The Magic green tea powder – Matcha, has taken over the world in the recent years. It is likely you have already tried Matcha latte, Matcha ice-cream, or any other tea-colored desert. There is a lot of fascination and excitement about this tea. But there is also a lot of confusion. What is Matcha? How it is produced? What happening with it today? And how to actually make it? These questions are common among the people who have already encountered Matcha. But answers to some of them are not so easy. So let’s look at all of it from the beginning and try to bring some clarity.
Matcha in Japanese characters is written like this: 抹茶. The second character is fairly easy to recognize; it is read as ‘cha’ and it means tea. The first one is read as ‘ma’ and it means to rub. It is easy to paint a mental image of tea leaves being thoroughly rubbed until they crumble to powder. So that is it, Matcha is a powdered tea? Not so fast.
It appears there is actually no conclusive definition of Matcha (neither about its geographical location, nor about its production method). Hence, the answer to the question of what is Matcha may differ slightly from one area of Japan to another.
In practice Matcha is often described by how it is produced and let me tell you what is Matcha in Kyoto region. It all starts with tea cultivation. Tea leaves for Matcha are normally shaded for about 4 weeks before harvesting. The shade is applied either directly on the bush or in an elevated shelf structure, and it restricts about 85%-95% of sunshine. That helps to keep more umami taste and to prevent the development of the bitter taste in the tea leaves.
The second part is processing. After tea leaves for Matcha are harvested they need to be processed in a certain way. Steaming is the first step. It is short, just a few seconds, but very important, as it helps to stop the oxidation. Then, tea leaves are dried to reduce both their surface moisture gained during steaming as well as their inner moisture. After drying tea leaves are separated from the stems, as stems are normally too tough to grind. The tea leaves may additionally be cut, blended, fired etc. But the most important part at the end is grinding them to tea powder.
So to sum up, tea leaves for Matcha have to be grown shaded from the sun, and when they are processed, they have to be steamed, dried, and ground to powder. This way of production ensures that Matcha has deep green color and rich umami taste, unlike some other tea powders on the market.