Matcha is high quality green tea powder. It originates in Japan and is made from finely ground tea leaves which were grown under shade for a few weeks prior to harvesting.
Recently, it has become popular outside of Japan because of some observed health benefits. You have get a great caffeine boost along with a whole bunch of useful antioxidants and catechins. While matcha has a similar taste to green tea, there are several key differences.
The main thing to understand is that it is a more concentrated form of green tea because the entire tea leaf is crushed into powder form. But what’s interesting is that matcha can also have very complex, nuanced flavors.
Much like wine, good matcha will have a pleasant aroma and different tastes ranging from sweet and vegetal to savoury / umami.
How Should You Enjoy Matcha?
Matcha is usually enjoyed in several forms, and the preparation methods are highly critical to ensure that one has a good experience with matcha.
Traditionally, matcha would be consumed during tea ceremonies during important life milestones in Japan. The traditional style of preparation involves mixing hot water and matcha tea in a bowl in specific proportions. The mixture is then mixed with a bamboo whisk to create a deep green beverage.
This style has been practiced for centuries, though if you have visited Japan recently, you may have seen it offered as an authentic Japanese cultural activity which tourists may experience for themselves.
A Brief Look at Matcha in Japan
Matcha has deep roots in Japanese history and culture, and holds a special role in Japanese society, drunk by top military “shogun” generals as well as aristocrats in the past due to its scarcity and flavor.
It was seen as a luxury in feudal Japan because the traditional cultivation and production process required extensive time, effort and expertise to produce good-quality matcha powder. Indeed, the taste of the final matcha powder is greatly influenced by the soil.
Some Reasons Why Matcha is So Expensive
Even today, growing the tea plants that will become good matcha also requires long planning. Specific plots of land, soil, and location need to be set aside years in advance for tea plants to grow. This is the stage where a farmer also decides which tea cultivar to use and if he/she wants to grow the tea plant to adhere to organic standards .
When the tea plant is mature, it is grown under shade for about 3-4 weeks to induce rich nutrients to travel to newly grown tea leaves before harvesting.
After harvest, the tea leaves go through a slightly different process than typical green tea production. After de-stemming, de-veining, steaming and drying, it is cut into small pieces and stored away before being finally ground into fine powder. The difficult production process and time needed causes matcha to be consistently more expensive than normal green tea, gram for gram.
Where is the Best Matcha Produced?
You may have heard that the best matcha in the world comes from Kyoto Prefecture (specifically, a town called Uji). This is accurate based on grading factors for matcha green tea such as color, aroma, flavour and mouth-feel.
However, Uji produces matcha in very limited quantities. Other areas, like Kagoshima, Fukoka, Aichi and Shizouka prefectures also produce high quality matcha using their own innovations and modern farming techniques.
These other areas were once upon a time focused more on bulk volume production, but are increasingly looking forward to compete with Uji in making great, high quality matcha. It is a great time to start appreciating matcha, as there are now so many people looking to create interesting flavors and unique tea experiences all across Japan.