Matcha is a shade-grown powdered green tea that comes from Japan. It is very trendy so can find it everywhere from Starbucks to cookies, Kit Kats, and cosmetics. There are also a lot of myths and misconceptions about it. This post is my way of trying to clear some of those up. Here are 5 things you should know about matcha.
It’s Not Just Powdered Green Tea
There’s more to matcha than just being powdered green tea. Before harvesting, the tea plants are shaded for 3-4 weeks. Limiting sunlight increases the production of chlorophyll and amino acids. The leaves are steamed to stop oxidation and then dried and passed through machines that remove the stalks. It is called aracha, or crude tea, at this point in the process.
Aracha is sent through another machine for further refining to remove stems and veins. The tea is then referred to as tencha. It is stored this way until it is time to turn it into matcha. The leaves are then ground into a fine powder using stone mills. Teas that do not go through all of these steps are NOT matcha.
Ceremonial Grade Means Nothing
There is no standard definition or regulation for grades of matcha. Ceremonial grade is a term that is often used, but it doesn’t tell you anything about the quality of the tea. One company’s ceremonial grade matcha could be another company’s culinary grade. Part of why this term started to be used is because of matcha’s association with the Japanese tea ceremony. Unfortunately, it is also used deceptively to market a tea as being of higher quality than it is. Buyer beware!
Matcha Originated in China
Matcha is considered quintessentially Japanese, but did you know that powdered tea originated in China? Tea was first brought to Japan by Zen Buddhists in the 12th century. At that time, tea was ground into a powder and whisked into water. Lu Yu wrote about this preparation method in The Classic of Tea. During the Ming Dynasty, this style of making tea fell out of favor in China but continued to evolve in Japan.
The technique of shading tea plants (called the Uji method) was developed in the 16th century. This era is also when the tea ceremony was developed. In the 17th century, Uji tea grower Nagatani Soen developed a method of steaming tea leaves that is still used today. It is these innovations that differentiate Japanese matcha from its Chinese roots.
It Isn’t Supposed to Be Bitter
So many people tell me that they don’t like matcha because it is bitter. The truth is, matcha isn’t supposed to be bitter! The lattes that you find at big coffee chains are not the best representation. Using quality tea makes a difference. It’s also important to use cooler water because hot water brings out bitterness. I generally shoot for about 165℉. Matcha might also taste bitter if isn’t whisked properly. I recommend using a bamboo chasen for the best results. Sifting your matcha first will also help to avoid clumps.
Matcha Expires Quickly
Because it is a powder, matcha expires more quickly than loose leaf tea or tea bags. It is also very sensitive to heat, light, and moisture. Keeping your tea refrigerated and only opening as much as you can use in a short time frame can help make sure it is as fresh as can be. Matcha that is past its prime will have a dull, dusty appearance rather than the bright green color that it is known for.
Did any of the things on this list surprise you? Let me know in the comments!
This post was originally posted on May 16th, 2016. It was revised and updated on January 22nd, 2024.
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