Matcha is made of Camellia Sinensis leaves from bushes grown for some of its cultivation cycle under shade cloth, as is Gyokuro. When the growth period has produced 3 to 5 new leaves, it is time to pick those leaves. The timing for this harvest is critical and shows that knowledgeable tea growers are essential to the grade of matcha.
Processing is important, too. The leaves are hand-picked, making them more rare and expensive than most Japanese teas that are harvested by machine, and processed the same day. First, they are steamed by a well-trained expert for a mere 30 to 60 seconds. Steaming time and temperature are determined by leaf thickness, how soft they are, etc., and this process removes the veins and stems. Then the leaves are dried in the shade, crumpled, and shaped. Next is stone grinding, which can take about an hour for only 40 grams.
Factors that affect the price and quality of matcha include the cultivation location, treatment, grinding method, and avoidance of any oxidation (it gives the matcha a hay-like smell and a brownish-green color). High-grade matcha has a vibrant green color and a rich, slightly sweet flavor.
While there are many grades of matcha ranging from food grade used in recipes to a variety of ceremonial grades, there are two basic types:
- Usucha, also called Thin Matcha: The more typical kind and only thin when compared with the thick kind. It’s more strongly astringent than koicha.
- Koicha, also called Thick Matcha: The more rare type, since it comes from older plants 30+ years old. The flavor is milder taste, so you can use twice as much powder when preparing and not have any bitterness. This also accounts for the thicker consistency of the brewed liquid. Koicha is usually more expensive than usucha.
Other items to note for matcha grades:
- The most famous matcha is Nishiocha from Aichi producing region.
- The best matcha comes from the prefectures in Japan of Aichi, Kyoto, Kyushu, and Shizuoka.
- The sweetness and deep flavor of high quality matcha make drinking it in its traditional form or adding it to recipes a unique, enjoyable, and delectable experience.
Which grade you choose will be determined by your wallet and your purpose. If you want to cook with it, go for a lower grade. If you want to enjoy it as your morning cupful, go for a higher grade.