KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 23 — One of my most cherished experiences when I first visited Kyoto a few years ago was visiting a traditional shop selling green tea, from premium tea leaves to hand-crafted tea equipment.
There was even a private room for Japanese tea ceremonies. My favourite type of green tea is the vibrant-hued matcha, or green tea powder.
However my supply of Kyoto matcha has long run out and I’ve been hunting for good quality matcha in Kuala Lumpur unsuccessfully… until now. Opened in Tokyo Street at Pavilion two weeks ago, Matcha Hero Kyoto is a speciality Japanese green tea shop run by Masahiro Onishi.
Onishi, who grew up in Kyoto, was an events and promotion manager at a large departmental store in that UNESCO World Heritage city prior to his move to Malaysia.
He says, “My job gave me good access to a network of artisanal suppliers in Kyoto, of which the foremost is Marukyu-Koyamaen, a centuries-old green tea purveyor.”
Marukyu-Koyamaen was founded during the Genroku period (1688-1704) by Kyujiro Koyama, and has since been producing green teas in the Uji, Japan’s most renowned tea region, for over 300 years.
Today the Kyoto-based green tea company supplies award-winning green teas — having garnered the top prize an astounding 20 times at the Japanese National Tea Competition — all over Japan and now in Kuala Lumpur via Matcha Hero Kyoto.
While boiling some hot water, Onishi tells us how the traditional tea kettle or chagama is made from cast iron. “The water used is also very important. Soft water is the best, such as the softest natural mineral water. If tap water is used, it should be filtered in a water purifier. Either way, the water should be brought to the boiling point at least once before being cooled to the desired temperature, about 70-80°C.”
Walking around the shop, we observe a traditional grindstone used to make fresh matcha powder. Onishi advises customers who buy matcha powder to prepare at home to sift it first.
He explains, “Matcha is a very fine powder that tends to clump up over time. By using a fine-meshed strainer to sift the powder first, we avoid any unsightly lumps in the matcha tea.”
Another tip is store the tins of matcha powder in the refrigerator once opened. “Malaysia has a more humid climate compared to Japan. Therefore, storing it in a cool and dry place prevents its colour deteriorating from a vibrant light green into a dull olive shade. Allow the matcha to return to room temperature after removing it from the refrigerator before using it though.”
To make a fresh bowl of matcha, Onishi first spoons in two scoops of matcha using a chashaku bamboo tea spoon into a fine-meshed tea strainer.
He then sifts the matcha into a dry, pre-warmed bowl by pressing it through the mesh with the chashaku. Next he pours in about 70ml of previously boiled hot water before mixing it with a chasen tea whisk using a vigorous back-and-forth motion.
Once the tea has been sufficiently aired, a fine, creamy foam arises. Onishi then slows his stirring of the chasen tea whisk to produce an even, smooth surface.
To finish, he makes a final circle of the chasen and lifts it from the centre of the bowl. The matcha is now ready for serving. It’s a sublime drink from the first sip to last.
Matcha Hero Kyoto also serves house-made ice-cream. Flavours include vivaciously green-tasting matcha and aromatic, nutty hojicha (made from green tea roasted over charcoal instead of being steamed).
Matcha Hero Kyoto
Lot 6.16.00, Level 6, Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, 168, Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
Open daily 10am-10pm
Tel: 011-2366 3325