Usucha and Koicha are the two traditional ways of preparing matcha. Usucha means “thin tea”, while koicha means “thick tea”. Before matcha exploded in popularity a few years ago, “matcha” or “matcha tea” would either refer to usucha or koicha.
Understanding usucha and koicha
Matcha is a common dessert flavor in Japan. But if you ever discuss drinking matcha with a Japanese person, they would be most familiar with 2 types – usucha and koicha. Both are served at the matcha tea ceremony, but usucha is also commonly served in other informal occasions such as guests who visit your home or at high end restaurants after a meal. For many Japanese people, matcha tea is associated with the formal matcha tea ceremony.
What is the matcha tea ceremony all about
The traditional Japanese tea ceremony has existed for hundreds of years and is an important part of Japan’s cultural heritage. It is difficult to accurate describe the full meaning of the matcha tea ceremony in English. The matcha tea ceremony is meant for guests to enjoy the hospitality of the host, and it also serves as a contrast for the parties involved. A quiet, contemplative moment amidst the hectic pace of life.
As a matter of being respectful to the Japanese culture, we must remember that making usucha and koicha by itself does not make your activity a matcha tea ceremony. Usucha and koicha are only the types of matcha tea served in such traditional tea ceremonies.
Becoming a host of a matcha tea ceremony requires years of learning and practice. Every minute detail has its own imbued meaning, and requires specific steps and procedures. Individuals who are keen to learn the art of Japanese tea ceremony will learn and practice at one of several established tea schools.
Should you start with usucha if you are new to matcha?
These days, there are so many types of matcha tea beyond usucha and koicha. In our experience, a good number of people will appreciate usucha if they have never tried matcha before but are regular tea drinkers.
However, there is a significant number who will find usucha too strong. It is worth noting that usucha is made with only about 2.5 oz of water. Even though it is described as “thin tea” in Japanese, it may still be to thick for people who have never tried matcha or do not drink tea regularly. This is why our recommendation is not to start with usucha and koicha if you are not a regular tea drinker.
Instead, try our unique matcha tea recipe or even a cold brew matcha. They are much lighter and thinner than usucha. These methods are not considered “traditional matcha tea” , but may perhaps be easier to enjoy if you have never had matcha.
Only start with usucha if you are genuinely interested in learning more about the Japanese matcha tea ceremony and authentic ways of traditional matcha tea preparation. If not, there is no harm trying other methods first.
What tools do you need to make usucha and koicha?
If you want to make authentic usucha and koicha, you will need the following items:
- Bamboo whisk, also known as a chasen. Using this proficiently will require some practice.
- Bamboo scoop, also known as a chashuku. One of these bamboo scoops is equivalent to about half a teaspoon, and you can use a normal measuring spoon if the traditional bamboo scoop is not available.
- Tea bowl, also known as a chawan (we recommend a flat bottomed bowl to make the whisking easier)
What kind of matcha powder should you use to make usucha?
Use a ceremonial grade matcha. After all, the matcha tea ceremony is where the name comes from. Do take note that there is no regulation over the use of the term “ceremonial grade”.
- Matcha powder suitable for usucha and koicha will normally cost at least $22 an ounce and the matcha powder should have a bright green color.
- Since much of Japanese matcha and tea culture has its roots in Kyoto, we normally recommend Uji matcha for the purposes of usucha and koicha.
- For koicha, you should ask whether a particular blend of matcha powder is suitable for koicha. Most purveyors of Uji matcha will have a blend they formulate specially for koicha and the matcha tea ceremony.
For koicha, we recommend using our Kirishima Harvest Ceremonial Matcha only. We currently do not offer any Uji matcha suitable for koicha. For usucha, we recommend using our Superior Ceremonial Matcha, Fragrant Yame Ceremonial Matcha or any of our Master’s Collection Matcha. Our Superior Ceremonial Matcha is an Uji matcha suitable for usucha.
How to prepare traditional matcha tea (usucha and koicha)
Makes 1 serving of usucha or koicha
- 1 tsp of matcha
- 1.5 oz (40 ml) of water at a temperature of 175F (80C) for koicha
- 2.5 oz (80 ml) of water at a temperature of 175F (80C) for usucha
The first few steps are the same, so we will explain the beginning steps before branching into the final steps for both usuch and koicha.
- The first step is to warm up the whisk and the bowl. To do so, pour boiling water into the bowl and soak the whisk in it for about 3 minutes.
2. After 3 minutes, pour out the water and dry the bowl.
3. (Optional) The temperature of water for making usucha and koicha is important and should not exceed 175F or 80C. If you don’t have a variable temperature electric kettle, we recommend that you pour out some boiling water into a separate cup and let it cool down for 2 minutes while you perform the next step.
4. Grab your sifter and measure out 1 tsp (or 2 chashuku) of matcha. Sift the matcha into the bowl to ensure that you remove all clumps.
5. The way to do this correctly is to hold the bamboo whisk with your dominant hand and clasp the bowl with your other hand.
6. If you intend to make koicha, add 1.5 oz (approximately 40 ml) of 175F (80C) water. If you intend to make usucha, add 2.5 oz (approximately 80 ml) of 175F (80C) water.
7. For koicha, the whisking technique is to do a slow circular motion with the whisk to gently fold the matcha powder into the water.
8. Avoid creating any bubbles or foam, and eventually you will get a thick matcha liquid with the consistency of honey or melted chocolate.
9. For usucha, the whisking technique is to move up and down in a fast zig zag motion by flicking your wrist up and down. Getting good at this takes some practice. If you whisk too hard, you risk getting matcha to spill over the sides of the bowl.
10. Start by whisking the tea right at the bottom of the bowl. Once there is some foam and you feel that the matcha is evenly mixed, move the whisk up and whisk the surface of the tea.
11. Continue this until the matcha has a thick foam head with many small bubbles. Finish by making a circle with your whisk and lifting it off the middle of the bowl.
12. Both koicha and usucha are normally served with wagashi, which is a form of traditional Japanese sweet. If you do not have any traditional sweets, any other bite sized sweet foods like chocolate will suffice.