|"The finish was indescribable. I would almost have to say it was an umami character; loathe - though I am - to use that word."|
Standard matcha - as anyone in tea nerdism knows - is made up of tencha leaves; shaded, steamed and processed in ways similar to gyokuro. To make matcha - which in Japanese means "powdered tea" - the leaves are then stone pulverized to create a fine powder. High quality matcha looks bright green and smells like sweetened kelp, poorer grades have a faded color and a grassier scent. Powdered sencha (regular green tea) exists on the market as an affordable substitute.
I often wondered, though, why other teas weren't available in a powdered form. Granted, there were instant teas, but nothing matcha-styled. One couldn't find a high quality powdered Darjeeling, for instance. It also made me wonder why white tea wasn't available as a matcha. Well, my question has been answered. By a grower in Kenya, no less.
African tea estates are often overlooked because their products are incorporated into other blends. Rarely are there single estate Africa teas available. When they are, the amount produced is significantly smaller - per estate - than other regions, which leads to a price hike. I had a Malawi-grown white tea once. It was exquisite but very rare, and it had the price tag to prove it. Aside from Lipton or PG Tips teas - with a fraction of Kenyan estate teas in their blends - I hadn't had a regional product. Until this Kenya Rhino Matcha White Tea, that is.
The first thing I made note of with this powdered white was the smell. No matcha I'd ever tried smelled this sweet. Sure, hints of sweetness were there, but this was sweet in the way berries were - naturally oozing with tartness. The powder itself was also different, yellow-ish instead of green, slightly faded and clumped. Oddly enough, the dry presentation reminded me of powdered slippery elm.
Brewing instructions on the Green Tea Lovers site called for boiling water poured over at least 1 teaspoon per cup. This was a far cry different from the matcha prep I'd grown accustomed to. By a pretty fair margin.
If one has the necessary equipment, prepping matcha is relatively quick. All one needs is a small bowl of some sort, hot water (below a boil, no more than 165F), and a bamboo whisk (chasen). Sure, some would say that a full Chanoyu kit is required. I disagree. It might help for authenticity's sake. Since this was an African product, I wasn't worried about that. I used a miso soup bowl, water from an electric kettle, about a teaspoon of powder, and whisked the hell out of it.
The brown-gold powder frothed up to a murky beige liquor with a fair amount of the requisite matcha bubbles. The aroma was nuttier than the dry form, almost like kukicha with almonds. The taste was even nuttier than the smell, resembling chestnuts but smokier. Some of that flavor betrayed its white tea roots with a creamy texture like buttered pecans but not as sweet. If I were to compare it to any tea category, though, I would say its astringent character was more like an oolong. Clumps that hadn't sifted well at the end were a bit jarring on texture/taste.
On a second attempt, I decided to try it the Green Tea Lovers way. I went with boiled water and another teaspoon worth of powder. Prior to pouring the water in, however, I de-clumpified the powder with a small amount of cold water and a pre-whisk. After that, I poured the hot water in and whisked that as well. The froth formed rather quickly this time, almost rivaling some of the best Uji matchas I've tried. The aroma was more soup-like, akin to Vietnamese pho.
The flavor was greatly improved with the hotter water. The nuttiness was still there but mildly subdued by a woodier aspect. The finish was indescribable. I would almost have to say it was an umami character; loathe - though I am - to use that word. I'm glad I did a second whisk-up, for this is truly an African treasure. Experimental, though it may be.
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