Argo Tea 101: Matcha
With a massive rise in popularity of matcha over the last half-decade, it is a tea that has found its way into many food and beverage companies in the country. Used in products like lattes, ice cream, muffins, and more, it is important to understand what separates excellent quality from bad, and how we at Argo are committed to providing a high-quality experience through this amazing tea. This short Tea 101 segment is aimed at providing you with knowledge of Matcha, so you can taste, curate, and appreciate matcha wherever life takes you!
What is Matcha?
Matcha is a finely stone-ground green tea traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies. What might be a surprise to many is that this powdered tea and whisking method was an ancient preparation style in China ~2000 years ago; and now lives on in Japanese tea culture as matcha.
We cannot use any tea leaf to make matcha. “Green Tea Powder” found in some supermarkets, use other leaves which can taste more bitter, astringent, and yield less benefits than Japanese matcha.
Some of the most renown regions in Japan for matcha production include but are not limited to: Uji, Nishio, Shizuoka, Kagoshima, Fukuoka, Miyazaki, and Mie
How Matcha is Grown
Tea leaves for matcha are picked in early to mid-May. 20 days (about 3 weeks) before picking the tea leaves, they are shaded using reeds and straw, or tarps to cover the leaves. Over this timespan, this tarp slowly blocks out the sunlight. The tea leaves respond by producing elevated levels of chlorophyll and L-theanine. The shading process protects the L-Theanine and reduces the amount of catechins - the antioxidant that is often associated with bitterness.
Aracha, Tencha, and Matcha
Once the shade-grown tea leaves are picked and steamed to stop the oxidation process, it is dried and classified as aracha 荒茶. It must undergo further processing to become the matcha we know and love!
The processing team takes the aracha and pulls out the central stem and veins, leaving the supple, dense portion of the leaf. They will uniform the size and length and dry it again, classifying this refined material as tencha 碾茶.
The tea master will then taste the many qualities of the tencha and create the blend best for their needs. Once complete they use round stone mills to grind the tencha into microfine matcha.
The stone grinding process must produce under 10 micros and at a low temperature to not denature the nutrients. 1 hour of grinding creates about 30 grams of matcha. Speaking of grading, Let’s look at different grades you are likely to find and the work that goes behind these systems:
Grades of Matcha
Grading in matcha isn't as black and white as we might expect, though there are a few aspects we note. Ceremonial grade matcha is typically shaded for at least 15 days early in the spring, is ground fine enough to be under 10 microns, and is expertly deveined.
If one does not pay special attention to the process or corners are cut, it will produce matcha that is lower quality. Some examples of how the quality in grades diminishes are below:
- The leaves are not fully shaded for at least 15 days
- The plucking and production is later in the spring/summer
- The deveined tea material includes stems
- The grinding process is sped up or machines are used to grind the tencha instead of granite stones
- Ceremonial Grade - Balanced umami / astringency / bitterness. Beautiful green powder and liquor color. Pleasant aroma. The texture is smooth. Made from spring-harvested tencha. The subtle profiles work well to be enjoyed on its own.
- Culinary Grade - Strong astringency/bitterness. Dull, more yellowish green powder / liquor color. Little to no aroma. Grainy texture. Made likely from low-grade spring and summer harvested leaves. The strength of the tea lends itself to be added in lattes, baked goods, and mixology.
How to Spot Excellent Quality Matcha
With any tea that is being fully consumed, it is important to know the most possible about where and when the Matcha is sourced. The first flush picking lets us know that it was the first harvest of the year, ideal since the need for pesticides and chemical fertilizers is at an all-time low. It should also be organic, and radiation tested.
Information is only one part of the equation and just because something is ceremonial grade does not mean it is of superior quality. We can utilize visual cues to assist!
Referring to the comparative image above, we can see that the matcha on the left has a yellowish, dull tinge. When creating the streak of matcha we can see a lack of consistency. The matcha on the right is our matcha and is vibrant, brilliant in color, and the streak is consistent. This gives us an indication into freshness, quality in the grinding process, and texture once in our mouth.
We recommend properly storing matcha once it’s opened. It is extremely reactive to oxygen and light, and it is recommended to drink properly stored matcha within a year of harvest and within 2 months from opening.
Why Drink Matcha?
Since we are consuming the leaf when drinking matcha, we get 100% of the health benefits from that tea material. With brewing tea, we are normally getting 35-40% of the leaf’s nutrients, so we are obtaining 10-20 times the benefits with matcha than excellent quality green tea.
Matcha possesses prominent levels of vitamins B, C, and minerals. In addition, the amount of L-Theanine is so much higher than in any other tea. L-Theanine is a powerful amino acid that provides umami, a savory, vegetal flavor. It is only found in tea and a few species of fungi. Theanine crosses the blood/brain barrier, directly impacting the chemistry in our brains, including the following.
- Boosts and improves your mood through affecting our dopamine levels
- Improves our cognitive abilities and mental acuity raising alpha brainwave activity
The caffeine levels in matcha are at their highest since we are consuming the leaf. We recommend you gauge how well you metabolize caffeine and go from there. Some individuals feel nausea after drinking matcha, especially on an empty stomach. It is recommended to consume matcha after eating!
How We Celebrate Matcha
At Argo, we use high-quality matcha in our Signature beverages such as the Matcha Vanilla and Matcha Mint Teappuccinos, as well as a warm-weather favorite, Matcha Pineapple Tea Squeeze. You're also sure to see matcha in our vegan green tea muffins and green tea parfait. The possibilities are endless!
As matcha continues to grow in popularity, we have more opportunities than ever to taste this fantastic tea. We recommend you drink matcha grown from highly regarded regions in Japan that have passed the rigorous standards for safety and quality. You can discern the quality of matcha by the texture, color, aroma, and taste of the dry powder and prepared product. Stay tuned for additional content as we explore the various methods of preparing matcha so that you can reap the full benefits of this incredible tea anywhere!
Live life flavorful
- Argo Tea
Health Benefits and Chemical Composition of Matcha Green Tea: A Review
The science of matcha: Bioactive compounds, analytical techniques and biological properties
Tea catechins and polyphenols: health effects, metabolism, and antioxidant functions