Japanese matcha is becoming increasingly popular worldwide as more and more people become aware of the tea’s unique taste, colour and potentially amazing health benefits. Without stepping foot in the tea’s homeland, one can easily look up all sorts of information about matcha on the Internet. The problem is that the majority of this information is provided by groups trying to sell matcha teas; websites like these rarely explain the most important points for first time buyers trying to get to grips with the world of matcha. Here, we want to lay out the basic facts about Japanese matcha for those considering buying matcha tea.
Firstly, matcha is priced in a rather unique way in Japan. Each tea produced is given a price based on quality (colour, taste, scent and so on), but there are no scientific standards used to determine these features. Rather, it is a very human process based solely on the five senses of the tea experts at each production company. This means that two different products from two different companies might have the same price but look and taste noticeably different.
To give a brief explanation, higher grade matcha teas will have a very bright, vivid colour, and contain no notes of bitterness or harshness. In contrast, lower grade matcha teas are much less vividly coloured (often appearing more yellow than green) and their flavour contains stronger bitter notes. However, note that this bitterness complements sweet cooking perfectly, and for that reason, lower grade matcha is used when making matcha food products.
Further, there is not a large amount of organic matcha produced in Japan. This is an important point. The reason for this is that fertiliser-free, organic matcha leaves tend to lack a variety of nutrients, which results in a bitter tasting final product. As a result, bitter organic matcha teas are sold at relatively low prices in Japan. It is possible to find very delicious organically produced matcha teas which are grown using special organic fertilisers, but due to the hugely increased manpower necessary to produce these, their prices are much higher than normal matcha teas.
When you drink matcha, you ingest the whole tea leaf in its powdered form. As such, it is understandable that health conscious customers would find organically produced matcha more appealing. Customers must just be aware of the dangers of buying organic matcha outside Japan, as in many cases a tea that would fetch a low price in Japan is sold at a much higher price abroad as a ‘ceremonial organic matcha’. In Japan we don’t normally use organic matcha for the tea ceremony.
So, how should you pick a good matcha tea? In Japan, we tend to trust the tea brand. There are several famous, long-standing matcha production companies in Japan which take the utmost pride in their teas. As the world of matcha is highly competitive, they cannot afford to market poor quality products, as their customers would simply switch to another brand. Even amongst the teas of these famous brands, each product has subtle differences; it is best to try out a variety of brands and find the tea which suits you best.
Unfortunately most of the matcha sold outside Japan has been rebranded by secondary sellers and so it can often be unclear which Japanese company produced the tea. In order for demand to grow for better quality matcha outside Japan, tea drinkers need to inform themselves about matcha and become able to judge the value of the products they try for themselves.
Our aim is, at the very least, for as many people as possible to find a tea they love: a tea that matches their tastes and lifestyle.
About the Author: Ritsuo Takahashi is the founder and owner of Grace & Green Matcha in Japan, a start-up company, newly founded in 2015. The company was founded to help make stepping into the world of matcha that bit easier.
*Do you want to learn more about the quality of matcha? Read my tips on how to tell what kind of matcha you are drinking/buying on my comparison post.