take extra care when washing. Chawan tend to be very porous, and some have delicate painted surfaces. Do not use soap or rough scrubbing materials when cleaning. Soap can seek through the porous surface and lodge inside the clay of the chawan, and vigorous scrubbing may wipe away glaze or decorations.
Instead, submerge the chawan in lukewarm water and gently clean with a soft cloth. It’s natural for matcha to build up in the pores and glaze cracks of a chawan over time – this doesn’t mean the chawan is dirty.
The glaze on some chawan can be very porous, allowing water to seep into the clay beneath.
Due to its porous surface, chawan also need time to dry or they can mold. After washing, wipe your chawan dry and set it in a well ventilated area out of direct sunlight. Depending on humidity and the porosity of the chawan, this drying period could take a week or more. Don’t pack away your chawan until you’re certain its dry!
Don't forget to eat!
In tea ceremony, matcha is only drunk after eating a meal or snack. There’s a good reason for this – matcha can be very rough on the stomach, causing discomfort or even nausea!
These effects can usually be avoided by never drinking matcha on an empty stomach. Those with stomach problems (acid reflex, ulcers, etc.) would be wise to take this into account when considering drinking matcha.