Matcha Boy Basics #1
5 min read
Matcha is a tea. Matcha is a green powder. Matcha is a health food. But what actually is matcha?
Given its characteristic green hue, you probably already know or can guess that matcha is a type of green tea. However, matcha is unique and distinct from the green tea that you’d brew in a teapot.
To delve a little deeper and to understand what matcha really is, we’ll start with a little tale of the tea tree.
A special tree
When you think of tea, you can no doubt imagine all sorts from black tea, green tea, oolong tea, and jasmine tea. Although there are many varieties, all tea (other than non-traditional fruit or herbal tea) is actually produced from the leaves, buds and even stems of just one species of tree; Camellia sinensis.
There are two main varieties of the tea tree or tea shrub; Camellia sinensis var. sinensis from China, and Camellia sinensis var. assamica from Northern India. The cultivated forms of these varieties, otherwise known as ‘cultivars’, are specially selected for certain properties and propagated from cuttings rather than seeds.
Therefore, while cultivars are genetically the same, they have distinct flavour profiles depending on where and how they are grown. For example, Japanese cultivars originated from the Chinese variety, but have since become more niche and localised to regions such as Kyoto prefecture.
In order to classify a tea, it's important to understand the type of cultivar as well as the processing method, which is what we’ll cover next.
What is green tea?
Let’s imagine that our tea shrub is growing happily and is ready to become a tea. Whether the leaves are then steamed or oxidised (fermented), will largely determine what type of tea it will become.
If destined to be green tea, the leaves will not be oxidised. In comparison, white teas are lightly oxidised, and black teas are oxidised further, leading to darker colours.
What is Japanese green tea?
Sencha or Japanese green tea leaves are steamed, rolled and dried, while the Chinese method often involves pan-frying to prevent fermentation and to produce a mildly roasted green tea.
Beyond these differences though, Japanese green tea can be distinct based on the terrain and environment in which it is grown. Common sencha cultivars include; Yabukita, Okumidori, and Samidori. At Matcha Boy, we use an Okumidori and Yabukita blend for our Everyday matcha and Samidori for our Ceremonial Grade matcha.
What is matcha?
So we have learnt the differences between types of tea, and what makes a Japanese green tea unique. Now we are back to the original question; what is matcha?
There are two main factors that make matcha, matcha.
Firstly, Japanese green tea cultivars destined to be matcha, known as tencha, must be grown in shade. Tea farmers need to ensure tencha are shaded for 20 days or more, as this increases the chlorophyll (natural green pigment) content of the leaves. This ultimately gives matcha its vivid dark green colour.
Secondly, when the leaves are harvested, they must be taken to the processing factory on the same day to be steamed and dried. Following this, stray veins and stems are removed before the leaves are ground into a fine powder. This tea is now officially matcha.
Did you know? Matcha is the only tea in which you consume the whole leaf, as you whisk matcha powder together with hot water, instead of brewing it and leaving the leaves behind. You can check out our post on how to make matcha tea here.
Now that you know what matcha actually is, you’ll realise that products marketed as ‘matcha in a tea bag’ or ‘matcha mixed with green tea’ aren’t really matcha. Of course, matcha powder that you’d order from Matcha Boy is 100% pure, made in Kyoto, Japan, and freshly packaged to make its way to you.
We’re on a mission to share the intricacies of tea so that you can experience the best of Japanese tea and matcha. Stay tuned for our next post in this series of Matcha Boy Basics!
- Different types of teas and processing (in Japanese) by the Association of Tea Manufacturing Japan