For most of us, it’s common sense that tea is made with boiling water. Plonk tea bag in cup, add boiling water, steep, toss bag, drink.
How do we break free of fixed ideas like these? The brain has many ingenious ways of dealing with complexity, and a prominent one is to categorize information into easily memorable chunks. Tea equals boiling water.
But sometimes the rule is wildly off, and employing it gives highly undesired results. Matcha is one of the cases.
You simply can’t use boiling water with matcha. It will destroy it. Boiling water makes matcha taste really off, and downright bad.This is a major reason why matcha is an acquired taste for so many people. They start with subprime matcha and proceed to treat it like a tea bag, with boiling water. People even do this with expensive artisanal matcha because . . . well the rule of thumb works most of the time, right?
Everyone in Japan with even the most cursory brush with matcha — which is to say just about everyone — knows that, the higher the quality the green tea, the lower the temperature the water should be. There are a few tea masters in Japan who take this even further and suggest that the optimal way to prepare matcha is with cool water, avering that only with cooler water can maximum umami be coaxed out of the tea.
And it’s true: matcha prepared with cooler water does bring out more umami. And as much sympathy as we have for the quest for maximum umami, and as tasty as cold matcha can be on a hot day, there’s something about a hot beverage that satisfies in a special way.
So: we like it hot. But not TOO hot, because excessive heat kills it. We find that the optimal temperature for matcha is roughly 175f / 80c. You can go cooler than that, but you really can’t go hotter than that.
An easy way get 175 quickly: boil your filtered water, and pour whatever amount you think you’ll use for the matcha (ie not much) into a small pitcher or cup. Then pour that water into a second cup or creamer, and the water temp should be somewhere around perfect. If you like it as hot as it can be, this is your max. If you’re an umami queen, let it cool even more. Either way, prepare to be wowed by how delicious green tea can be.