Guwahati, Oct. 13: Forget regular green tea, try the Assam-made matcha instead.
A tea garden in Upper Assam has become the first in the country to make matcha, though it may not quite match the original Japanese one.
Matcha, which literally means "powdered tea," is from Japan and is drunk as tea or used as an ingredient in recipes. Its health benefits exceeds that of other green teas - it has 137 times more antioxidants - because matcha drinkers ingest the whole leaf and not just the brewed water.
Originating from the Chinese Tang dynasty, matcha was brought to Japan by a Buddhist monk over 900 years ago. Matcha has been a key component of the Zen Buddhism philosophy ever since, especially in tea ceremonies.
The garden - Chota Tingrai in Tinsukia district - had set up a Japanese green tea plant, including machinery and expertise from Japan, a few months back and has now come up with matcha. It recently sold a small quantity of matcha to an Amritsar-based tea trader.
"Since we were setting up an entire Japanese plant for our green tea production, we felt that we should not leave matcha out as it is an essential form of tea in Japan," Mrityunjay Jalan, the director of Jalan Industries Pvt Ltd, which owns Chota Tingra, told The Telegraph.
He said the leaves are harvested early to preserve the character and the colour of the tea powder. "It is handled with a lot of care. The stem is removed from the leaf," he said. Once the leaf is steamed and dried it goes through a precision micronizer machine to grind the tea into fine powder.
Jalan said matcha made from Assam leaf has characteristics different from the original Japanese one - the aroma and flavour differ.
"The Japanese matcha has a strong vegetal flavour with a sweet aftertaste while the one we are producing is a lot smoother and has a more balanced flavour throughout," he said. Only 10kg of matcha can be produced daily.
"It would have been good if we could have provided more shaded area to the tea leaves as it gives the tea a little more sweetness. In Japan, they keep all the tea bushes, the leaves of which are used to make matcha, under shade. We cannot do that because of the size of the sections. We are working on that," he said.
M. Yanagawa of Japan, who is supervising the work at Chota Tingrai, said the matcha made from Assam leaf is not exactly like the Japanese one but has its own characteristics.
"After carefully selecting and processing the leaf, we get a unique product and it can be called the Assam variety of matcha. The flavour and aroma is different from the Japanese matcha. Smell is less strong and flavour is smooth and sweet," he added.
Danish Patel of Jashbhai F. Patel, the Amritsar-based company which bought the matcha, said the quality of the matcha powder compared to the imported ones was much better. "The Indian counterpart has won the game. It has an unparalleled quality and an excellent liquor. The taste is pungent but the aftertaste is surprisingly satisfying. It has all the benefits of matcha," he said.
Patel said matcha is a premium product and very unorthodox to what Indians have. "A lot of awareness is necessary for it. The best way to market it would be through online portals as it is not possible to sell these products directly to the end consumer via retail outlets as an end consumer would not have time to review a new product like this instantly."
Jalan said the market in India needs to be explored as currently people are importing matcha at very high prices from Japan and China. "We are targeting the national as well as the overseas market as the latter would be curious to know that matcha is produced in India too," he said.
"A lot of bakery products and gourmet ice creams use green tea flavouring. Matcha can find a good market in these avenues as matcha-flavoured ice creams and bakery products are becoming very popular world wide for their unique taste and health benefits," he added.
Anoop Kumar Barooah, the director of Tea Research Association, said it is good that a new product has come into the market and hoped the new generation would like it. Matcha is a big hit in the West and has been dubbed as a superfood as it is a powerhouse of antioxidants.
The garden also has a cold storage facility, making it the first in the country to keep its tea varieties fresh.