How is matcha made? This is a question we get asked all the time and we wanted to create this article to answer that question. Another question people ask frequently is why is matcha so expensive, and the two of these answers go hand in hand.
When people try matcha for the first time, there is a temptation to just buy the cheapest matcha they can find online. As a result, a lot of people end up trying a matcha called culinary grade matcha that has not necessarily gone through all the steps it takes to produce a true high-quality matcha.
In this guide about how is matcha green tea produced we will take you through all the steps needed to produce true high quality matcha tea. Let’s get started!
So, how is matcha made...?
To produce high quality matcha green teas, you have to follow a strict set of steps. This production method is meant to limit the bitterness and maximize the smoothness and sweetness of the tea. If you skip one or more of these steps, you may end up with a dull, low quality matcha.
Step #1: Shade Growing
The first step in answering the question of how is matcha green tea produced comes down to the cultivation of the tea plant itself. First the tea leaves need to be cut off from sunlight. This is done with a special type of netting called 'Kabuse'. When a plant is cut off from sunlight, it produces more chlorophyll to compensate for the lack of sun energy. What makes the tea plant unique is that it also produces more caffeine and theanine.
So does matcha gives you energy? Yes! If you want to learn more about the topic, we invite you to read the article 👉 "Does matcha gives you energy?". To sum up eveything, caffeine has a stimulating effect on the body, while l-theanine has a more calming effect. By combining the two, you get the most desirable elements of both, giving you a calm alert sensation throughout the day. Matcha is also not known to give people a crash or jitters later on in the day.
Shading the tea plant doesn’t only produce more theanine and caffeine. It also changes the color of the tea plant. The excess chlorophyll production turns the plant from a lighter green color to a deep jade green color. Because theanine is responsible for the sweet and umami flavor of green tea, shaded teas tend to have more sweetness. By shading a tea, you reduce the bitter catechins, and increase the sweet and savory theanine. This is of course what tea drinkers want in a matcha, a sweet and smooth flavor, with no bitterness.
Step #2: Picking
After the tea has been shaded, we are one step closer to finding out how is matcha green tea produced. When the tea plant has started to produce these nice green sprouts at the top of the tea plant, the farmers’ work has only just begun. The farmer then has to pick only the top 2 or 3 leaves of the tea plant to use in the matcha. The top leaves are the youngest on the tea plant, and are known to have a sweeter flavor with less bitterness. They also have higher concentrations of nutrients.
Step #3: Steaming and Air Drying: tea leaves into aracha
How is matcha green tea produced after it is picked? Like other types of Japanese green tea, the leaves used to make matcha need to be heated almost immediately after being picked. As soon as tea leaves are picked, they will naturally begin to oxidize and turn into a black tea overtime. In order to stop this process and maintain some of the more grassy or vegetal flavors of the tea, the leaves need to be heated to deactivate the enzymes that cause oxidation.
For Chinese green teas, the leaves are often heated in a large hot pan but for Japanese green teas they are heated in a steam bath. This causes the leaves to become even greener and gives this 'steamed vegetable' flavor that Japanese green teas are known for. This is a key part when it comes to how is matcha made. At this point, the leaves have become a type of unfinished or 'crude tea' called aracha, ready to be turned into whatever type of tea the farmer chooses.
Step #4: De-stemming and Grading: aracha into tencha
Before you get the answer to the question how is matcha green tea produced, you first have to ask how is tencha produced. Once the leaves for matcha are picked, steamed and air dried, the stems and veins of the tea are removed.
If a shaded tea leaves don't have their stems removed and are getting ground to make a green tea powder, it is considered to be gyokuro powder.
What’s left is a type of tea known as 'tencha', a shaded tea that has had all of its stems and veins removed. The stems of the tea plant detract from the sweet and umami flavor, so they need to be removed in order to maximize the taste.
One way the leaves and stems are often separated is by blowing air underneath them. Because the leaf particles are so light and the stems are heavy by comparison, the leaves will drift higher into the air and then they can be collected into a net. This step is then repeated 2 more times to sort out more of the stems and eventually what you are left with is the tencha, which is one step away from being matcha.
By the way, do you know the difference between tencha and gyokuro? To learn more about the differences between these two Japanese green teas, we recommend you our article 👉 Tea Comparison between Tencha vs Gyokuro
Step #5: Grinding into Matcha: tencha into matcha
Once the tencha is created, we are now only one step away from finding out how is matcha green tea produced. Once the stems and veins of the tea are removed, the leaves are put into a stone matcha mill and ground into a fine powder. It takes approximately 1 hour for this mill to produce 50 grams of precious ceremonial grade matcha. The result is a powerful, vibrant green tea that is sweet, savory and loaded with caffeine and theanine, giving you a calm alertness throughout the day.
Can all tea plants be used to produce matcha?
Technically any tea plant can be used to produce matcha tea, but in order for that matcha to taste smooth and not bitter special considerations have to be made. If a regular unshaded tea plant is used, or the leaves from the later harvests are used, the matcha will become incredibly bitter in flavor. The color will also take on a yellowish green or even brown color. In order to get the super green, smooth tasting matcha, all of the steps in this how is matcha made guide need to be followed carefully. Did you know that you can even differentiate a good from a bad matcha with the Matcha Colors? To learn how, read the article 👉 How to Differentiate Good From Bad Matcha with the Matcha Colors
Modern machine vs traditional stone mill
While the traditional stone mill is quite slow when it comes to the grinding of matcha powder, it sill is the best tool for the job. The producers of matcha prefer stone for this process, because any contact with metal will alter the flavor. Also if the grinding is done too quickly, heat will be created and this will 'roast' the matcha slightly. Like all great things, matcha needs time to produce.
What are the best matcha?
That is a question that get ask a lot! That's why we decided to a list of the 👉 Top 21 Matcha Powders of 2022. But here is my personal top 4 of the best matcha powders:
Yabukita Matcha is the most popular type of matcha in Japan. There are two reasons the Yabukita matcha is so common. The first reason is that this variety of tea plant is resistant to frost so it can grow in the colder climate around Shizuoka, where half of the tea produced in Japan is grown. The second reason that it is so popular is that it produces a little bit of astringency that is well-liked in Japan. This matcha tends to be the most affordable and easiest to find. If you want to try a great Yabukita, we recommend you the Matcha Seisui.
Okumidori matcha is less common in Japan but it produces a delicious smooth and creamy taste. Okumidori matcha is sought after in North America and Europe because it is well suited to the western palate. It has almost no bitterness or astringency and produces a smoother and sweeter bowl of matcha. If you want to try a great Okumidori Matcha, we recommend you the Matcha Washimine.
Saemidori matcha is an extremely rare cultivar that commands quite a high price among tea lovers. Saemidori matcha has a natural sweetness to it and very little bitterness or astringency. This tea is sensitive to frost so it is really only produced in Southern Japan, where the temperature is warm and mild all year round. If you want to try a great Saemidori Matcha, we recommend you the Matcha Henta.
This is a well sought after cultivar among matcha lovers. The Gokou Matcha delivers this powerful umami flavor that some find irresistible. The amino acids in this tea plant are what give it this strong savory taste profile. If you are looking for a bold, full-bodied matcha with plenty of this savory flavor, the Gokou matcha is the tea for you! If you want to try a great Gokou Matcha, we recommend you the Gokou Matcha Koiai.
First Harvest Matcha
This is another factor that can greatly influence the taste and quality of a matcha. Matcha is separated in terms of harvests: first, second, third and even fourth harvest. First harvest matcha has the highest concentration of nutrients because during the winter the tea plant rests and absorbs nutrients from the soil. The first sprouts that begin to emerge in the springtime contain the highest concentrations of nutrients. These tea leaves also have the sweetest and smoothest flavor, with the least bitterness. These young sprouts are reserved for the premium quality, ceremonial grade matcha. All of our matcha is made using leaves from the first harvest.
After the first harvest has been picked, the tea plant will then begin to grow more sprouts. This is then turned into lower quality, second harvest matcha. This contains less nutrients, more bitter flavors and it has more of a brown color to it. Second, third and fourth harvest matcha is what is used for 'culinary grade' matcha. This matcha is more bitter but is often combine with cream or sugar to make lattes, cakes and ice cream.
How to Make Matcha
If you are wondering how to prepare a superior matcha, you must read the articles 👉 how to make matcha taste good and Complete Ceremonial Matcha Preparation 👈. Otherwise, you can just follow this short guide!
Once you pick out a matcha from the list above, you can then prepare it in your very own home. This process can be very simple and fun and shouldn't take more than one minute or two minutes. Some people find this to be a meditative addition to their morning routine.
- Step 1: Place a matcha sifter on the bowl.
- Step 2: Add 1-2 teaspoons of matcha to the sifter
- Step 3: Push the powder through the sifter into the bowl, this will remove any of the clumps and make your matcha more even.
- Step 4: Add 2 ounces of 175 degrees Fahrenheit water. You have the option of adding a splash of water in first and mix it into a past in order to make the matcha even smoother.
- Step 5: Scrape off the sides of the bowl and make sure none of the matcha is sticking to the bowl.
- Step 6: Whisk it into the water in a 'W' formation until a nice foam appears. If you want to learn how to whisk matcha like a tea master, read our article 👉 How to Use a Matcha Whisk explained by Experts. This will aerate the matcha and make it taste smoother and creamier. And if you don't have a matcha whisk, no panic! We wrote an article in which we explain 👉 How to make matcha tea without whisk
When it comes to utensils, you don't need to buy all of these. If you invest in one matcha utensil, it should be the matcha bowl, chashaku or matcha whisk as this is the hardest to replace. If you don't want to buy a chasen, you can use an egg whisk or a milk frother. These two tools get the job done but still not as well as the traditional bamboo whisk. The tea scoop, tea bowl and tea spoon can all be replaced with more traditional items around your kitchen.
Choose the right Matcha Powder: Ceremonial Grade Matcha
Ceremonial grade matcha has a natural sweetness and creaminess to it, so you can drink these green teas without any milk or sugar. These ceremonial grade matcha green teas also have way more theanine, so you get more of this calm-alert feeling throughout the day. If you want to truly experience matcha, ceremonial grade matcha is the way to go!
Ceremonial grade matcha, the kind used in the tea ceremony, requires a tremendous amount of work and skill to produce. Ceremonial grade matcha may cost far more, but it is really worth the price for the amount of work that goes into it. Let's talk about all that goes into producing ceremonial matcha, and why it is so highly valued.
Where can I buy matcha?
After traveling around Japan for the past few years, we have met with dozens of farmers and sampled hundreds of different matcha teas. You can either browse are entire assortment of matcha teas, or you can select one based on cultivar and flavor profile down below.
Different types of matcha capture different flavor profiles. One of the ways in which farmers create different taste experiences is by using different tea varieties or 'cultivars'. Some matcha tea cultivars have more desirable taste attributes like Okumidori, but they can be more difficult or labor-intensive to grow.
Final words on how is matcha green tea produced
Now you know the answer to the question how is matcha made and also the answer to the question why is matcha so expensive. I hope this guide has been helpful to you, and perhaps it has made you appreciate your morning cup of matcha even more than before. Thank you all so much for reading this far, I wish you all the best of luck in your matcha tea journey!