What is matcha?
Unlike your typical green tea which you put tea leaves in a teabag or infuser and strain through water to get a cup of tea, matcha comes in a powdered form derived from special tea leaves called Gyokuro. These leaves have been carefully grown in shade for 30 days before they are hand-picked, de-stemmed, air dried and stone-ground into micro-fine powder.
What is the origin of matcha?
Powdered green tea originated in China around the 8th century, and was discovered and carried to Japan by a renowned Japanese Buddhist monk Eisai Myoan around the 10th century who then devoted himself to studying and spreading the matcha culture for the rest of his life. While powdered green tea has been gradually replaced by other types of tea in China, matcha has grown its popularity, perfected its production process, and been used in a highly choreographed tea ceremony in Japan.
How is matcha produced?
The following info-graphic will show you the story of our Pinnacle Gold production process:
Why matcha is good for you?
Matcha is possibly THE healthiest super food one can find.
Because of its meticulous production process, you’re consuming the entire tea leaves which contain full nutrients such as high concentration of green tea antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Besides, by drinking Matcha you can also ingest oil soluble constituents (Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Beta-carotene, etc.), which are not extracted into water when brewed. Brewing tea in the traditional way is kind of like eating spinach by boiling it in a pot but throwing out the vegetable and just drinking spinach water, you end up chucking 80% of the nutritional value and benefits into the compost bin.
Matcha has an amino acid called L-Theanine; L-Theanine can improve mental focus and clarity in a slow-released way. It won’t give you the jittery feeling that coffee does to your body. Matcha tea leaves need to be covered from direct sunlight for 20 – 30 days before harvest. This shading process boosts the plants’ chlorophyll level; chlorophyll is a natural detoxifier that will cleanse the heavy metal and daily pollution out of your body. You'll feel like a whole new you with every cup of good matcha.
A chart below shows matcha's antioxidant capacity compared to other superfoods.
Note: ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) - ORAC units measure the antioxidant capacity of foods.
One key antioxidant that matcha is loaded with is called EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) Catechin. EGCG is proven for its benefits of treating cancers, and can also improve your immune system, stabilize blood sugar levels, promote fat burning, and boost metabolism.
What is ceremonial grade?
Ceremonial grade is a term commonly used in the western countries defining the quality of matcha. Usually only high quality matcha can be served during the tea ceremony. Therefore when a matcha is called ceremonial grade, it simply means that it's good enough to be served as a straight tea. Other grades lower than ceremonial grade, such as cooking/culinary grade matcha are simply too bitter to drink as a clear tea.
There's no certain standard for categorizing ceremonial grade matcha. Generally speaking, ceremonial grade matcha is from first harvest tea leaves, and the leaves need to be de-veined and de-stemmed. Since it's a vague term, same ceremonial grade matcha teas can be drastically different in many ways. Like mentioned above, matcha's harvest methods, terrior/region, and cultivar play major roles in matcha's delicacy.
Why prices differ so much?
First of all, we’re talking about pure matcha powder without additive. Some matcha mix or flavoured matcha powder on the market is simply saccharine and loaded with confectionery sugar, artificial flavours, corn syrup and/or even hydrogenated oil etc. Matcha is not born equally. A precious tin of matcha is a lovely coincidence of earth, weather and human hard work. The price of matcha is determined by many factors:
No. 1: Place of Origin
Matcha produced in Japan is usually much pricier than the ones produced in other asian countries. Japan has very high, even strict, agriculture standards and it limits the kind, quantity, and timing of when farmers can use agricultural chemicals, and compels farmers to meticulously record when, what kind, and how much they use, so the cost of operation is comparatively higher.
In Japan, Matcha grown in different regions tastes differently too. There are four major regions: Yame in Fukuoka, Nishio in Aichi, Shizuoka, and the most respectable producing area: Uji Kyoto.
Nishio and Shizuoka are the largest matcha and green tea producers by volume in Japan, so most mass-produced matcha products are from those two regions.
No. 2: Harvest time
Matcha’s taste and its nutrition preservation rely on tea leaves' freshness, therefore the first harvest matcha (Ichiban cha) has remarkable umami flavour, vibrant green color and it’s most suitable for drinking as clear tea. Among the entire first harvest bunch, the leaves grown on the tip of tree bushes are the younger leaves and have better flavour as a result of the plant sending the majority of its nutrients to the growing leaves.
Second harvest (Nichiban cha) is around the summer time June and July, which is still good for everyday drinking with some bitterness and astringency, so it’s the best for lattes, smoothies and milk shakes, etc.
Some second harvest and most fall harvest are used in cooking and baking, instead of drinking. Matcha grown and harvested in fall do not need to be covered due to shorter daylight time.
No. 3: Trimming/Production method
Tea bushes for hand-picked and for trimming machine are set up in completely different ways, and tea sprouts of both types of trees grow differently. In the case of tea trees trimmed by machine, tea sprouts grow from the previously trimmed stubble. In contrast, when tea leaves being picked by hand, tea sprouts shoot from the natural forks in the branches. The flavour and aroma of hand-picked tea are much mellower and smoother than machine-trimmed ones, and the leaves are of higher quality.
Tea leaves which have not yet been ground into fine matcha powder are known as Tencha. Tea leaves should be processed within 24 hours after harvest. Tencha (Matcha) processing includes Steaming - Cooling down – Drying - Cutting / Sorting. High quality matcha is made with Tencha ground with a stone mill, and it takes one hour to grind 40g (1.41 oz) of top-quality Matcha to yield a finely-textured powder.
No. 4: Cultivar (cultivated variety)
Just like grape varieties to wine, tea cultivar plays major role in finished matcha flavour. Artisanal tea farms usually select and carefully cultivate their own breeds. Some prestigious cultivar from Uji are: Asahi, Gokou, Samidori, Okumidori, and common ones are Yabukita, Yutakamidori. Usually single cultivar matcha is more expensive as the yield for a certain cultivar is very limited and not guaranteed. The mix-cultivar matcha is selected and graded during the tencha blending stage to ensure both quality and quantity of each grade.
No. 5: Organic vs. Non-Organic
This is a tricky one. Most people would think organic matcha is a lot more expensive than conventional matcha and tastier. It's not so much the case with matcha growing. Since tea leaves need to be grown in shade, it can't receive enough energy from sunlight, so extra nitrogen is needed. Most family-run tea farms use natural fertilizers such as compost and fish meal to support tea leaves' growth.
Growing matcha organically is a very hard job. While most tea farmers spray their plants with pesticides and herbicides, organic tea farmers on the organic tea farms are dealing with a hundred or more kinds of harmful insects. But fortunately, spiders, lizards, mantis, and ladybugs are natural enemies of harmful insects, and they carry out important duties on the organic tea farms to prevent tea plants from being damaged. In late spring and fall, widespread weeds grow close together at organic tea farms and the farmers must pull up the weeds day after day. The work, at an organic tea farm is extremely laborious and immensely time-consuming. However organic farming will nourish the soil years after years, and bring you nonparallel quality and the most natural flavour.