A Blog Series for Serious Sippers!
In this blog series, I will answer the question “what is Matcha green tea?” and help you discover how to find genuine matcha, how best to store it, and the ways to prepare this vivid green health elixir from Japan.
The Essential Guide to Matcha: What Is Matcha?
The Essential Guide to Matcha: Matcha Processing
With the rising demand for this bionic superfood, a number of interesting newcomers and processes are emerging to satisfy the global demand for matcha.
For a start, growers from other countries are getting into the act with low-grade offerings. Much of the cheaper ‘green tea powder’ mislabeled as authentic matcha, is grown outside of Japan in countries like China, Taiwan, Korea and even South America, where soil conditions and plants are simply inferior or are so different that it affects the end product. This is where much cheaper matcha comes in. Fancy a Bordeaux from China? Yes, that’s happening too!
Another modernization that breaks away from the traditional authentic method is using high-speed mills made of stainless steel. These operate at such a high speed that heat is created during the milling process and diminishes the quality of the powder. The point of a granite stone mill is that it works slowly to mill the leaves in a very cool, semi-conductor-like clean facility to preserve the integrity of the powder. There is simply no substitution for time and detail if you want an authentic, potent Japanese matcha.
Another shortcut comes along in the shading process, whereby mostly non-Japanese growers will shorten the shading time to speed up the production. This yields matcha with far less potency and flavor profiles like umami, and delivers a chalkier texture. Nothing compares to the smoothness of a ceremonial grade matcha from Japan!
Perhaps there is a place for this kind of tea in the market but if you are going to drink matcha for the taste and health benefits, it’s best to stick to the only authentic Japanese matcha out there: always look on the packaging for Made in Japan !
How to Identify Quality Matcha
When determining matcha quality, color plays a huge role, with vivid colored powders having a much higher quality and potency compared to those that are yellowish in hue and not as vibrant. If you encounter matcha with brownish tones, steer clear as these have significantly deteriorated!
In terms of color, peas are a great way to find a comparison. Take canned peas for instance, with a murky, almost ashen look. That is what dead matcha looks like…poor quality or way beyond the expiration date or matcha that has been exposed to the open air for far too long. Frozen peas on the other hand are bright, fresh and vibrant green…not quite as vibrant as some of the best matcha, but close! These happy dudes represent quality, fresh matcha, made in Japan! Once you’ve seen the ultimate vivid neon-green matcha, you can spot inferior matcha instantly. You’ll never forget the piercing green hue of this high-quality mesmerizing powder.
The next way to tell quality matcha is by the fragrance. Does it smell slightly vegetal and grassy? Perfect! If it smells musty, or like dirt or hay, steer clear! This is expired or very low quality matcha.
Another way to identify quality matcha is how it performs. Here, the key element is how the foam develops when whisked with a chasen (bamboo whisk). When whisked properly, the foam will hold a slightly rounded dome in the middle of your bowl and will cast a whitish hue on top. When you gently move the bowl, you will see a pudding-like quality to the thick and creamy foam.
Low-quality matcha doesn’t foam very well and has a hard time even suspending the matcha particles in the water. These particles separate very quickly and the limp foam simply melts away. This is due to many factors, not least the slightly larger particles and oils in the tea.
Not all tea ceremony schools strive for a foamy top! This is where the ultimate quality test comes in… it’s all in the taste and mouthfeel. Smooth and velvety, not chalky, plenty of umami, and a complex flavor profile is the hallmark of the best quality matcha powders, and when the sweetness lingers for almost an eternity, you know the tea is the very finest.
The very highest quality matcha is created by artisan farmers in rural Japan: tight-knit family businesses that have been producing Japanese matcha for generations. But these smaller enterprises either don’t know how or simply don’t want to export their amazing tea due to the language and cultural barriers, licensing costs, and export challenges.
In Japan relationships are everything. If you want to be a supplier of the highest quality matcha, it’s important to go deep into the countryside, meet these farmers, get to know their families, and build relationships over years. I’m blessed to have grown up in Japan drinking tea and hobnobbing with tea farmers. They know us as family and trust Chiki Tea to export their prized powders and leaves.
If you can’t wait to start tasting the best matcha on the planet, head over to chikitea.com. Stay tuned next month for some matcha hacks, recipes, and more fun!
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