One of the many unique experiences we had on our Japanese tea tour, was visiting the oldest teahouse in Kyoto: Ippodo Tea Co. –it is nearly 300 years old. Our tea tour group had a bit of a wait for our tables so we browsed the tea store and the surrounding area. It was about 3PM and the place was crowded with people having tea and shoppers buying tea to take home.
Once seated, we were given tea menus to choose our tea. I decided to try a style of matcha called koicha—a thick style of matcha that is sometimes served during the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Up to then, I’d only tried “usucha” which is the thin style matcha most of us are used to. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of koicha, but had never tried it—being kind of afraid of what it would taste like.
When the tea bowl arrived I saw a shallow pool of thick, green liquid which didn’t easily run into my waiting lips because of the viscosity; I had to wait for it to travel the side of the tilted bowl and reach my mouth. My first sensation was the texture—very thick—and the second thing was the intense green, but sweet taste. Wow…this was thick.
Initially I thought “I’m not sure I can drink this” which quickly gave way to “I kind of really like this”. There was only about three swallows of the koicha and then the amount left in the tea bowl wouldn’t move. A server came back by with a kettle and added more hot water for me and I created my familiar usucha–finishing it all. Of course, the quality of the matcha served was exceptional so this added to the wonderful experience. I loved that I got to drink both the thick and the thin versions one right after the other.
Since being home, I’ve made my own koicha a few times by whisking about three times as much matcha powder into the small amount of water I might use for usucha. It looks a lot like thick green paint. I love the taste and it reminds me of my incredible trip to Japan: so much tea and so many friends.
Incidentally, I found out that the rough tea (aracha) that is made for matcha is not rolled after de-enzyming unlike other green teas. It’s made from a shade-grown Camellia sinensis which enhances the sweetness and umami, but this lack of rolling is a factor in the overall sweet taste.