Whether you are a fan of matcha or just a casual observer, chances are at some point or another you have wondered “what is matcha made of”.
In this article, we are going to answer that exact question. We’ll start with the short answer and then we’ll get into the longer answer.
We’ll give you a brief overview of what matcha is, and then we’ll dive into the nitty gritty of the matcha production process.
So what is matcha made of: the short answer
There is a short answer to the question what is matcha made of and that answer is that matcha tea is made out of powdered green tea leaves.
This was actually the original way to consume green tea in Japan, and over the past 1,000 years it has undergone a major transformation.
There is however more to the answer. The question what is matcha made of cannot be answered by simply saying “green tea leaves”.
The reason we know this is because if you were to take regular green tea leaves and grind them into a powder, they wouldn’t taste like matcha. Instead, they would be extremely bitter.
So what is matcha made of? Special tea leaves? Matcha has to undergo a long and labor intensive production in order to yield the smooth, creamy flavor and iconic matcha taste.
In the next section, we’re going to dive into the process used to make matcha tea, and how the farmer is able to produce these special tea leaves.
Learn in detail what is matcha made of: the Long answer
Now that we’ve given you the short answer, let’s get into the long answer to the question what is matcha made of. When people encounter matcha for the first time, usually the thing that surprises them most is the price. In a moment, you will see all the steps that go into producing premium matcha tea, and why it is so expensive.
When the tea plant is exposed to the sunlight, it begins to convert its theanine into catechins as a protection against the UV light. These catechins offer protection for the tea plant, but they produce a bitter flavor in the green tea.
If a farmer wants to produce a smoother green tea, they will cut the tea plant off from sunlight leading up to the harvest. This will allow the plant to maintain more of its theanine and produce less of these bitter catechins. This is why shaded teas like gyokuro produce a much sweeter flavor when compared to unshaded teas like sencha.
Japanese tea plants can be harvested up to 4 times per year, but when it comes to what is matcha made of, the premium stuff needs to be made from the first harvest. This harvest happens in the early spring, from late March to early April. During this time, the tea plant has had all winter long to absorb nutrients from the soil and it releases it all at once into the fresh sprouts of the springtime.
Only the top 3 sprouts are selected for producing premium matcha. These are the smoothest and sweetest in flavor, but they are also the highest in nutrients. These light green sprouts are also used to make other premium teas like gyokuro and sencha.
We are one step away from finding out what is matcha made of. If you really want to get specific, matcha is made from ground “tencha” leaves. These leaves are cultivated using all the steps we mentioned before but after they are harvested they need to be steamed, dried and then they need to have their stems removed. These stems detract from the flavor, so they are excluded from the finest of matcha teas.
The shaded, processed young leaves with their stems removed are called tencha and they are one step away from becoming matcha. They now need to be ground into a fine powder in a large, specialized mill made out of granite. This mill has a large network of grooves that pushes the tencha leaves out as they are ground into a finer and finer powder. It takes this mill an hour just to produce 50 grams of precious matcha powder.
What is matcha made of if it’s low quality?
So what is matcha made of if it’s the $30 per pound kind you find on Amazon? Certainly it doesn’t go through all these steps, right? Exactly. Cheaper matchas are made by skipping some or all of these steps. They can be made from later harvests, unshaded tea plants of older leaves of the tea plant.
All of this will produce:
You’re better off saving your money for the high quality, first harvest matcha and drinking it sparingly.
If you are making matcha lattes on the other hand, you can go a bit cheaper. The latte grade matcha that we offer is produced by Mr. Masuda, a talented farmer in Shizuoka that is committed to growing tea plants without the use of pesticides or chemicals. This matcha is made from later harvests, and while it is slightly more bitter, it works great in matcha lattes, so we decided to offer it to all the matcha latte aficionados out there that prefer their matcha with milk and a bit of sugar. No judgement!
So the quick answer to what is matcha made of is that it is made of tencha leaves, but to understand what tencha leaves are, you have to go through the whole production process of matcha tea.
Suffice to say, a lot of work and research has gone into producing the smoothest possible flavor in a matcha not by adding sugar, but by playing around with different factors of the growing and the processing of the tea.
After traveling around Japan for the past few years it has been such a privilege to meet with dozens of farmers and sample hundreds of incredible matcha teas. We’ve ultimately decided on just a few of our favorites, and we’re so excited to share them with all of you! You can find these in our matcha selection, or you can try them all at once with one of our matcha samplers. Try them out and see which you like most!