What is matcha?

What is matcha?

'Matcha' means powdered tea and made its first appearance over 1,000 year ago in the Japanese tea ceremony. Discovered by a Buddhist monk, Myoan Eisai, who realised that drinking matcha improved greatly his Zen meditations by producing a state of calm alertness. In fact matcha contains L-theanine which intensified the productions of alpha waves in the human brain. But that's not all: matcha has much more and we can all benefit from its properties!
Matcha green tea powder, matcha ceremonial grade
Matcha is usually sourced in Japan, the region of Uji near Kyoto is considered one of the best areas for tea because of its unique climate. The highest grade of matcha tea is harvested in Spring, about twenty days after being shaded to increase the concentration of chlorophyll, L-theanine and anti-oxidants. The whole tea leaves are then steamed, dried and stone-grounded to powder in Japanese traditional mills.
Matcha is traditionally used during the tea ceremony in Japan. Beaten with a small traditional bamboo whisk called chasen, matcha does not need to be infused like other teas. If it comes from the same plant used to produce most teas (camellia sinensis), its origin and method of production make it very special. Its production goes through a shade technique called Tana mentioned above, which boosts the amount of antioxidants and chlorophyll contained in the tea leaves.

How is matcha tea different from traditional tea?

The taste and appearance of matcha is totally different from other teas. It is made from ground tea leaves which means that the tea is not infused but eaten : matcha drinkers consume the entire leaf dissolved in water and all the virtues and nutrients they contain. Unlike another tea, 100% of the nutrients are ingested against 10 to 20% for a traditional tea because most of the nutrients are not soluble. Have a look at the comparison in the matcha benefits page.

To recognise the quality of a matcha, it suffices to observe its green vibrant color: the more the powder is green (without yellowish or brown tint), the more the tea is refined and of better quality. You can find more information in our matcha grade guide.

Its taste is also very different from a traditional tea. Matcha is known for its umami taste : umami is the name used to describe the fifth flavour in Japanese culture, after sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Umami literally means “tasty taste”, a flavour very present in Japanese cuisine, soft and long in the mouth, less recognisable than the first four. Matcha tastes grassy at first, slightly astringent with a creamy consistency and a slightly sweet finish.

How is matcha produced?

Particular care is taken in the cultivation of this tea. The production of matcha is based on a technique of shading tea plants called Tanaa. About 6 weeks before harvest, the tea fields are covered. The amount of light gradually decreases, until it reaches only a very small part of the plant. The best quality matcha is almost grown in total darkness at harvest time.

Why lower the amount of light the tea plants receive?

To compensate for the drop in light, tea leaves produce increasing amounts of chlorophyll and amino acids making them richer in antioxidants.

Matcha is harvested by hand, usually in Spring for the highest grades. Only the youngest and greenest parts are picked, usually the two leaves at the top of each new shoot.
organic tea field uji kyoto japan
After picking, the leaves are heated with steam to preserve their colour and nutrients and stop fermentation. They are then dried before being sorted by grade (the youngest and greenest leaves being of better quality).

After that comes the traditional step of grinding between two large granite wheels which turn excessively slowly to avoid burns. It is a long and meticolous process that crushes the leaves into a delicate, extremely fine powder. Grinding 30 grams of matcha takes over an hour, which is part of the reason for the high cost of matcha.
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