It occurs to me, I may have not written a post about some of the do's and don'ts of matcha preparation, the goals, and the pitfalls that we all occasionally deal with while whisking up a bowl of the *magic green pixie dust.*
Matcha is green tea right? So I should definitely use water that has cooled for some time before adding it to the leaf?
Not Quite! It still seems rather contradictory in my mind how this works out the way it does, as you'd imagine finely ground green leaves would be extra sensitive to the heat and turn bitter quickly. It likely has to do though with the thorough and careful process of shading the leaves and removing the stems and veins from the leaves before grinding that makes this possible. (Yes, I do also realize the irony here that Gyokuro which is also shaded is brewed with cooler water than most green teas.)
So what temperature should you aim for when brewing matcha? I still avoid boiling, but I do not cool the water off much at all. Typically only a very short time in a water cooler before pouring and whisking. I aim for roughly half the temperature between boiling and my typical green tea preparation. The warmer water can help produce the nice frothy/ foamy top to the tea.
Whisking, how and why?
Well first lets be clear it is far closer to the motion of trying to beat an egg, than stirring. The goal here is not just to mix, but to also aerate the tea and produce the nice foam on top of the tea. A common set of instructions given, and I under stand different schools of Japanese tea ceremony have different whisking techniques. Aim for making an M or W shape with the whisk, as unless you are actually studying a formal Japanese ceremony technique from a particular school for home enjoyment this is fairly straight forward and easy to think about when whisking. Also, the urge might be to feel like you need to scrape the tea off the bottom of the bowl, please avoid scraping the bottom of the bowl with the whisk when whisking, nothing is worse than taking a sip of matcha, and getting a nice piece of bamboo tine. It is pretty much the equivalent of a fish bone in the tea world.
I've used hot enough water, and I'm killing my arm trying to whisk this tea into oblivion, and I can only get a meager thin foam on top of my matcha?
Don't fret too much, try a few different matcha while working on your technique, sometimes it really is the tea and not the tea maker.
Snacks? Sifting? Supplies?
The Japanese have quite a few treats that they often pair with their tea, in terms of items somewhat easily available in the Western Hemisphere, some dark chocolate often goes incredibly well with matcha. Sifting is also up to you, I prefer it, but depending on which method you use to make matcha, there are ways around sifting that still help remove lumps of tea. A question often asked is do you really need all those supplies to drink matcha: Scoop (Chashaku), Whisk (Chasen), Sifter (???) , Bowl (Chawan)? Most houses have items that can do the trick for each of those except for possibly the whisk. Chasen, are really in a league of their own for doing the job and still protecting the ceramics you are using. Scoops can pretty much be replaced by any sort of spoon. Chawan can typically be replaced by a typical household bowl, though you may want to consider shape and dimensions as some might be easier than others.
I did not mention the sifter because its a bit of a funny story, the only tea infusing basket I have in my apartment, is actually my matcha sifter. Without buying a sifter designed specifically for matcha unless you really want to, find any somewhat fine mesh screen, the type you somewhat often find on some infuser baskets, it does the trick and will save you quite a few dollars.