One aspect of Northeast Tea House that I am really looking forward to sharing is our matcha mill. In pursuit of the best matcha we could possibly provide, we've imported an authentic granite stone mill from Japan, hand-carved by masters according to centuries old traditions. The quest for great matcha, however, does not end there, and I am quickly learning that the process of milling tencha into matcha is an art in and of itself. One of the upsides of the harrowing coronavirus spreading through our communities is the dramatic expansion of my free time, with which I've been able to devote more effort to figuring out how to mill amazing matcha. Hopefully we will be sharing it soon! Until then, let me walk you through what I've learned about the process, if only to remind you that there is a (green and powdery) light at the end of this tunnel!
Great matcha begins with great tencha. Tencha is the shaded tea that is grown specifically for matcha milling, and is subject to the same variations in flavor, texture, and aroma as any other tea. One variable that affects the finished product is the cultivar. The three cultivars i'm using are shown below - Samidori, Asahi, and Okumidori:
I've decided that my favorite combination of these cultivars is 1/4 Samidori, 1/4 Asahi, and 1/2 Okumidori. That said, it's important to note that this is not a recipe! The same cultivars from a different farm, or even the same farm but a different year, might taste different, and as such the ratios would need re-balancing. This is an art form in itself, and is why, when you buy artisan matcha, you'll likely hear a lot about how skillful the blender is. I am a far way from matching the blending skills of the masters, but I must say, I'm pretty proud of my creation nonetheless!
The next step is processing the tencha. That is, removing the stems and veins. In the above picture, you can see that this has already been done for the Samidori, which is broken into smaller bits than the Asahi and Okumidori. This is an important step because 1. the stems and veins will lend bitterness and astringency to the matcha, and 2. the mill doesn't grind the stems as effectively, so there is a greater chance of large particles in the finished matcha. Thankfully, I've found that processing the leaves is pretty simple with a stainless steel bonsai tree soil sifter (never actually used for soil, of course)!
I pour the tencha to be milled onto this grate and gently press it through onto a plate or some other container. In this case, the dinner plates I have on hand fit perfectly beneath the sifter, so I used those.
And here's what gets left behind:
I repeated the process three times for each batch of tencha until I was left with much smaller, prepped and blended tencha, ready to go in the mill.
My impression is, too, that the smaller size also serves as a sort of "pre-milling," ensuring a more even milling process and finer particle size in the finished matcha. Now, with the tencha ready, into the funnel it goes!
And we're off!
Finally, after about half an hour, I was left with around 25 grams of some of the best matcha I've ever tasted!
It's hard to overstate the difference the freshness makes. When I tasted by first bowl of this stuff, I burst out laughing because of how great was. I'll leave it at that because the truth is, you just need to try it.