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.
Matcha vs Green Tea: What’s the Difference?
Although green tea and matcha derive from the same plant, they are different products. Because of this, it is important to clarify the difference between green tea and matcha.
- Green tea - Green tea is made from leaves plucked from the Camellia sinensis plant, then withered and cooked.
- Matcha - Matcha is a powder made of organic, shade-grown Camellia sinensis leaves harvested while still young. The stem and veins of the leaves are removed during the process to achieve the finest texture.
The Benefits of Matcha
Matcha offers endless, scientifically-proven benefits. Firstly, this powder is packed with antioxidants that may keep at bay the risk of cancer and repair the oxidative stress on cells. Additionally, matcha contains both caffeine and theanine, which provide long-lasting and sustained levels of energy without the spikes and drops, jitters, and anxiety often associated with drinking coffee.
Lastly, matcha contains high concentrations of Catechins, which are a group of antioxidants found in abundance in tea leaves. These antioxidants have powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which can help you reduce inflammation, swelling, and chronic pain.
The combination of these properties also makes matcha a great tool to stimulate metabolic functions and support the expulsion of waste materials and toxins from the body.
Unique Color, Taste, and Properties: Here’s What Makes Encha Matcha Powder Different
Now that you have a better understanding of how matcha is made and what properties this powder offers, it is time to look at how the processing method used to produce Encha matcha makes this powder unique and invaluable.
Here are the key steps in the process that enhance the qualities of our matcha:
- Organic - Matcha derives from organically-grown tea leaves in Japan. These plants are grown without the use of chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and fungicides. Additionally, farmers use natural processes to enhance the qualities of each plant, such as natural fertilizers.
- First Harvest - The leaves used to produce matcha belong to the first harvest, or first flush tea. This is because, during the course of winter, the Camellia sinensis plants store essential compounds and nutrients. In turn, the first buds and leaves that sprout in spring are of the highest quality.
- Shade Grown - Matcha leaves are grown in the shade and then harvested within 3-4 weeks. This is because shielding the leaves from direct sunlight triggers the production of chlorophyll, which gives the leaves their well-known bright green color. Additionally, growing tea plants in the shade change chemical reactions within the plant and increases the concentration of antioxidants and other nutrients.
- Stone-Ground - Once harvested and dried, the matcha leaves are ground into a fine powder using a granite mortar. The reason behind using this instrument is that the delicate process makes it easier to prevent the creation of heat that can damage the leaves. The grinding process of each leaf or batch of leaves can take over an hour.
Most other matcha tea brands produce matcha tea powder than is not organic, and it comes from the second or third harvest, meaning that the leaves aren't as premium. On top of this, some matcha brands don't even grow their leaves in the shade, meaning that there matcha isn't really matcha! Lastly, the highest quality, best tasting matcha is stone ground, whereas other matcha brands machine-grind their leaves into powder, giving a less desirable taste and not as finely ground powder.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Should You Try Matcha? Yes – And Here’s Why!
Whether you are looking for an alternative source of energy to caffeine or you wish to find a supplement to replenish the levels of antioxidants in the body, matcha is certainly an option to try. Matcha powder offers smooth and full-bodied aromas that can enhance your lattes or hot drinks. What’s more, thanks to the unparalleled versatility of this ingredient, you can use matcha to enhance your next recipe.
Encha Matcha: Your Choice of Organic Matcha
If you are struggling to find a matcha supplier you can trust, check out Encha. At Encha, we produce our own matcha leaves from organic farms in Japan, and we maintain full control over each step of the production process. This gives us the ability to provide each consumer with the assurance that their matcha is made of the highest-quality, sustainable, and rich-flavored leaves.
Get in touch with our team to choose the best grade of matcha for your needs or browse our shop’s catalog.