Over the last few years matcha has become one of the most-loved teas around the world. This traditional Japanese tea undoubtedly deserves a lot of attention. From numerous health benefits to exquisite flavour and scent, matcha is a category on its own and always comes with a higher price tag. However, there are many other green tea powders on the market, more affordable and usually produced in China or South Korea. Even though they can have an amazing flavour, they are far from the original matcha from Japan.
The original matcha comes exclusively from Japan. It’s the tea of choice for traditional tea ceremonies. Although the Chinese were first to use powdered tea many centuries ago, the habit didn’t hold on for too long. China is still producing tea powders, but it was Japan that mastered the production and gave them a whole new dimension. Today, many other countries on different continents are also creating their own versions of matcha- all with different flavour profiles and benefits. However, what makes matcha from Japan unique is the combinations of the right leaf, terroir, skills and knowledge of growers and producers and many other factors.
Let’s start from the leaf.
The Japanese use special tea cultivar for producing the best matcha tea. Among the most popular ones are Gokou, Okumidori, Saemidori and Samidori. Those cultivars give intense scent, colour and flavour, and can naturally withstand the growing conditions much better than other cultivars.
Growing conditions are very important in tea production. Everything – from soil to climate – will determine the final result. This is called terroir. Not all Japanese prefectures are suitable for producing tea. Volcanic soil, the perfect amount of rain, mist and sun, all count towards the quality of tea.
Tea bushes used for making matcha need to be shaded prior to harvesting. Skillful makers know exactly when to shade their bushes, what kind of shading they need to use, and how to fertilize them to maximize the amount of beneficial nutrients.
Matcha is usually picked in late spring and early summer, a bit later than sencha or Chinese green teas. Later harvests will be used for making lower quality teas, mostly for culinary and industrial purposes, or mass market consumption.
Unlike other powdered teas, matcha doesn’t contain any stalks or stems. They are all removed prior to grinding. Not only do they impact the flavour and colour of the powder, they also contain very different nutritional substances from the leaf. After the stalks and stems are removed, leaves are cut into tiny little flakes called tencha.
Even the size of powder particles matters. Particles are measured in microns and should be anywhere between 5-12 microns. The lower the number, the tinier the particle. However, rarely is matcha powder ground to less than 5 microns, as it would lose all of its flavour, quality and scent very fast.
There are different types of mills available today, but Japanese ceremonial grade matcha is always ground using the special stone mill. Grinding one small regular package of fine matcha powder takes up to an hour. This is why matchafrom Japan is silky in texture, not coarse like many other regular powders.
Japanese tea, matcha