Why is matcha so expensive? This is a question we get asked all the time and because so much goes into producing matcha tea, we find it difficult to answer in a sentence or two so we decided to write a whole article about it! In this article, we’re going to try to answer why is matcha green tea powder so expensive and explore all the steps that go into making some of the worlds best matcha teas. Without further ado, let’s dive in.
So Why is Matcha so expensive? Here are the 11 main reasons
#1 Matcha only grows in specific geographic locations
Although powdered tea has its roots in China, matcha as we know it today really is a product of Japan. The farmers we meet with in Japan have been producing matcha tea for many generations, and this multi-generational knowledge makes the product much better. Although it is possible to find some high quality matcha produced in other countries, the best matcha in the world all comes from Japan.
This really limits the production capability to a small geographic location and a handful of talented farmers. We will get into the supply and demand side of the equation later, but suffice to say that Japan makes up a relatively small percentage of global tea production and yet it is responsible for almost all the pinnacle matcha production. This is one way to answer the question why is matcha so expensive.
#2 First harvest
Premium matcha always has to come from the first harvest. During the winter time, the tea plant has a few months of “rest period” where it builds up nutrients from the soil and then releases them into the fresh sprouts in the springtime. These sprouts are the highest in nutrients and the sweetest in flavor, so they are reserved for the most premium tea types like kabusecha, gyokuro and of course, matcha. After these leaves are harvested, the tea plant will “flush” several more times, but these sprouts will be lower in nutrients and flavor because they won’t have as much time to build up nutrients from the soil. The fact that premium matcha can only be made once a year leads us one step closer to answering the question why is matcha so expensive.
#3 Extra man to shade the plants
Another reason why is matcha so expensive is because 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.
Of course this takes extra capital to purchase the netting, as well as extra labor to set up the netting.
Sometimes, a bamboo scaffolding needs to be set up for handpicked teas so that people can harvest teas underneath the netting. This of course takes even more time and resources from the farmer and drives up the price.
#4 Why do you need to shade the plants?
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.
#5 The plant has to survive 3 weeks without sunlight
Setting up the netting is just one part of the challenge. The second factor that begins to answer the question why is matcha so expensive is what comes next. After the scaffolding has been set up, the tea plant now needs to be kept alive for 3 weeks without sunlight.
This is a stressful time for the plant, and it needs to be strengthened in order to maintain its health for this long period of time. While most farmers would use chemical fertilizers to do this, organic farmers like Mr. Nakai like to do things the more natural way. He will use natural ingredients to supply nutrients to the tea plant, without harming the surrounding ecosystem. This takes more time, but it is worth it to produce matcha tea in a more sustainable way.
#6 Hand plucking process
A lot of times when people ask why is matcha so expensive, they are referring to handpicked matcha, which can be even more expensive. The handpicking process only occurs one day per year. People gather from all over the area to take part in the hand picking of the tea. Of course this requires additional labor and training, as tea picking is a very precise art.
The tea needs to be picked just a few millimeters beneath the third sprout. Where this gets even more difficult is sometimes the tea plant has a “hidden shin” or hidden bud, so the picking actually has to happen beneath the second leaf. This requires careful focus and training to be able to properly identify the different leaves on the tea plant.
#7 Careful Leaf Selection
The next reason why is matcha 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.
#8 Stems and veins of the tea leaves are removed
Another answer to why is matcha 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.
#9 Tea is ground with very expensive equipment
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.
#10 The precious powder has to be perfectly packed
Once the tea is ground, it has to be properly packaged. This is one of the final reasons why is matcha so expensive, although it's 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.
Matcha is Highly sensitive to light, heat and humidity in storage
Of course the matcha can’t be sold immediately, it has to be stored by the tea farm until someone places an order. For this reason, a lot of tea producers need to set up a special cold storage facility to make their matcha tea last longer. There are additional capital expenditures to purchase this cold storage and it costs money to keep it properly cooled and maintained. All of which needs to be factored into the price of the matcha and sheds some light on the question why is matcha so expensive.
The powder is produced in a very limited quantity
As we mentioned before, the stone mill used to grind the tencha leaves into matcha powder can take up to an hour just to produce 50 grams of matcha powder. This severely limits the production capabilities of a small matcha farm, even if they have multiple mills. As a result of this limited quantity, these high costs mentioned earlier are distributed amongst a very small inventory, and therefore the price must be higher.
#11 The demand is higher than the supply
As promised, we will come back to supply and demand to answer the question why is matcha so expensive once and for all. Matcha has become famous for its natural sweetness, strong umami flavor and smooth finish, which is very rare in the world of tea. As a result, producers work meticulously to perfect the ideal matcha tea.
Once these flavors have been perfected, people are willing to pay a higher price for these incredible matcha teas. Even if the cost is a few dollars per gram, it is worth it for the occasional indulgence.
Matcha is a tea for special occasions and even for special ceremonies, so the higher price doesn’t necessarily need to accommodate daily drinking. When drinking some of the most prized matcha teas in the world. you will likely be partaking in a special Japanese tea ceremony. While paying a dollar or two per cup may be expensive for every day tea, matcha drinkers don’t mind paying a higher price for a special tea they can share with friends of family as a celebration.
Hopefully by walking you through these 11 factors you now have an answer to the question why is matcha so expensive. Now let’s go through a few tips to help you save money next time you buy matcha tea.
What are the Grades of Matcha?
If you want to save money when buying matcha, you will want to pay attention to the different grades of matcha tea and what they are generally used for. You don’t want to overpay for a latte matcha or use a super expensive matcha to bake with so pay close attention to this next part!
This generally refers to the highest grade of matcha powder, intended to be drunk without milk or sugar.
In our guide to answer the question why is matcha so expensive, we are really only talking about ceremonial grade matcha.
With this tea, all of the steps are taken into consideration to hopefully produce a tea that is naturally sweet and smooth enough to drink plain.
As the name would suggest, latte grade matcha is intended to be combined with oatmilk and sugar to produce a matcha latte.
To produce this tea, some of the steps are skipped and the flavor becomes a bit more bitter. Either the tea is not shaded, not as carefully selected or it is made from a later harvest.
This is not to say that all latte grade matcha is low quality, the latte matcha we selected from Mr. Masuda in Shizuoka is perfect for lattes and it is produced without chemicals or pesticides.
Finally, we have culinary grade matcha. This matcha will taste the most bitter, but it is no problem is you are combining it with a lot of other ingredients like you would if you were baking matcha brownies or matcha cookies. If you plan on using matcha for cooking, you can go for the basic latte grade matcha from Mr. Masuda. This way you can save money and still get the benefits of a matcha tea produced without pesticides or chemicals.
How much does Matcha cost?
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.Is Matcha Tea Worth It?
How Can I Get Cheaper but Good Quality Matcha?
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. It's 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.