Usucha versus koicha: which one to choose when brewing matcha?

Updated: Apr 7

If you are an avid matcha drinker like I am, you surely know the terms usucha and koicha. You might have heard the terms before, might have tried both types of brew and might have even taken part in a proper and formal Japanese Tea Ceremony where one of the types of brew or even both were served. But do you know what they mean? Usucha (薄茶)means thin tea and can be used to brew the majority of ceremonial matcha teas available in the market. Whereas koicha (濃茶 thick tea) is usually brewed using only the top quality ceremonial matcha teas, hand picked and milled, using the youngest more delicate tea leaves of all.


Why?


The amount of matcha powder used to make koicha is usually higher than the amount used to brew usucha. The quality of the matcha used to prepare koicha is prime since the amount of water used is much less and therefore the flavours of the tea are more prominent.This doesn't mean that this teas can only be used for koicha, they can also be used for usucha if desired.


In the Japanese Tea Ceremony, they have specific teas that they use to prepared usucha or koicha. It also varies with the school, some schools have had a long term partnership with specific matcha producers and they favour their varieties within the school. As an example, in Urasenke (裏千家), the Tea Ceremony School I trained with while living in Munich, they always use (and promote) a well known matcha brand from Kyoto in their ceremonies.


Serving koicha during the chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony) is considered the pinnacle of the tea hospitality. So what is koicha and what is usucha?


Beyond the terms thin and thick tea, some differences can be observed between the both.


Usucha


Foamy

Thin or runny

Watery

Whisked swiftly

Thin prongs chasen used

Any ceremonial matcha

Quicker to brew


Koicha

Not foamy

Creamy

Syrupy

Whisked slowly

Thick prongs chasen used (less prongs, thicker, more resistant)

Top hand-picked hand-milled ceremonial matcha (shaded about 20 days)

Slower to brew

Slightly warmer water is used to brew koicha than usucha. The reason for this is that the tea is so thick the water temperature drops dramatically and therefore a higher temperature is needed in order to produce a good brew.


As mentioned above, I was enrolled in the Japanese Tea Ceremony Urasenke School class for a while when I lived in Munich, Germany. Even the smallest movement must be perfect and graceful. There are many steps to be memorized and remembered. In order to prepare matcha there are a number of steps to be studied, learnt, replicated, followed and matched to perfection. Everything is calculated beforehand to ensure that the experience offered to the guests is superb. Unfortunately, my legs were in great pain during the whole process which prevented me for being present and focused so I had to abandon the classes in the end despite my eager desire to learn more in deep about chanoyu. At least I learnt how to serve matcha tea properly during a formal ceremony. I drink my dosage of matcha daily and I prepare usucha most of the time. However, sometimes I find myself longing for a more intense experience, then I prepare koicha which has a wonderful bold and strong yet silky and superb taste. Koicha is not for everybody though. I am used to drink matcha daily and I have loved it since the first time I tried it. However, for those who have never tried matcha before or who are still getting used to its taste, I would recommend you to start with usucha first. I keep forgetting that I can handle very strong matcha brews and flavour profiles. I am the person who has two ice scoops of the level 7 matcha flavour at Nanaya and thinks is not enough. I asked them to produce a level 10 matcha ice cream flavour. I love 100% dark chocolate too, I can eat a lot of it in one go. This might explain. One good way to get used to intense matcha brews is to start with more water when brewing usucha and gradually reduce the amount of water used overtime. In this way, your palate has time to get used to the new flavour and the intensity of the brew. Until one day find yourself preparing koicha without even noticing and enjoying it like if it was something you have always done. I wrote an article weeks ago about how to prepare matcha in an easy and foolproof way. It is meant to be used to brew usucha, you can find it here. How can I brew koicha then?

Today I will explain how to prepare koicha. First of all, you will need some matcha brewing tools: Matcha Whisk (made out of bamboo, known as chasen, a chasen with a high count of thick prongs works best )

Matcha Scoop (made out of bamboo, known as chashaku)

Matcha Bowl (made out of different materials such as earthenware, clay..., known as chawan)

Watercooler (made out of different materials such as clay, porcelain..., known as yuzamashi)

Strainer (usually made out of metal) Naoshi (whisk holder, usually made of ceramic)

Water and of course matcha. Ideally, the matcha will be stored in an air tight opaque container in the fridge in order to preserve all its qualities intact for as long as possible. It can be also stored in the freezer if you have a high quality one which doesn't produce ice plaques. How do you brew your matcha?

  1. Boil 100 ml of water

  2. Pour some water in the matcha bowl (chawan)

  3. Whisk the hot water so the whisk prongs become flexible

  4. Discard the water

  5. Dry the bowl with a kitchen towel or a piece of paper

  6. Pour 30 ml of water in the yuzamashi

  7. Take the matcha out of the fridge

  8. Scoop some matcha out of the container using the matcha scoop (4 grams or 2.5 chashaku scoops)

  9. Use the strainer to shift the matcha into the bowl

  10. Pour the water on top of the matcha powder

  11. Whisk the mixture of matcha powder and water thoroughly ensuring that it looks shiny and silky

  12. Enjoy your brew!

I skipped the strainer on this brew yet it is recommended to shift the matcha before brewing it in order to make it easier to brew without having any lumps. However, the use of a strainer is not mandatory. Make sure the matcha whisk gets properly cleaned after each use but do not dampen it too much or it can catch mold. Ideally you will have a matcha holder (called naoshi) to place the whisk in so it doesn't lose its shape. Can I brew matcha using other utensils? While specific matcha brewing utensils are recommended since they have been designed with this purpose in mind, you could use similar utensils that might do the job kind of ok. The most difficult one to imitate is the chasen way of making the tea and water mix together, since mixing the matcha by other means might not yield the desired results. For example, you might get a lot of small lumps which are very unpleasant to find in your brew. For koicha it is even more difficult to use any other kind of tools since the amount of water to be used is small and using a small milk frother might damage it.


The more you practice, the easier it will become to brew and enjoy the koicha. It will become a habit and it will be so natural for you to brew matcha that you will be left wondering if there was a time in the past when you did not know how it was done. Regarding which of the ways of preparing matcha to go for, it all depends on yourself and which one you like and enjoy the most.

Are you ready for the matcha challenge?


Prepare your matcha in usucha and koicha style and let me know in the comments which way is your favourite!

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