Matcha originates from Japan. Japan was once a country that imported tea from China but it started growing its own after Japanese buddhist monks brought tea seeds along from their studies to China. The habitants of Uji region found soon that their local mild climate and rich soil was perfect for tea cultivation and so the story of famous tea region began. Observant tea farmers realized quickly that tea leaves grew differently in the shade of forest, away from direct sunlight. Tea from those leaves was much tastier and less bitter. From then on, tea leaves for matcha were always shaded from direct sunlight to increase the umami flavour. Hundreds of years ago, only farmers in the Uji region had the right to shade the tea and thus make matcha. Today, matcha is made in several regions of Japan but matcha cultivated in Uji/Kyoto region is considered to be the most valuable because of its centuries-old traditions, skills handed over from generation to generation and favorable natural conditions.
Why is shading important
For making high-quality matcha nowadays, tea farmers shade the tea bushes under canopy for about four weeks before picking. The longer they shade the bushes, the less bitter and more valuable L-theanine the matcha powder has. Shading will help to achieve the rich umami taste and give the powder its distinctive vibrant green color. The yield will however be lower as leaves do not grow as large without direct sunlight.
To make high quality matcha, tea leaves are picked by hand. Leaves are then steamed, dried into leaf flakes, then all stems and veins will be removed. The tea leaves are then chopped into small pieces ready for grinding. According to the traditional method, the leaves are ground with slow stone mills, which allow the powder to be ground particularly fine. Stone mills do this slowly: the tea leaves do not overheat as excessive heat has a detrimental effect on the color, taste and aroma of the matcha. By comparison, matcha can also be grounded with industrial grinders that work fast, producing up to 100 kg of powder per day (for comparison, slow stone mills can only grind 500 grams in 10 hours).
For green tea and matcha, tea that is picked in spring is the most valuable, richest in minerals and have the least bitterness. The leaves are also the smallest then and thus the yield is smaller. Experienced tea growers closely monitor tea leaves and weather in the spring to decide when is the best time for harvest. Uji tea farms pick the leaves only once a year, i.e. in spring and only by hand. However, machine picking can be seen elsewhere – it is many times faster but only a human hand is able to pick the whole, undamaged tea leaf.
Unique taste experience
The taste of matcha tea is unique. It can be compared to the freshness and light bitterness of green tea but is many times more concentrated. Behind the rich taste is a high content of umami – a delicate salty taste that brings out other flavors and creates a full-bodied filling in the mouth. Pay attention also to the aftertaste of your tea – after you’ve swallowed your matcha, try to look for a nice sweet aftertaste on your tongue.
These qualities certainly do not apply to all matcha powders. Preference should be given to the high quality ones, especially those that are made according to traditional methods. Good quality matcha powder can also be determined from its color (should be deep and vibrant green) but also from its rich and grassy aroma and last but not least, its good and taste and aftertaste, full of umami.
You are welcome to try our selection of high quality matcha powders here.