How Is Matcha Made? All You Need To Know About Matcha

Like green tea, matcha derives from the Camellia sinensis plant. However, the preparation process of matcha, which dates back to the 12th century in China and Japan, gives this powder unique properties, health benefits, flavor notes, and color tones. 

While matcha has become popular thanks to its utilization in recipes and drinks such as matcha latte, there is a lot more to know about the quality types, production process, and uses of this unique powder. 

In this guide by Encha, you’ll learn all you need to know about how matcha is made and what sets it apart from other types of green tea. Let’s get started. 

How Is Matcha Made?

All forms of tea come from the Camellia sinensis plant. Depending on the leaves chosen and the processing method used it is possible to obtain green tea (unfermented leaves that are steamed and dried), oolong tea (partially fermented leaves), or black tea (fully fermented leaves). 

Matcha powder also derives from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, and, in particular from the tencha leaves (from ten: “mortar”, and cha: “tea”). These leaves are shade-grown and harvested within 3-4 weeks. 

What makes matcha different from other tea types is the fact that it comes from finely ground tea leaves of the highest quality. In the production of matcha, the entire leaf is used, and the youngest and finest tea leaves are chosen (first harvest). 

After being harvested, the leaves are steamed and dried. After this step, the stems are removed and the remaining part of the leaves is ground into a fine powder using a stone mortar. 

The authentic tradition of matcha making involves using granite stones to grind down each individual leaf until it resembles fine flour. 

After being ground into a powder, the leaves are sifted through a sifter or fine-mesh strainer to ensure an even finer texture. This step prevents larger pieces, stems, and leaf veins from polluting the matcha powder, but it also ensures that the particles are well separated and aerated. 

Grades of Matcha Tea

Depending on the quality of the leaves used and the powder obtained, matcha can be subdivided into three main grades: ceremonial, latte, and culinary. Let’s look at these grades below. 

  • Ceremonial matcha - Ceremonial matcha is created from the highest-quality first-harvest leaves and is designed to be drunk with water only. Traditionally, it is used in Japanese tea ceremonies. 
  • Latte-grade matcha -  Latte-grade matcha is made from high-quality, first-harvest leaves and can be used in the preparation of hot drinks with other ingredients, such as matcha latte. 
  • Culinary matcha - Culinary matcha is often made of premium second-harvest leaves, which can be used in cooking and baking. 

Japanese vs. Chinese Matcha Making

The process of making matcha in both China and Japan shares some similarities but also exhibits distinct differences. What are the differences between Japanee and Chinese matcha making? Here are the key variations between Chinese and Japanese matcha making process and how it affects taste:

1. Cultivation and Shade-Growing:

Japanese Matcha: In Japan, matcha is typically produced from tencha, which are tea leaves grown in the shade for several weeks before harvest. This shading process enhances the leaves' chlorophyll content, resulting in a vibrant green color and a sweeter flavor profile.

Chinese Matcha: In China, matcha is often made from a variety of tea leaves, not limited to shade-grown leaves. The shading process is less common, and there is more diversity in the types of tea leaves used for matcha production.

2. Processing and Grinding:

Japanese Matcha: Japanese matcha production emphasizes meticulous processing, including steaming, drying, deveining, and grinding the tea leaves into a fine powder. The grinding process is typically done with stone mills, resulting in a very fine and smooth matcha powder.

Chinese Matcha: Chinese matcha processing methods can vary by region and producer. Some Chinese matcha is processed similarly to Japanese matcha, while others may have differences in deveining and grinding techniques. The particle size and texture of Chinese matcha may vary more widely.

3. Flavor Profiles:

Japanese Matcha: Japanese matcha is known for its vibrant green color, umami flavor, and sweet notes. The shading process contributes to its unique flavor profile and the presence of amino acids like L-theanine.

Chinese Matcha: Chinese matcha may have a broader range of flavor profiles depending on the region and the specific tea leaves used. Some Chinese matcha can have slightly more bitter or astringent notes compared to Japanese matcha.

4. Cultural Significance:

Japanese Matcha: Matcha holds a significant place in Japanese culture, where it is an integral part of traditional tea ceremonies, such as the Chanoyu. The preparation and consumption of matcha are considered an art form in Japan.

Chinese Matcha: While matcha is appreciated in China, its cultural significance differs. China has a rich tea culture with a focus on various types of tea beyond matcha, such as loose-leaf green tea, oolong, and more.