How is Matcha Produced
Matcha, like all green tea, comes from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. However, the tea leaves used to make matcha are cultivated and processed differently from other types of green tea.
The Shade Growing of Matcha
The method of shade-growing is ubiquitous to matcha. The preparation of matcha begins several weeks before harvesting when the green tea bushes are covered to prevent direct sunlight. Shade-coverings are erected usually in April and traditionally were constructed from reeds. They provide shelter and limit the amount of sun reaching the young tea plants. The initial period of shading reduces photosynthesis from somewhere between sixty to seventy-five per cent. After ten days, a further layer of shading is added. This additional layer limits the sun covering the tea plant by around ninety per cent, leaving them almost entirely in darkness. Shade covering the tea plant forces the leaf to reach out and attract more natural light. Shade covering develops broader, thinner, softer, and greener leaves and sweeter matcha to the palate.
The Matcha Harvest
Traditionally the second day of May was considered the best time to harvest the tea leaf used to make matcha. This is still considered the most favourable date to begin harvesting the tea bushes. The two freshest leaves and a bud located at the top of the tea plant are selected to produce the finest matcha. Only the arduous task of handpicking will pick precisely these leaves.
Modern machinery mainly harvests the matcha fields in the modern era; however, these methods usually can't compete with the quality that hand-finished matcha does. However, many producers have shifted their harvesting practices toward more economical ways.
The Production of Tencha
Once harvested, the tea leaves are subjected to a short steaming process to halt oxidation of the leaves. Steaming adds extra moisture to the surface of the tea leaf. Specialised drying machines remove moisture and separate the leaves. Once the surface of the leaves is sufficiently dry, they are placed onto a rotating belt, which takes them into a heated furnace to dry off excess moisture. It takes several rotations of the conveyor belt until enough moisture is removed. And now we have aracha—known as the crude form of tencha. The tencha leaves will be further refined by separating the stems and veins and cutting them into smaller pieces, making grinding easier.
The Blending of Tencha
Most tea farmers manufacture the leaves until the stage known as ara-tencha.
Each cultivar has its special properties. The tea masters are experts in blending various types of tencha as they have generations of knowledge and experience to combine the best cultivars. It is the job of the tea masters to choose the best combination of cultivars to create a balanced flavour in their tea. Matcha that does not contain blends of several types of tencha lack flavour and depth. Before final processing, the roughly dried tea leaves are further trimmed and filtered.
The Storing of Tencha
The final stage of the manufacturing process involves storing the tencha. The tencha is put into freezers to retain its quality. It may seem more practical to store matcha in its powdered form; however, smaller particles are prone to oxidisation and degradation. The tencha will remain fresher in its frozen state until an order is placed. The tencha then is removed from the freezer and ground before shipping to the customer. Tencha stored in controlled environments retains more nutrients and oxidises less.
The Stone-grinding of Tencha
Tencha can be ground in either of two ways:
Stone-grinding of the tencha is a centuries-old tradition that produces better quality matcha. This manual method uses low controlled speed. Ideally, this method will produce under forty grams of fine, silky matcha powder in each hour. The advantages of the traditional method over newer methods of producing matcha include: lessening the risk of overheating of the tencha, better control over processing, and more retainment of the vitality, flavour and aroma of the matcha. These are the hallmarks of quality matcha.
The other method commonly used to process matcha is modern airflow grinding machines that operate by pulverising larger quantities of the tencha into powder. The volume of leaves used in this process usually produces a less expensive product than manually performed traditional stone-grinding can. However, impairment in quality in terms of flavour and aroma can occur when matcha is ground beyond forty grams of powder each hour.