What is Matcha? The one and only Matcha-Encyclopedia

What is matcha? It seems to be everywhere all of a sudden and very few people seem able to properly define it.

If you’re reading this, it means that you’ve come to the right place! 🍃

Before we get started, perhaps we should explain a bit about how we learned so much about matcha.

Over the past few years, we have traveled around Japan many times to meet with matcha farmers and learn more about how matcha is grown and produced. 

During this time, we have become experts on all things matcha, and we feel qualified to answer the question “what is matcha”.

We decided to share everything we've been learning about matcha in this ultimate blog article. 

The matcha farmers we visited have been working in the tea industry for many generations, and have devoted their lives to creating the best matcha experience for all of you.

With all the work that goes into making it, the least we can do is put some thought into how we enjoy it.

In this matcha-encyclopedia, you can quickly become an expert on this vibrant green powder. It is ideal for matcha rookies as well as seasoned matcha drinkers. 

That being said, let’s learn more about matcha! 

 

what is matcha powder

What is matcha tea?

Let’s begin our quest to find out what matcha tea is with a simple definition of terms.

Just be aware that the literal definition of matcha doesn’t come close to explaining how much it means to tea lovers all around the world.

In the next sections, we will take these concepts into practice and explore the broader world of matcha tea!

Definition

Matcha essentially translates to “ground tea” as it is made from green tea leaves that have been ground into a fine powder. While most green teas are infused into water, matcha is mixed directly into water with a bamboo whisk or chasen. 

However, the definition matcha can be answered in a number of different ways. It’s a drink, it’s a tradition and it is even a spiritual practice. Depending on who you are, the definition of what is matcha can change.

In this article, we’re going to start with a brief definition of what matcha tea is, and then we’re going to explore the finer details of matcha such as how it’s grown, how it’s prepared and what it tastes like.

Matcha Documentary

If you want to learn more about this tea, you can watch our youtube video here that explains all about it! Here, we not only answer what is matcha green tea, but we also show you where it comes from, how it’s grown and how to prepare it!

History

illustration of the history of matcha tea

Matcha has a long and rich history that spans many centuries. While leaf teas are now the most popular way to consume green tea in Japan, it wasn’t always this way.

Chinese monks

Back in the Tang dynasty, Chinese monks would keep a brick of pressed tea leaves, grind them into a powder and mix them into water.

This can be thought of as a primitive form of matcha, but to become the delicious green drink we know today, it would first have to make its way over to Japan.

Spread of buddhism in Japan

The Japanese monks would often travel to China to learn about buddhism from the Chinese monks. In addition to bringing back knowledge and insights, they also brought back tea as well.

They found that this kept them awake and focused during long periods of meditation. Of course we now know that this is mostly due to the caffeine, which blocks the adenosine receptors and makes you feel less tired.

A Monk named Eisai

Eventually, in 1191 a monk by the name Eisai brought back tea seeds from China and planted them on the grounds of Kozanji temple, nearby Kyoto. This is where tea was first cultivated, and the end result could truly be considered a Japanese green tea.

Overtime, the tea made its way from the buddhist temples, to the palaces and eventually to the homes of commoners all around the country. Through this journey, matcha secured its place as a fixture of Japanese culture and it began to transform.

Matcha becomes an international superstar

Because matcha is a powdered tea, it can be mixed into just about anything. This fact, coupled with the continued automation of the Japanese tea industry led matcha to international fame. You can now see it in everything from ice cream to kitkats. 

The first matcha experience many people have is with either a matcha latte or a matcha dessert. While these matcha treats are a good way to get people into the world of matcha, this tea is so much more than a simple flavoring agent. In the rest of the article, we are going to be talking about matcha in its true form, carefully produced and mixed directly into water. 

 

Flavor

We mentioned the term “matcha flavor” in the past section, but what does this mean? Matcha can be described in a number of different ways, and we’re going to try and answer what does matcha taste like.

Like other Japanese green teas, matcha is described as having this “steamed vegetable” flavor, coming from the fact that it is made from steamed tea leaves. You may hear tasting notes like baby spinach, edamame and even seaweed. These flavors pair quite well with different types of Japanese cuisine.

Because matcha is not infused, but rather mixed directly into water, the flavor is much more intense. It almost becomes a richer and denser version of Japanese green tea. Also, when whisked properly it produces a nice light foam on top, which can enhance the drinking experience. This is where you get more of these milk tasting notes like coconut milk or cashew.

 

Grades

4 different types of matcha tea

What is matcha made from depends on the type of grade being produced.

There are a few basic types of matcha, and they are divided based on their intended use. Let’s cover each one and try to learn what is matcha made of.

First Harvest, Ceremonial grade

This is the highest grade of matcha, meant to be used for special tea ceremonies but it is also becoming popular for tea connoisseurs to prepare at home.

As the name would suggest, the tea is made from the first harvest of the tea plants and it typically has the greenest color, the highest nutrient profile and the smoothest taste. Most of the matcha teas we offer are first harvest, ceremonial grade.

Did you know that there are some techniques to differentiate good from bad matcha with the matcha colors?

Regular ceremonial grade

This is a more budget-friendly option for plain matcha drinking. This matcha is smooth enough to drink plain, but it can be made from later harvests to cut down on costs. The farmer will still shade the tea plants, remove the stems and carefully grind the leaves to produce a super fine green powder.

Latte grade

What is matcha powder made of when it’s used for lattes? Typically a few of the steps are skipped to produce a more inexpensive matcha that can be drunk every day and mixed into milk and sugar. This matcha might not have its stems removed, it might be made from later harvests, not shaded for as long or all of the above. The flavor is a little bit too strong to drink plain, but it is the perfect complement to milk and sugar. Our latte matcha comes from Mr. Masuda in Shizuoka and it is simply made from the later tea harvest, grown without pesticides or chemicals.

Cooking/culinary grade

Finally, what is matcha made out of when it is used in desserts and pastries? The lowest grade of matcha powder is called culinary matcha and as the name would suggest it is useful for all sorts of different culinary creations. This matcha is made from much lower grade leaves and has a very bitter flavor. This bitter flavor isn’t much of a problem, because there are so many other ingredients mixed into it. Ice cream is so sweet and creamy, the addition of the bitter culinary matcha is easily subdued and it imparts a pleasant matcha flavor into the dessert. This matcha is the cheapest and it can be used in larger quantities for recipes.

 

Production

how is matcha made

Next on our quest to discover what is matcha, we’ll talk about how matcha is produced.

As we mentioned in the history section, matcha transformed overtime, going from something monks would use during meditation, to a drink that could be enjoyed by people all around the World. 

Complete production process

Let’s talk about how is matcha made. We’re going to go through the production process step by step so you don’t miss a thing. Let’s get started.

 

#1 Cover the tea plants

First, the farmer will cover the tea plants with a special type of netting to block out the sun. This is done 3 weeks before the harvest, in order to prevent the tea from being exposed to sunlight. When the tea plant is exposed to sunlight, it converts theanine into catechins, which can produce a bitter flavor in the final taste.

#2 Harvest

Once the shading process is complete, it’s time to harvest the tea! What’s important here is that the farmers are only picking the top 3 sprouts of the tea plant. These young sprouts are the most desirable, with the highest nutrients and the sweetest flavor. 

#3 Steaming

Once the leaves have been selected, they are then gathered up to be steamed. This deactivates the enzymes that cause oxidation and prevent the matcha from turning into a black tea. Matcha is a green tea, and like other green teas it is completely unoxidized, maintaining its green color and it’s fresh vibrant taste.

#4 Stems are removed

The leaves used to make matcha are processed in a similar way to other types of Japanese green teas but with one major difference and that is that the stems are removed. These stems don’t grind so well and they will detract from the sweet and rich flavor of the matcha. Once the leaves have had their stems removed they will be called “tencha” and they are one step away from becoming matcha!

#5 Tencha is ground into a fine powder

Finally, the tencha leaves are ground into a fine powder in a large granite mill. This stone mill has a large network of grooves that pushes the tea leaves out as they are ground into a finer and finer powder. These large machines take a full hour just to produce 50 grams of this precious green powder. 

The tea itself also went through a transformation, as farmers began experimenting with different methods such as shading to improve the flavor.

Harvesting season

Matcha is typically harvested for the first time in Spring, either late March or early April depending on the weather and the growing region. If the farmer wants to produce a less expensive matcha, they will use the leaves from the later harvests.

The first sprouts that come up in the springtime are the richest in nutrients. This is because the tea plant has had all winter to build up nutrients from the soil and release them all at once into the sprouts.

The tea can then be harvested up to three more times throughout the year, but the quality of the tea will be lower each time. The last harvest will be in October called Aki Bancha or fall harvest, and this will be the least expensive tea produced by the farmer that year.

Location of matcha production

While there are matcha teas produced outside of Japan, all the high quality matchas are made in a handful of growing regions around Japan. These growing regions have a proud tradition of producing premium matcha tea dating back hundreds of years. Let’s explore some of them!

Uji

Because of its rich history of matcha production, the area around Kyoto is currently the most famous region for the production of matcha tea. Uji is perhaps the most famous of all, with tourists coming from all over the world to take part in tea ceremonies here and try all sorts of matcha themed treats. While this is all fun, Uji is a serious tea producing region, with some of the world’s best matcha coming from here.

Wazuka

Slightly Southeast of Uji we have Wazuka, a much less famous area that produces quite a lot of premium matcha tea. While the name Uji comes with a higher price tag, you can often find comparable matcha tea growing in Wazuka without the inflated price.

Kagoshima

Quite a ways away, we have Kagoshima, located in the far south of Japan. This is the second largest tea growing region in Japan. Because it has a mild climate, rich and fertile soil and plenty of rainfall, it can support many more different varieties of tea plants or cultivars. Some of these tea plant varieties are much smoother and sweeter in flavor, making them perfect for matcha. While these delicate tea cultivars are easily destroyed by the frost in the North, they are right at home in this subtropical paradise!

 

Benefits

health benefits of matcha tea

The taste and history of matcha is all wonderful, but many of you are probably asking, what is matcha tea good for? There are many different health benefits of matcha tea, and they all come down to the presence of caffeine, theanine, antioxidants and more. Let’s get started and go through the list of what is matcha green tea good for.

#1 Energy

Does matcha give you energy? A lot! Matcha tea is high in caffeine but unlike with coffee you won’t experience as much of a crash later in the day. Matcha drinkers report a longer lasting “calm-alert” energy throughout the day

#2 Immune Support

The catechins in green tea have been shown to keep the cold and flu at bay and reduce the symptoms

#3 Stress and Anxiety

The l-theanine in matcha can induce a calming effect on the brain and lead to less stress.

#4 Slowing aging

The antioxidants in green teas like matcha have been found to reduce free radical damage, which leads to signs of aging overtime

#5 Weight loss

Green tea like matcha has been shown to boost metabolism and fat oxidation when coupled with even moderate exercise

#6 Improved Heart Health

Green tea like matcha has been shown to reduce levels of total and “bad” LDL cholesterol, as well as triglycerides

#7 10 times the antioxidants as a regumar green tea 

When you drink matcha tea, you are getting 10 times the antioxidants as a regular green tea, mostly due to the fact that you are simply drinking more of the leaf. You also get more caffeine and theanine, which is why a lot of people use matcha to help them replace coffee in the morning.

#8 Additional nutrients

When you look into what is matcha good for, you will discover a theme and that is the high presence of various nutrients. This is partially due to the careful production process of this tea, but it comes mostly from the fact that the tea is mixed directly into water rather than being infused. This means that you are consuming the entire leaf rather than just an extraction.

 

Matcha teaware and accessories

Now that you know what is matcha tea, let’s talk about how to prepare it! First, we will give you a basic list of utensils you need and then we’ll walk you through how to prepare a delicious bowl of matcha at home. Let’s go!

Whisk

This is the famous bamboo tea whisk used in the Japanese tea ceremony. It’s carved out of a single piece of bamboo and the 100 small bristles move through the water to aerate the tea. This leads to a smoother texture and a creamier taste.

You want to prepare matcha but you don't have a whisk at home? We got you covered! Make sure to read our article 👉 How to make matcha tea without whisk to prepare the foamiest matcha possible !

And if it doesn't foam, well it's very problematic but we also have the solutions in our article 👉 How to make matcha foam 

Chawan

This is the clay bowl used in the Japanese tea ceremony. The bowl tends to have a more cylindrical design with steeper sides, which makes it easier to whisk the matcha tea without spilling. The wide base also gives you more space to whisk up the matcha. Finally, the thick clay retains heat so if you preheat the tea bowl beforehand, it can keep your matcha warm for longer.

Sifter

Do you Need a Matcha Sifter? It's highly recommended! This is a nice added tool that really makes a difference in the matcha. Because matcha is made from such a fine powder, it can form clumps from the humidity in the air. All you have to do to remove these clumps is run the matcha powder through a sifter before you prepare your tea. This will allow the matcha powder to mix more evenly into the water. 

The Chashaku Bamboo spoon

The chashaku is another nice tool to have when making matcha. This bamboo spoon is also carved out of a single piece of bamboo and designed to be the perfect tool for scooping matcha powder. It has a more vertical design that makes it easier to dip into the matcha tin and get the powder. It also works well as a measuring tool. During the tea ceremony, you’ll see the tea master take 2 heaping scoops of powder with the chashaku for each bowl of matcha tea.

 

Caffeine level

The caffeine content of matcha is quite high thanks to the unique production process. The shading of the tea, selection of the younger leaves, removal of the stems and the grinding of the powder all contribute to a higher caffeine content.

A premium matcha will have 34mg of caffeine per gram and a lower grade matcha will have half of that. This means a typical 100ml bowl of matcha made with 2 grams of powder will have 68mg of caffeine. If you make a large cup of matcha with 4 grams of powder, you have 136mg of caffeine which is significantly more than coffee.

 

Buying and storing 

Now that we know what is matcha and how to make it, let’s talk about where to get it and how to store it. If you want to get high quality matcha green tea produced without chemicals or pesticides, it’s best to know the farmer that produced it. That’s why all of our matcha teas come with the name of the farmer that grew it and the region where it was produced. We believe in showing people exactly where their tea comes from and if you would like to support us in our mission, we would greatly appreciate it if you could order some of the teas.

When it comes to storing your matcha, it is really important to keep it away from light, heat and humidity. Matcha is by far the most sensitive type of tea and it’s best to keep it in an airtight metal tin in a cool dark place. You can also keep your matcha tin in the fridge to keep it dry and cool until you are ready to use it. Once you open up the matcha tin, it’s best to use it within a month or so.

 

Why is ceremonial matcha so expensive?

There are many reason behind the fact that ceremonial matcha is a more luxurious product compared to latte or cooking matcha.

If you're interested into the topic, we advise you to read our article 👉 Why is matcha so expensive? Explanation by Experts

To save you time, here is a quick summary of the 11 reasons why ceremonial matcha is expensive : 

  1. Matcha only grows in specific geographic locations
  2. First harvest only comes once per year
  3. Extra personnel to shade the plants
  4. Netting must be purchased, and scaffolding is built
  5. The plant has to survive 3 weeks without sunlight
  6. Hand picking process
  7. Careful Leaf Selection
  8. Stems and veins of the tea leaves are removed
  9. Tea is ground with very expensive equipment
  10. The precious powder has to be perfectly packed
  11. The demand is higher than the supply

 

Where can I source the best matcha?

The best way to source matcha is to buy directly from the farmer. While we understand not everyone is able to speak Japanese, taste test hundreds of teas and fly to Japan, we handle the difficult work for you. We’ll show you information about all the farmers we work with and we don’t interfere with the teas after the farmers have packaged them. Authentic Japanese green tea delivered straight to your door!

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