How is Organic Matcha Tea Made?
Organic matcha teas are becoming extremely popular, but people still have lots of questions about them. How is matcha made? What is the difference between high quality and low quality matcha? What are the different kinds of matcha? We hope to answer all of these questions and more in this short article about matcha!
Organic Matcha Teas
First, we are going to start by talking about how matcha is made. Customers often ask us what makes some organic matcha teas more expensive then others, so we thought this would be a helpful guide to have as a reference. 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.
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.
How are Matcha Green Teas 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.
Shading: 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. 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.
Picking: After a tea farmer shades the leaves of the matcha for 21 days or more, the work is still not done yet. 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.
Processing: Once the leaves for matcha are picked, the stems and veins of the tea are removed. 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.
Grinding: 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.
Different Kinds of Matcha Green Teas
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!
Matcha Tea Cultivars:
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.
This 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.
This 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.
This 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.
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!
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 make matcha, 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 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. This will aerate the matcha and make it taste smoother and creamier.
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 chasen or tea 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.