Tips for Steeping Delicious Green Tea

We hear a lot of this and that about green tea from our customers. Most are thrilled to have discovered this lovely category of sweet, fragrant tea while others find it bitter and astringent or just plain unpleasant. Sometimes there are foods and drink that just do not agree with us and that is that – like a bad first date that is just not meant to be. But other times we wonder if the technique used to steep green tea is going unchecked or if someone was using just plain old or bad tea.

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So, in advance of the new 2016 green tea season which will begin in China at the end of March (4 weeks away), followed by harvests from Japan and Korea as the weather warms in May , let us share some thoughts about how to obtain the best flavor from your green tea. We have found over the years that many tea enthusiasts who think that they do not like green tea actually do, once their steeping technique is adjusted to fit the needs of this fresh, clean leaf.

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1. Start with good, premium grade loose-leaf tea. Supermarket tea will just not deliver good taste and neither will teabag tea (no matter how fancy the teabag or how much you paid for them). There is a reason why most commercial green tea is flavored, and it is almost always to distract from how low-quality the base tea is.

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2. Buy fresh tea. Try to purchase green tea that is sold with a current harvest date, not an expiration date. Green tea is especially perishable, so if the tea is more than 1-year old or has no harvest date listed, pass on it and purchase tea from a vendor that sells tea from the current year’s spring season. Old tea will lack flavor and aroma and be unsatisfying or worse, harsh and bitter.

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3. Beware of other aromas fouling your tea. Tea leaves can easily pick up other aromas, so beware when purchasing tea from spice shops or other stores in which there are strong competing aromas in the air. Ditto for storing your green tea – do so away from other aromas in your pantry or kitchen cabinet.

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4.  Do not refrigerate or freeze your tea. Cold, humid air can affect the moisture content of the leaf and yield strange flavors. Keep your green tea dry and in a clean container.
NOTE: some Japanese tea drinkers refrigerate their sencha and matcha, but they do so very carefully in airtight metal containers that do not allow for moisture exchange. If you choose to follow this storage practice, do so meticulously.

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5. Use enough leaf. We recommend using 2-3 grams of leaf tea for every 6-ounces of your tea-steeping vessel’s capacity. Green tea has tremendous variation in leaf size (from 1.5 inches long to very tiny) and also comes in many shapes and and densities (from curls to flat to fluffy). So it becomes difficult to measure many green teas by the teaspoon, tablespoon, etc. Use an inexpensive gram scale if you seriously want to have consistent results and get the right amount of leaf in the cup. ‘Eyeballing it’ produces results that will be successful 50-50 at best. Seriously.

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6. Know your water. Good water will allow the bright flavors of your tea to shine in all its complexity – bad water will dull the flavor and flatten out the taste. Lu Yu, the Tang dynasty author of The Classic of Tea said that water drawn from the center of a flowing mountain stream is best.Since that is not possible for most of us, tap water is often the default water for steeping tea. But is your tap water soft or hard? Hard water contains a high percentage of calcium and magnesium and other salts that may overwhelm the taste and subtlety of green tea. Soft water is the opposite – it contains very few minerals. Taste-wise, soft water is generally preferred for tea steeping. But the best for tea steeping is to use sweet tasting, slightly neutral water, which is easily obtained by purchasing bottled spring water in the supermarket. Avoid mineral water and distilled water.

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7.  Use short steeps. Green teas are sweetest and most elegant when they are steeped for 1-2 minutes; longer than that in the water only encourages bitterness in the cup. You will also gain the opportunity to re-steep most green tea one or two additional times if you steep this way. Much of the joy for Asian tea drinkers is observing how the tea changes in taste and character on each re-steeping.

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Drink Your Tea Like a Local

We are often asked what is the best way to enjoy green, oolong, Pu-erh (and other Hei Cha), and white teas. Many tea drinkers wish to expand their range of tea drinking, and the usual questions are milk or not? and sweetener or not?

0394_tea_pilesWe are thrilled that many are beginning to understand that there is a preferred way to drink most tea. In truth, some teas are manufactured with the intention that milk /sugar will be added while other teas are meant to be drunk plain. It is good to learn to discriminate between the milk-teas and the non-milk teas. Habitually adding milk/sugar to any and every tea because that is what you are used to doing will be sure to disappoint.

0187_korean_pour_1But this is not how many go about preparing a cup of tea (neither is it for a cup of coffee). In all of our years selling tea we have heard just about every variation on how people like to drink their tea. Sometimes the reasoning is not clear to us behind why they do what they do, and we wonder if it is not the variety of add-in options that is confusing the issue. Remember the scene in the movie LA Story where the Steve Martin character orders a particularly confusing cup of coffee: I”ll have a half-double decaffeinated half-caff with a twist of lemon?” Huh?

For instance, we have been told:
” I drink black tea plain but I add almond milk to green tea.”
” I add honey to green tea and sugar to black tea.”
” I add non-dairy creamer to black tea and 2% milk to green tea.”
” It depends on my mood.”
” If I have left it in the teapot too long I add milk.”

And so it goes. We always wonder why so many add so much to their tea, and why some teas are given different add-in’s than others. For in truth, premium tea such as we sell is a far cry from the sharp, astringent blends one finds in packages of supermarket tea. It really only needs simple preparation to be truly delicious.

  • Do these add-in’s really give some tea a better taste or is a dash of this and a bit of that added by habit and from the taste of ‘familiarity’ that these products add to the core beverage?
  • Or do these add-ins help to cover up the taste of tea that was carelessly steeped?
  • Or is it simply because most Western tea drinkers drink black tea and adding milk and sugar is how we grew up thinking it should be done. Because, of course, any good Brit will tell you emphatically that yes, that is how it should be done.

For example, I recently happened to catch a few minutes of the 1943 movie “Lassie Come Home” that features child-star Roddy McDowell and a 10-year-old Elizabeth Taylor. In the story, Lassie treks from Scotland back home to England to be with her young owner. Along the way she rests for a bit in the care of an elderly Scottish couple. As the kindly woman gives Lassie the last of the milk in the house, her husband points out to her that she will have no milk for her morning tea. The woman says: “Well, I hear tell that in America now they drink their tea without milk.” He chuckles and replies: “That’s just because they don’t know any better.”

Was this movie referring to a trend towards green tea drinking that had caught on in a small way in America in the 1930’s and 1940’s or was it just dialogue? One may never know, but it does underscore the absoluteness of adding milk to black tea for that gentleman.

0121_Indian_ClaySetIt is true that Westerners are historically black tea drinkers. Chinese black tea and dark oolong (most likely these teas were not quite as we know them today) were the types of tea that first filled the larders of European households from the 17th century onward. And to properly drink this exotic beverage, handled tea cups, large tea pots and the numerous other tea wares and tea tools were devised to suit the Western sense of table-wares and decorum. This in turn gave Americans and Europeans a way to fuel their ever-growing desire to drink more tea in fancier and nicer ways.

photo courtesy of the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, Toronto, Canada

photo courtesy of the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, Toronto, Canada

The use of black tea consumed with milk/sugar (which was the European way with all temperance beverages and which fulfilled their voracious sweet tooth, as well) continued in America and Europe – and still continues today. Which means that most of us grew up drinking black tea steeped in a large pot (or from a teabag ) served with milk/sugar.

So, this familiar way of drinking tea leads some to suspect that the answer to how to drink certain other teas can be broken down simply as: “yes on milk /sugar for black tea and hold on both for all the others.”  While this approach might work some of the time it is a bit simplistic.

Since we always like our customers to look at the large picture, this is how we look at the answer to the milk/sugar question.

0284_puerh_teasFirst, think about which tea producing country made the tea in question. The methods of tea manufacture are different in every tea producing country, and the types of tea that each country produces is based historically on one of two purposes.

  • is the tea produced:1. as a product for local consumption and 2. as an export commodity?
  • or is the tea produced: 1. as an export commodity and 2. as a product for local consumption?

1.  China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan have the longest histories of tea production. Historically, tea production was begun and perfected in each of these countries with the intention of pleasing their local populations of tea drinkers. Over time, these countries exported their tea to other places, but the tea that was exported (with a few exceptions such as border tea and trade-route tea, and teas drunk by forest-dwelling ethnic groups in southwest China) was essentially the same tea that was being drunk in these countries. The important thing to think about here is that all of the tea made in Asia (which includes all of the six classes of tea: green, yellow, white, oolong, black and dark tea or Hei Cha) is manufactured to be drunk plain. These teas were and still are manufactured to please the local tea drinking preferences first, and as an export product second.

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2. India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and the collective countries of Africa, Indonesia and South America are all relatively new tea producing countries. The commercial tea industries in all of these countries were begun by foreigners, primarily the English and Scottish, in the 19th century to fill their home markets with strong, dark style black tea that was to their liking. Which means that these teas are manufactured to be drunk with the addition of milk and sugar, and so were made to stand up to this dilution without losing flavor or character.

With the exception of 1st Flush Darjeeling and some Nepal black teas which are light, fruity and tastier when drunk black, teas from the above mentioned tea producing countries will be most delicious with the addition of milk/sugar and less agreeable when drunk plain. English-style black teas are usually small in size, even when whole leaf, and tend to be quick steeping and astringent.

0273_tinsIn contrast, Chinese black teas are smooth, and complex and elegantly perfect to drink plain. These teas are whole-leaf teas of varying sizes that yield very little astringency in the cup. Their subtle flavors and aromas are masked by the addition of milk/sugar.

0382_gaiwan_potSo in a nutshell, if you know where a tea was made you will know how it is meant to be drunk.You may still prefer to drink your tea with a bit of this and a splash of that, but before you begin adding milk/sugar as always, taste the tea first. When in doubt as to what to do, remember that any tea will taste best when you ‘drink your tea like a local.’

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Higashiyama Village Tea

In November I had the pleasure of visiting the tea producing village of Higashiyama, in Kakegawa City, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. What immediately caught my eye as I approached the tea fields was a gigantic character for the word ‘tea’ emblazoned near the top of Mt. Awantake.

This symbol lords over the tea fields making a bold statement about local sense of pride. We have not seen such an ambitious endeavor before in Japan, China or Taiwan, and I was impressed by the sentiment and pride that such a strong symbol conveyed. I later found out that the symbol is spelled out in cypress trees that were planted in 1985, which makes the effort even more astonishing. Around the other side of the mountain (on a clear, sunny day) Mt. Fuji can be seen in the near distance.

I soon realized that I had arrived at a very special tea producing place. I met some amazing tea people here, and spent a day with them learning about their delicious tea. As soon as I arrived home Bob and I placed an order for these teas, and are proud to add them to our stellar line-up of unique Japanese green teas.

About Higashiyama Tea and Sustainability
In Japan, bio-diverse landscapes (healthy landscapes that function undisturbed by man and that contain a diverse group of native plant, insect and animal species) are being studied for the positive value they bring to local environments. In these landscapes, farmers work in a manner that supports a healthy ecosystem by incorporating traditional farming practices along with modern methodologies. These intact environments are referred to as Satoyama, which in Japan means mountains, woodlands, and grasslands surrounding villages.

Unfortunately, many of these once plentiful grasslands are gone from parts of Japan because of urbanization and development. But, here in Higashiyama village, tea farmers carry on traditions begun 100 years ago of protecting the grasslands – chagusaba – and of utilizing the grasses to improve the soil and provide essential nutrition to the tea bushes.

These grasses – chagusa – are vital to the tea farmers, who believe that the quality of their tea depends on their usage of chagusa in the tea fields. For them, chagusa is so integral to their tea that to them no chagusa means no Higashiyama tea. This beneficial partnership of landscape and sustainable farming upholds a tradition and way of life that is no longer commonly found in modern Japan while maintaining a quiet beauty to the natural landscape.

The chagusaba are protected by the tea farmers who also work diligently to re-plant chagusa where these grasslands once existed but have been destroyed. This laborious form of natural agriculture is scarce now even in Japan, making the tea fields – and the tea – in Higashiyama a rare specialty.

Chagusa – Natural Straw Compost Fertilizer

In Higashiyama village these semi-native grassland areas grow in small patches amid the well-delineated and orderly cultivated tea gardens. For those who are familiar with the customary rows of well-manicured tea bushes planted in orderly Japanese tea gardens, the Higashiyama landscape of grasslands scattered amid the tea gardens is a lovely mosaic of color and texture. A drive up to the top of Mt. Awantake shows clearly that the landscape surrounding the tea gardens has a harmonious appearance, something that is missing from tea areas that have not maintained native grasslands.

In return for maintaining these grasslands, the chagusa – thought of as ‘grasses for tea’ – gives the farmers an annual supply of straw compost fertilizer to harvest and spread in the tea gardens. The chagusa is a variety of tall silver grass (along with bamboo grass other naturally-growing native plants) that thrive in this protected area. The chagusa is cut in the fall, tied and hung in bunches to dry, then mechanically chopped into spreadable-sized pieces.

The chopped straw is laid down between the rows of tea bushes after the last tea harvest of the year (the bancha harvest ) in October. This work of harvesting, cutting, and dressing the tea gardens continues into the winter: new straw is added over the old straw and the furrows between the rows are built-up with a healthy quantity of compostable material that breaks down to enrich the soil, inhibit weeds, and control erosion.

The Tea Farmers
Only 90 tea farmers are allowed to grow tea in Higashiyama, and with this privilege comes the commitment to carry on the traditions of farming, preserving the grasslands and sharing in educational activities that support their agricultural work. The tea farms comprise about 420 acres and the grasslands comprise roughly 274 acres. I was told that this is a nearly ideal ratio of tea gardens to grasslands which allows the tea farmers to make a sustainable living from the land. As long as balance is maintained and the grasslands are preserved, sustainability will continue.

Farming began in Higashiyama sometime in the Edo Period ( 1603-1868 ) with land that was granted to Kazutoyo Yamanouchi, a vassal of the Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa. Some 130 years ago in the Meiji Period ( 1868-1912) tea farming began in the vicinity of Higashiyama and Awantake mountain. The importance of chagusaba was understood in the past and its value is still appreciated by tea farmers in Higashiyama today.

Note: customers and friends sometimes ask us why we find it necessary to travel to Asia to purchase tea. They wonder why we just don’t buy it from importers or wholesalers …like everyone else does. Our response to that is this: we believe that one will only find the most extraordinary teas if one goes looking for them in their country of origin. The best teas are bought and sold face to face to those who go the extra mile to search out the small producers making extraordinary teas. Visiting a tea producing country is always about the relationships one develops and the little moments that occur between people from different cultures when they communicate over a shared passion. The stories that one carries back cannot occur if one is not there to experience them. If I had never visited Higashiyama village, I would not have discovered this lovely tea, nor been told the story of the chagusaba. Nor would I have been treated to a delicious lunch prepared by the ladies of the village. For us at Tea Trekker it is a matter of believing that when one reaches out to others, that action comes back with a bonus.

Please click the links below to view Tea Trekker’s selection of these exclusive teas

            Sencha Fukamushi Kakura           Sencha Fukamusha Mt. Awantake 

Kagoshima Japan Tea Fields

The Kagoshima region of Kyushu Island is stunningly beautiful. I am in Chiran, the premiere growing area of Kagoshima. Here, the tea fields lie flat and straight, from a high vantage point one can see small tea gardens of various sizes laid out in a grid pattern. The deep, rich color of the tea bushes is accentuated by a matte finish that the tea bushes have acquired from the final clipping that they have been given in October and from the deep green color stage that they are in this time of year.

The final clipping is not turned into tea but is done to simply trim the bushes and ready them for their upcoming rest period. Tea harvesting will begin again next year in April or May, depending on the location of the tea farm and how quickly the warm air and heat buildup in the soil stimulates the plants to send out new growth.

As in most regions of Japan, tea harvesting is carried out by machine clipping, and the Kagoshima region is no exception. Some small farmers with only 30 or so hectares of land ( approx.. 74 acres ) have invested in the ownership of a massive leaf cutting machine that they use to obtain their fresh leaf in four different plucking times throughout the spring and summer months from June thru August. For me, it is a completely different sight to see these machines out in the fields as compared to the hand-plucking that goes on in Chinese tea gardens, or in a high-mountain Taiwan tea garden where the land is seriously sloped and sometimes almost vertical.

Differences in the contours of the land and the various approaches to tea harvesting and production are just one part what makes tea so interesting. It did not take too many days of meeting these people and listening to their stories and tasting their teas for me to become a big fan. We are excited about the future prospect of having some of these teas in our shop and on our website.

Will the Real Matcha Please Stand Up

A few months back I applauded the news that Darjeeling tea had been granted Protected Geographic Indication status by the European Commission.  I posted about this on our Tea Trekker’s blog so that tea enthusiasts could read why this is was an important step forward for the protection of all distinctive tea, not just for Darjeeling.

(To keep this post from being far too long, please click on the link below to refer back to my original post for an explanation of the importance of Protected Status for foodstuffs…and for tea.

http://wp.me/pi2BE-QE )

From my perspective as a veteran tea professional, protecting the name and essence of distinctive (or famous) teas (those teas with un-duplicatable style and flavor that are the result of unique conditions of terroir) is becoming increasingly essential.

At Tea Trekker we are traditionalists, and we support and sell authentic original teas and not copy-cat substitutes. We want our Darjeeling tea to be from Darjeeling, India; our Longjing to be from Xi Hu Region, Zhejiang Province, China; our Tieguanyin to be from Anxi region, Fujian Province, China; our Tung Ting to be from Tung Ting Mt, Lugu Township, Nantou County, Taiwan,  and our Matcha to be real Matcha powder from Japan.

If it were up to me, I would protect all the famous teas from copycat imitators. But protection is not up to me – it is up to the producers in their respective countries to apply for this status. But I can use my blog to enlighten tea enthusiasts about the teas that I believe need to be granted protected product status and what to watch out for in the marketplace.

So I begin my defense of authentic teas with my case for traditional Japanese Matcha.

WHY JAPANESE MATCHA?

Because Matcha is unique in the world of tea. It is the most labor- intensive tea cultivated and produced tea in Japan. It is foundation upon which Japanese tea drinking culture is built, and it commands respect across all borders in the tea drinking world.  it is as relevant today as it was in the days of  Samurai warlords who lay down their swords to drink humble bowls of Matcha with the great tea masters of their day.

It is easy to define Matcha in just a few words – powdered green tea – but few perhaps realize that Japan also produces other powdered green teas that are not Matcha. These teas are sold as powdered green tea, and there is no attempt to fraud the consumer. I applaud this clarity and transparency which shows respect for both producer and consumer and allows Matcha to retain its venerable reputation while offering consumers other, clearly-identified, less expensive alternatives.

What concerns me in the U.S. is the proliferation of non-Japanese powdered green teas  marketed as ‘Matcha’ both on the internet and by a few notable tea wholesalers. Calling these powdered teas ‘Matcha’ suggests that they are Japanese when the truth may be quite different.

One such offender has gone as far as to advertise  Chinese ‘Matcha’ as a less expensive alternative with the same taste! Another shameful tea wholesaler is marketing non-Japanese green and ‘white’ tea powders of unspecified origins (Africa? ) as ‘Matcha’. These teas are less expensive than Matcha so I question the quality of the leaf used and wonder if the tea has been processed with the same care and diligence as Japanese Matcha.

My issue regarding the mis-use of the name Match is  the confusion that these mis-labeled or un-labeled non- Japanese powdered tea products bring to the marketplace. Un-informed consumers may not ever know that these products are not true Matcha, nor that they are purchasing products that in our opinion, have little to offer in terms of flavor or cultural integrity.

Other than marketing a new product for the sake of marketing a new product, I wonder what these tea products really have to offer tea lovers.  To me, product marketing that elevates the status of non-authentic products to something grander by the suggestion that their products have something in common with the authentic original is misleading, plain and simple. This is wiggly ground at best.

I believe that these tea powders should be properly identified as tea powder or powdered tea and clearly labeled as to their country of origin.  If their strong suit is for baking or mixing into beverages, then fine. But they should not be marketed as if they were on the same playing field with genuine Japanese Matcha. Here is why I feel strongly about this.

On one of our tea buying trips to China we visited a Japanese-built, Japanese-operated ‘Sencha’ factory in eastern China. The tea we tasted was not delicious and nothing like Japanese Sencha, but it suited the needs of this company as a source of inexpensive Sencha-style tea to sell to manufacturers of bottled tea beverages, green tea desserts, green tea cosmetics, etc. This tea factory also produces ‘Matcha’, but as their leaf green tea was sour and unpleasant (the  wrong tea bush varieties and very different terroir), we found that the powdered tea only amplified those undesirable characteristics. The tea lacked the vibrant green color of authentic Matcha, and the taste was thin, metallic and off-putting. In no way was this powdered tea an acceptable substitute for Japanese Matcha.

(NB: One exception to the above…..I want to make the point here that I am not including Korean powdered green tea in this ‘mis-labeled’ commentary. All of the Korean powdered green tea that  I am aware of has been clearly labeled as a product of Korea, and I applaud them for labeling their products truthfully and with pride ).

WHAT IS MATCHA?

Historically, the usage and production of Matcha powder is associated with Japan and Japan’s unique tea drinking practice. The Japanese learned of Chinese tea drinking practices in the Song dynasty (960-1279) that utilized tea which was scraped from tea cakes made from compressed, powdered tea.  By the 16th and 17th centuries, Japanese tea masters perfected the technique of grinding whole leaf tea into tea powder. Tea masters whipped this gossamer tea powder into a froth with bamboo whisks in an over-sized tea bowl known as a chawan.

Matcha was used by a succession of influential tea masters who shaped and codified Japan’s nascent tea drinking culture. As each tea master was succeeded by another, they effected changes and re-defined the tenets of tea drinking. From these early tea drinking methods, Chanoyu ( the Japanese tea ceremony) developed, and Matcha became tea royalty.

Today, as in the past, Matcha is serious business in Japan. Very exacting standards for Matcha cultivation and manufacture are followed, and devotees search out venerable tea shops for their favorite Matcha. In a country that produces much expensive tea, Matcha is still Japan’s most expensive tea.

SO WHILE MATCHA IS POWDERED TEA, NOT ALL POWDERED TEA IS MATCHA

Starting with the manner in which the fresh leaf for Matcha is cultivated to the subsequent steps of specialized tea manufacture in the tea factory, Matcha is a the result of precise detail and exactness.

With the exception of one other tea – Gyokuro – the fresh leaf  that is grown for Matcha is cultivated under conditions unlike that used for Japan’s leaf teas. The leaf processing techniques are unique for Matcha as well, so much so that Matcha is processed with specialized equipment used only for processing Matcha.

Japan produces both Matcha and powdered green tea, and the processes for each have little in common.  Japanese powdered teas are sold as that – powdered tea – and not as Matcha. Tea companies that specialize in Matcha create different styles of Matcha with varying flavor profiles for various uses. Some Matcha is for Chanoyu; others are for everyday tea drinking, hot or iced; and some for culinary or cosmetic uses.

TRADITIONAL USES FOR MATCHA

For Chanoyu, some types of Matcha are used for usacha (thin tea ) while others are designed to be used for koicha ( thick tea ). Each tea ceremony schools has a particular Matcha that has been selected by the Grand Master and is blended to his wishes. These Matchas or okonomi are used by the tea teachers when conducting tea ceremonies and in classes with advanced students.

Different Matcha is used throughout the four seasons, as well. Some Matcha is to be used from the middle of June to the end of August, or from early December to early January. Practitioners of Chanoyu select their Matcha for specific tea ceremonies with the same diligent thought that they put into selecting the appropriate chawans and other elements for the particular toriawase ( grouping of tea utensils).

HOW IS MATCHA PRODUCED ?

Cultivation:  fresh leaf for Matcha is plucked from tea bushes that are grown in the shade for a period of time under a covering called a tana. The tana is a permanent frame structure that stands all year long. Approximately 20-30 days before plucking either mesh cloth (modern-way) or straw matting (traditional way ) is placed over the tana and the bushes are covered. This method cuts the available light that the plants receive by about 90%, insuring that the usual photosynthesis within the plants stops, and that chlorophyll production will be high. This reversal of the internal leaf chemistry increases sweetness in the finished tea by producing a higher percentage of amino acids. This is one reason why good Matcha has a creamy, umami-type mouthfeel.

 Plucking Techniques: without natural light tea buds stretch towards the minimal ight available to them. The leaves grow long and slender and have a weak stem. Shade-grown leaf for Matcha ( Gyokuro, too ) is usually hand-plucked ( whereas most Japanese tea is machine harvested).

Manufacturing Techniques: when the fresh leaf enters the tea factory it is quickly steamed on a conveyor belt, then air-dried in a vertical wind-tunnel where the leaf is  free to blow loosely around the tunnel and remain as flat as possible. After this, the leaf is passed through an oven-type dryer. Unlike the process for making leaf green teas, leaf for Matcha is never rolled, pressed or otherwise shaped.

Refining Techniques: at this point, the leaf is called TENCHA. The tencha is chopped into small bits, and the stems and veins are removed from the leaf by an electrostatic cleaning. The de-stemmed tencha is once again cut and dried.

Grinding Techniques: the tencha is milled to a micron-fine powder in a rotary mill comprised of two granite millstones. The millstones are kept in prime operating condition by stone mill carvers who keep the intricate, web-like pattern of fine, tiny grooves on the stones in precise cutting condition. Slow, careful grinding of the tencha brings out the flavor and fragrance of the tea, which should be fresh and lively, vegetal, slightly bitter yet with a measure of sweetness. The best Matcha is full-bodied and creamy, and it should not be grassy or bitter.  The more costly Matcha for Chanoyu are splendid, rich,  mouth-filling and silky and like no other tea.

HOW IS JAPANESE GREEN TEA POWDER DIFFERENT FROM MATCHA?

In contrast, most Japanese powdered green tea is  made from kabuse leaf (fresh leaf that is shade for less time). It is then processed using the same manufacture for Sencha green tea, not the manufacture for tencha. This leaf is  ground in a drum-roll grinder with the stems and veins remaining, so the flavors will be stronger and less sweet. The powder will be less fine.

Japanese green tea powders are wonderful for culinary uses as the flavors are stronger and the leaf has more astringency which stands up well to the addition of other ingredients. Also, the cost of powdered green tea is significantly less than the cost of Matcha.

BECOMING A MATCHA ENTHUSIAST

We are Matcha enthusiasts, and want others to enjoy this special beverage, too.

Remember, that when you drink Matcha means that you are consuming the entirety of the tea leaf.  Real Matcha has a sweetness and delicious creaminess to the taste and mouthfeel because the stem and veins have been removed from the leaf.

Matcha is expensive, and the cost for top grades of Matcha is especially high. But one does not have to purchase tea ceremony-quality tea to have an enjoyable, everyday drinking Matcha. Some Japanese tea companies recognize the cost factor and are making ‘everyday’ grades of Matcha available for times when cost is a factor.

Also, less expensive Japanese powdered green teas are a terrific alternative to the more costly Matcha for baking or adding to slushies or fruit smoothies.

Try and discern if your tea vendor is selling true Japanese Matcha and powdered Japanese green tea versus other powdered teas from other places, and make sure you know what you are purchasing.

Freshness is important, too. Matcha should be from the current harvest or the previous harvest, depending on the month of the year the tea is purchased.

WHEN IS MATCHA NOT MATCHA?

There are those in the tea industry who argue that it is merely the processing techniques and manufacture that makes tea what it is. Therefore,  they believe, the same tea can be produced in any place in the world if the original techniques and leaf pluck are used. In other words, Matcha is ‘Matcha’ is Matcha.’

We disagree completely with this idea.

We believe that unique teas are the result of a combination of the elements of terroir (place) that simply cannot be reproduced, such as:

  • specific conditions due to geography and altitude
  • soil conditions,  climate and weather patterns
  • the craft of tea making ( history, culture and custom)
  • technique and skill ( expertise cannot always be copied successfully from one place to another)
  • local tea bush cultivars and varietals
  • seasonal plucking styles and methods
  • method of leaf manufacture

Accordingly, Tea Trekker only sells authentic Japanese Matcha and powdered green tea from Japan. We firmly believe no other Matcha tastes like Japanese Matcha.

We also believe that tea makers who follow a long line of tea makers before them and strive to keep the unique tea making traditions of their region and country alive deserve our support and our encouragement.

Please feel free to point out the differences between Matcha and powdered green tea to others that you encounter on the internet or in tea shops!

My elaboration on Matcha is meant only to give a brief overview of the particulars of this extraordinary tea. Certainly anyone interested in further study of Matcha will find this to be a richly rewarding topic filled with depth and dimension.