Growing up on a half-acre hillside farm where her parents were purveyors of fresh vegetables and herbs, Lauren Danson’s love of freshly grown plants is innate. From the moment her mother introduced her to tea as a child, Lauren began collecting tea from all over the world and took classes online to learn more. After becoming her college dorm’s resident tea party host, the decision to start a matcha company post-graduation was only natural.
Never turning down a cup of tea ourselves, Lauren invited us to her Portland-based studio for a matcha tasting flight and enlightened us on why this seemingly magical powder will likely outlive its 800-year-long moment.
During a 2013 trip to Japan, Lauren hopped off the Shinkansen bullet train serendipitously at Uji — the “Town of Tea.” It was in Uji that she experienced her second cup of matcha ever, despite the massive amounts of tea she had consumed over the years. Needless to say, it was a matcha made in heaven. Recounting that “every relationship I made in Japan was over a cup of tea,” Lauren exclusively sources Mizuba’s matcha from farmers in Uji.
To Lauren, tea brings people together. And the reality is that it’s been bonding relationships and communities for centuries. The ancient ritual of the Japanese tea ceremony is traditionally set over a choreographed, preparation of matcha, where hosts and their guests come together in an intimate setting.
“The best thing about matcha to me is that you know this will be a beautiful experience, but it’s also really good for you,” Lauren says.
All tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, though each variety is made differently. While matcha is stone-ground by hand, green tea is steamed and dried, and black tea is oxidized.
What’s even more unique about matcha is that it’s grown in the shade. The highest quality matcha is shade-grown for 20 to 40 days before harvest, according to Lauren. Because of the decreased sunlight, photosynthesis is slowed, stimulating chlorophyll production and provoking a brighter, greener hue than other teas. You can easily identify a quality matcha simply by its vibrant, electric green color.
The shade-growing process also increases production of amino acids. The longer the matcha is grown in the shade, the more amino acids are produced, yielding a fuller umami flavor profile. The highest quality matcha is creamy, full-bodied, slightly sweet, and vegetal — not bitter. Premium matcha should leave your whole mouth in a sensory experience.
Amino acids found in matcha are known to include high amounts of L-theanine. L-theanine is most commonly found in green teas, however, its properties are dramatically enhanced when the leaves are grown in shade. The powerful amino acid has been shown to significantly relax the mind without inducing drowsiness. It’s also been shown to be neuroprotective and have antiobesity and antitumor properties.
But it’s how matcha is consumed that really boosts its benefits. As opposed to drinking the steamed residuals of the tea leaves, matcha is consumed wholly as fine powder, allowing you to gain the health benefits of 10 cups of green tea in just one cup of matcha.
“Matcha doesn’t have as much caffeine as coffee — there’s about 72 milligrams in one cup* — but it’s sweet and calming,” Lauren says. “Your body binds better to the caffeine in matcha because of the theanine; it breaks down the caffeine more slowly instead of experiencing a kick right away. So you get a relaxing, awakening effect without your body reacting [adversely] afterward.”
*[Ed Note: there’s typically about 100 mg of caffeine in coffee]
Once it’s time for harvest, matcha leaves are laid out to dry, becoming tencha. The tencha leaves are then deveined, destemmed, and stone-ground into the familiar matcha powder.
Lauren’s recommended matcha-making technique is as follows:
“Matcha can sometimes taste really earthy for some people,” Lauren says. “I like to serve my matcha with complementing snacks.” Lauren’s easy accompaniments for a matcha tasting include berries, cookies, and matcha-infused chocolate.
Not only are snacks a great pairing for matcha’s full-bodied palate, but matcha can also be used as its own culinary ingredient as well.
Some other sweet ways to get your matcha fix include:
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
3 cups water
1/2 cup honey or agave nectar
1 tsp Organic Culinary Mizuba Matcha
Sliced lemon for garnish
See the recipe from SevenKind
2.5 cups finely shredded coconut
2 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
3 tbsp coconut nectar
2 tbsp coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp Organic Culinary Mizuba Matcha
1/8 tsp sea salt
See the recipe from DesignLoveFest
1 cup pistachios
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup walnuts
14 medjool dates
1/2 cup dried, shredded coconut
2 cups raw cashews, soaked in water overnight
1/2 cup coconut cream
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup coconut oil
juice from 1 – 2 lemons, to taste
2 1/2 tsp Organic Culinary Mizuba Matcha
See the recipe from Wu Haus
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