Matcha has been growing in popularity for the last several years in the United States and Europe, but what actually is matcha? Matcha is green tea, but what makes it "matcha" is the way that it is grown, harvested, and the process that it goes through before it's ready to be consumed.
First, matcha comes from the plant Camellia Sinensis, just like all tea. There are many steps that have to be followed intently to ensure that it becomes proper matcha. The first step is the skill of the farmer, because without a skilled farmer, the matcha suffers big loss in its potential. That is why some areas are more popular for matcha than others. (If you buy matcha from different locations, you will see what I'm talking about.)
Next is how the matcha is grown. Generally, matcha is shade-grown for 21 days before harvest. This blocks out up to 90% of sunlight and makes the plant produce more of the benefits that we know of: chlorophyll, the amino acids--most notably L-Theanine--and the antioxidants--most notably, EGCG. After it has been shade-grown for at least 21 days, it is harvested. For the highest quality matcha, the farmers handpick the best leaves on each plant to create the most potent matcha possible. Then they take the leaves that have been harvested and steam them to stop the oxidation process. (This helps to ensure that the leaves keep their color, taste, and health benefits.) After that, it gets taken to be dried, de-stemmed, and de-veined to make sure that you are only getting the best of what the leaf has to offer. At this point in the process, the leaves are called "Tencha"--this is the state right before it becomes matcha! (I know, it's all starting to make sense why real Japanese matcha is priced higher.) Once we have Tencha, then the final step is to stone grind it into matcha using granite mills.
For high end matcha, it is ground to about five microns. (This process can take up to an hour just to produce 40g of matcha!) As you can tell, creating matcha is extremely laborious and is the reason why it fetches a higher price tag. So the next time you're looking for good matcha, don't get too caught up in the marketing. If you want to know if a matcha is what it says it is, use this as a quick guide: What country is it from? What city is it from? Is it vibrant in color or dull? Is the price "too good to be true"? (The price will be one of the most obvious; if it's cheap, then I can just about guarantee that it's either low grade/culinary matcha or not even real matcha at all. Some people just grind low grade green tea without doing any of the process that actually makes matcha, matcha... and they claim it as so. Other people will cut low grade matcha with rice or other fillers; some even try to get one over on people and add chlorophyll to make it look really green in hopes of fooling people that are unaware.) The price doesn't always dictate whether or not the matcha is high quality though. That's why it's important to look at what farms, cities, and cultivar (type of leaf, for instance: Yabukita, Gokou, Okumidori, Uji Hikari, Samidori) the matcha comes from. Is it granite stone ground? (A good way to tell if it's granite stone ground is to smudge it on a piece of paper. It should smear well without any grit, like baby powder.)
I know, it's a lot of information and might seem overwhelming at first. You're probably thinking, "I just want good matcha! I don't want to have to think about all of this". It's okay, I was there, too! I promise there are "good guys" out there that have amazing products that are looking out for your benefit. I started Johnny Matcha because I was so fed up with companies just "marketing" to me and lying about their actual product. They would just say the key words in hopes to get a one-off sale and pray that I wasn't actually informed about real matcha. I want people to experience what I've experienced with matcha! It has completely changed my life for the better, but that's for another blog. I could go all day about that! Well, I hope this answered some questions and gave you some good starter knowledge about matcha green tea! Thanks for reading with me.
- Johnny Matcha