Farmers make Matcha from shade-grown ground Camellia Sinensis tea leaves called tencha. Tencha, a type of green tea that gives green tea powder its umami flavor and high caffeine content. Because of that, other common types of tea such as black tea, white tea, oolong, and other green teas, use the Camellia sinensis plant.
Yet, what sets matcha apart is that farmers in Japan grow and produce authentic matcha powder. With its 800-year-old history of cultivation and traditions, many authentic producers still practice those traditions today.
In this article, we will take you through the process of Japanese matcha green tea production, starting from the farm.
The Shading Process of Green Tea Powder
While artisans meticulously produce matcha green tea through a slow and extremely skilled labor process, the traditions and practices that they still use today are truly an art of their own.
The Camellia Sinensis plant alone takes about 4 - 8 years for young seedlings to reach full maturity. Here, one of the most important processes of producing high-quality matcha is the shading process. This typically happens 3 - 4 weeks before harvest; however, it does depend on the tea farm and their region of Japan.
By shading the leaves and protecting them from direct sunlight, it changes the flavor and the natural balance of caffeine and natural sugar. Leess sunlight increases the plants' production of amino acids, aiding in various sweet and umami flavors.
The Harvesting Process of Matcha Green Tea
After shading, the tea plants are ready for harvest. Known as hachiju-hachiya (八十八夜) or 88 nights, this term refers to the 88th day after the first day of spring. This time marker is essential for Japanese tea farmers because it indicates the best time to harvest tea–two to three weeks from when hachiju-hachiya begins.
This typically falls around mid-April to mid-May each year depending on the tea farm. Here, mostly, machines harvest tea; however, on some smaller tea farms, handpicking is more common.
The first harvest of tea produces the finest quality of tea, with the best flavor as well as vibrant green color, therefore this fine green tea powder is then used for ceremonial grade green tea powder.
The Steaming Process of Green Tea Powder
After harvesting the leaves, farmers washe and steam them. The steaming stops the leaves from oxidating and helps the tea keep high levels of amino acids. This process distinguishes Japanese tea production from th eproduction of other teas. Farmers then cool down the tea leaves and brought to ovens for further drying. At this point, we refer to the tea leaves as aracha (荒茶) or unrefined tea. When aracha is unrefined, farmers have only harvested, washed, and dried th tea leaves. At this stage, the tea leaves have not yet gone through an important step of sorting yet.
The Sorting Process of Green Tea Powder
You may wonder, why is sorting tea leaves important? After the steaming and drying process, the aracha begins its journey of sorting for further refinement.
Sorting guarantees that removal of all impurities and dust from the tea leaves. This allows the tea leaves to have similar color, size, and uniformity. Farmers pass tea leaves through multiple sorters and sifters to remove stems and leaf veins. Additionally, they cut the leaves into smaller pieces.
At this stage, farmers refine the aracha into tencha (碾茶). Tencha refers to the tea leaves before they grind them into fine green tea powder.
All high-quality matcha is made from tencha of the first harvest as it has the most vibrant color, richest flavors, and nutrients. While other grades, such as culinary, typically use older tea leaves that farmers have not shaded for as long.
The Grounding Process of Matcha
Finally, the last step for matcha green tea production is grinding the tea leaves into powder.
Farmers place tencha on machine-powered mills and grind it into a fine powder. This is where the term matcha (抹茶) comes from as it refers to "powdered green tea". Traditionally, people ground green tea by hand, using stone mills.
However, this labor-intensive process not only took longer, but too much friction could also ruin the matcha. Nowadays, farmers use various automated machines. After grinding tencha, they package it and get it ready for shipment.
The process of creating fine and high-quality matcha reminds us that it is an art of its own.
The growing and whole process of Japanese matcha green tea production is extensive and time-consuming, but any missed steps can impact the taste, color, nutritional value, and quality. Each step is essential to create delicious-tasting matcha for us to enjoy every day.
If you want to read more articles on matcha, check them out here:
- 4 Health Benefits of Matcha Green Tea Powder
- New Year, New Rituals – A Modern Guide to A Matcha Tea Ceremony at Home
- How to Prepare Matcha: Usucha vs. Koicha
- The Caffeine Content in Matcha Green Tea versus Coffee
- A Matcha Green Tea Cheesecake Recipe
- 5 Unique Matcha Drink Recipes
- How to Make Matcha Banana Bread
- Strawberry Cream Matcha Shortbread
- Matcha Cupcakes with Matcha Cream Cheese Frosting
- Matcha Shortbread Cookies with Milk Glaze
- Matcha Apple Pie Ovenight Oats Recipe
- Matcha Milk and Honey Bread Recipe
- Creamy Matcha Green Tea Popsicle Recipe
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