What's the matcha?

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The smell of green tea pulled me into the small corner stall in the Tsukiji Fish Market located near the Rodeo Drive of Tokyo: the Ginza district. I bought it because of the price, fifteen hundred yen (roughly $18), because it had the magic word "matcha" on the label, and, I'll admit, I also liked the white dots on the green package. What I didn't buy it for was the taste. Who knows I thought. I'll take it, I nodded at the nice lady who spoke no English at the stall. I didn't find out what it tasted like until I flew home to New York and made myself a pot one bright sunny morning. Well, the tea gods were smiling at me. This tea is so good that I can't resist making it every morning and so good I'm afraid of the day I'll run out. 


Pleasantly surprised I decided to dig into what exactly goes into making my new favorite morning tea. Matcha is made from shade-grown green tea leaves. The preparation of matcha starts several weeks before harvest, when the tea bushes are covered to prevent direct sunlight, which reminds me of how every Japanese woman walks around in the summer with an umbrella over her head. This shading slows down the growth, turns the leaves a darker shade of green and causes the production of amino acids, which some say is one of the key benefits of this type of tea. After harvesting, the leaves are laid out flat to dry, they crumble a bit and become known as tencha, which is then de-veined, de-stemmed, and stone ground to a fine, bright green, talc-like powder known as matcha. Now I know why tea can be so pricey, and so good. More importantly, how can I get another bag?