For the uninitiated, matcha is a finely ground powdered green tea that has been used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies for centuries. It has grown in popularity over the last two decades, as a more health-conscious alternative to coffee.
However, matcha’s popularity doesn’t just come from its tastes and aesthetic - it contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that can do wonders for your immune system, metabolism, skin, cognitive function and heart health, to name a few.
Even with its global presence today, authentic matcha doesn’t come easy. The cultivation and production process of the best matcha is labour intensive and time consuming; yet every step is imperative and contributes to a high quality end product.
Let’s break it down:
As is the case with all plants, matcha thrives in the right climate with fertile soil and is hence traditionally only grown in specific places in Japan.
For the very best quality, roughly six weeks before harvest, the tea fields are gradually covered with shade, till there is almost no direct sunlight over them, till it is time to harvest them. Hence the term, ‘shade-grown matcha’. The reason behind this is to enhance the quantity of chlorophyll and amino acids in the plant, by reducing the photosynthesis process, thereby improving the overall nutrition content of matcha.
Right after, the farmers hand-pick only the youngest, greenest leaves, which are then steamed to preserve it’s bright colour and dried thoroughly.
The best leaves are then individually de-stemmed and deveined, resulting in ‘Tencha’. Tencha is slowly ground to create fine matcha powder. This tedious process could take anywhere up to an hour to grind a 30g tin of matcha powder.
The final powder is then vacuum-sealed and refrigerated till consumption.
The best matcha is ideally harvested just once a year, with some farmers following a second and sometimes third harvest too.
Here are five characteristics that can help you identify first harvest, authentic matcha:
- Colour - High quality matcha will always be a vivid, bright dark green.
- Froth - When brewed, a creamy layer of tiny uniform bubbles and froth will appear on the best matcha.
- Taste - Good matcha will have a creamy, earthy, umami-like flavour that is naturally sweet.
- Feel - When smeared, good quality matcha will form a smooth, clean line similar to the fine texture of a baby powder.
- Smell - Generally, high quality matcha will have a sweet, strong aroma with a smooth, dreamy finish.
Matcha that ticks all the boxes above is termed ceremonial grade matcha i.e. it is fit to be used during traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. The dull, slightly bitter quality on the other hand is called culinary grade matcha, that can be used while making a matcha recipe. Remember that while all ceremonial grade matcha can be culinary grade too, all culinary grade matcha cannot be ceremonial.
Want to shop ceremonial grade authentic matcha, straight from Japan? Click here.
For traditional mixing rituals, matcha recipes and more, click here.