To define matcha, you first need to know that matcha comes from green tea. Matcha which literally means “powdered tea” in Japanese, is made of tea leaves grown under shade for a few weeks before being harvested. It is considered “matcha” when it is ground into powder after being processed at a tea factory .
Matcha origin – China to Japan
Matcha today is seen as a Japanese product from young green tea leaves, but the long history of green tea actually began in China thousands of years ago. In short, Buddhist monks in China were the ones who first tried grinding green tea into powder form. They found that drinking matcha tea calmed the mind while increasing alertness, which was then embraced into their spiritual practice. In Twelfth Century, Japanese Buddhist monks visiting China learnt the practice and brought it home to Japan.
Eventually, the preparation of powdered green tea matcha was no longer practiced in China, but the Japanese Buddhist monks continued with the practice and this slowly flourished into the unique Japanese tea culture we see today.
Matcha and regular green tea difference
While matcha has a similar taste to green tea, there are several key differences. The biggest difference is that matcha powder is made by grinding the entire tea leaf. As a result, there are significant differences in matcha tea benefits compared to regular green tea. Matcha will also have a much more concentrated taste compared to regular green tea. If the matcha powder is of lower quality, this sometimes manifests in a strong, bitter flavor. Otherwise, matcha allows for complex, nuanced flavors.
What flavor is matcha?
Good matcha will have a pleasant aroma and different taste profiles ranging from sweet, nutty, vegetal to savory and umami. Much like wine, the environmental conditions in which the tea plants are grown and how it is later processed play a huge role in determining how the matcha will eventually taste. Factors like the soil, climate, humidity, rainfall, and altitude all make a difference. In historical matcha producing regions like Uji, many growers take these factors to their extremes and compete on producing matcha of a certain flavor.
Why is matcha so popular now?
If you only heard of matcha after 2015, it was probably shared in the context of the health benefits of matcha. In the past few years, many publications have responded to the question of “what is matcha?” by proclaiming matcha as a new superfood. While some of these claims do have their merit, many others are simply based on optimistic interpretations of existing scientific literature on green tea. As such, a healthy dose of scrutiny on claims relating to matcha tea benefits is always good practice – especially when it comes to health claims which sound too good to be true.
What we do know is that matcha keeps you really focused and alert. Matcha contains caffeine and elevated levels of antioxidants and amino acids, most notably L-theanine. L-theanine is an amino acid that promotes calmness and increases focus. One added benefit of L-theanine is that it controls the release of caffeine into the bloodstream. This means that even though matcha generally has lower levels of caffeine compared to brewed coffee, the caffeine boost tends to last longer because it is slowly released over a longer period. For many people, matcha is simply a replacement for coffee and an alternative source of caffeine to stay productive.
Where can you get the best matcha powder?
Matcha is a Japanese product, and we would only recommend that you purchase matcha powder from Japan. The best quality matcha powder is made of first harvest leaves grown under the shade for up to a month. As there are many online matcha brands and cafes these days, it is important that you do your homework since matcha is quite an expensive purchase for tea.
You may have heard that the best quality matcha in the world comes from Kyoto Prefecture – specifically, a city called Uji. Uji is the birthplace of matcha, where many farmers and matcha tea houses have been producing matcha for centuries! If you are looking for quality matcha powder best suited for the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, Uji is a place to visit.
Because Uji produces matcha in limited quantities, other prefectures like Kagoshima and Shizuoka have stepped up to keep up with rising global demand. Kagoshima once focused more on bulk production, but is increasingly looking to compete with Uji in making great, high quality matcha. In fact, we found some of our best matcha powder in Kagoshima Prefecture because the producers create interesting matcha blends and unique tea experiences for their overseas customers. It is undeniably an exciting time to start appreciating matcha from Japan.
Why is matcha so expensive?
Even with rising exports of matcha powder from Japan, matcha is still rather expensive due to higher production costs compared to regular tea. Specific plots of land need to be set aside years in advance for tea plants to grow. When the tea plant is mature, it is grown under shade for about 3-4 weeks to induce rich nutrients to concentrate in the young tea leaves before harvesting. Setting up, monitoring the tea plants, and tearing down these shade structures contributes to the expenses of producing matcha.
After harvest, the tea leaves go through a slightly different process from typical green tea production. After de-stemming, de-veining, steaming, and drying, is the leaves are cut into small pieces and stored in refrigerated rooms before being ground into fine powder when a customer orders it. As matcha is a fine powder, it flies around easily and coats every surface in its surroundings. Hence, matcha needs to be grounded and packaged in separate clean rooms within factories to prevent the powder from escaping. With these additional costs in production and storage, matcha tends to be more expensive relative to regular green tea.
How to get started with matcha
Our philosophy is that there are many ways to enjoy matcha in addition to the traditional methods. Beyond supplying high quality matcha powder, we recognise that it is our responsibility to show you the different ways to drink and appreciate matcha. We have recipes for both traditional and modern ways of preparing matcha
Aside from these modern methods, matcha would traditionally be consumed at the tea ceremony. The tea ceremony draws its roots from feudal Japan, where matcha and tea were important status symbols for military figures and aristocrats. The process of preparing and serving it was treated as an important occasion, and these rituals eventually became the Japanese tea ceremony. The traditional style of preparation involves mixing hot water and matcha tea in a bowl in specific proportions – usually either as usucha (thin tea) or koicha (thick tea). Water and matcha is mixed using a bamboo whisk. 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.
Whether you are looking for the best matcha powder to prepare matcha drinks or just adding it to your diet to enjoy its accredited health benefits, there is always a matcha for everyone.