Why is Matcha so Expensive?

Have you ever checked the prices of premium matchas and wondered why they are so expensive? In this article, we’re going to try to answer why matcha is so expensive and explore all the steps that go into making some of the worlds best matcha teas.

First the the tea plants need to be covered in a special type of netting called a kabuse. This netting is carefully stretched over the top of the tea plants to protect them from the sunlight. When tea leaves are exposed to sunlight, they begin to convert theanine into catechins. Theanine is the amino acid that gives tea its sweet and savory flavor, and catechins are what gives the tea its more bitter flavors. A tea thats higher in catechins will be more bitter, and therefore less suitable for matcha. By cutting off the tea from sunlight 3 weeks before the harvest, it creates a leaf that is higher in theanine and lower in catechins. This extra shading step takes time and resources, so shaded teas tend to be more expensive to produce.

The second reason matcha is so expensive has to do with how the leaves are selected. After the tea has been shaded for 3 weeks, it is time to harvest it. For less expensive teas like Bancha, the older leaves on the tea plant can be used, but for matcha only the top 3 sprouts can be used. These young sprouts are the highest in nutrients and they have the smoothest and sweetest flavor. They are also the highest in caffeine, which is one of the reasons why matcha has such a high caffeine content.  These leaves are harvested and steamed to prepare them for the next step of the matcha production process.

The third reason matcha is so expensive is because it has an additional step that is rare in the world of tea. The stems of the tea leaves are actually removed. These stems will detract from this sweet and savory flavor, which is mostly coming from the leaves. These details may not seem very important, but when a tea is ground into a powder, the flavor intensifies so small imperfections in the taste become more apparent. This destemming process requires extra machinery and it also reduces the total yield of the tea, as the stems aren’t included in the final weight. Both of these contribute to making the tea more expensive.

Finally, after the stems are removed the tea is ready to be ground. The leaves without the stems are called “tencha” and they are put into the top of this large granite mill for grinding. In order to grind tea leaves into a super fine powder like matcha, you need an extensive network of grooves and a larger granite mill like this. These are not only very expensive, but they take up to an hour just to produce 50 grams of this precious matcha powder. 

Once the tea is ground, it has to be properly packaged. This is the final reason why matcha is so expensive, although its not as much of a factor compared to the others. The matcha powder is incredibly sensitive to light, heat and humidity, so it has to be very carefully sealed in an airtight container. It’s also common for tins of matcha to be double sealed, which only adds to the protection. The shelf life is also shorter for matcha, and they are best if consumed within one year of packaging. All these details and more contribute to the price of matcha powder. 

Even with all the costs that go into making matcha powder, it still only comes out to around $1 per bowl of tea. Premium ceremonial grade matcha is around $1 per gram, and you can make a full bowl of matcha with 1-2 grams of powder. If you want to experience great matcha, while still saving money you can go for the Noike Matcha. This is a super smooth okumidori matcha that’s about half the price as some other premium matchas out there. Its made by a small farmer outside of Kyoto that produces some really great teas.

If you want to further explore the world of matcha, we suggest you sign up for the monthly matcha club. Not only will you get premium matcha teas from all over Japan delivered to you each month, you’ll also get a free tea whisk and tea spoon when you sign up. Thank you all so much for joining us on this adventure into the world of matcha. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. Until then, well see you next time.