Saturday, October 22, 2016

Good Matcha is Hard to Find

It's not always easy to find high-quality matcha on the shelf of your local store (or even online for that matter). Indeed, many people who purchase matcha for the first time find themselves rather unimpressed with the tea. This is not surprising since many of the products available today—just aren't that good! Matcha has certainly become quite popular in recent years, in light of its many health benefits. The health craze has been a boon to the tea business with matcha often being featured in many of the latest detox diets and cleanses. While it's great that matcha is finally gaining more recognition, there is one major drawback: demand for the tea has skyrocketed, production has increased, and unfortunately... quality has suffered.

This can pose a problem especially for the new customer. There are now so many matcha products available it can be difficult to even know where to begin!

In this article, I will discuss a few things that you should look for before purchasing your next bag/tin of matcha. Hopefully, after reading this, you will better understand how to discern real, high-grade matcha from the many inferior products littering the market.

The Market is Full of Junk

Many supplement companies are now trying to make a quick buck selling matcha products. It seems like matcha is in everything these days: lattes, energy drinks, smoothies, creams, soaps, pills—you name it! Unfortunately, marketing the health benefits of matcha has allowed taste and quality to become secondary concerns.

After all, if it's good for you, it's probably gonna taste bad... right?

Many companies appear to think that as long as the tea looks at least somewhat greenit will do! Production standards have dramatically decreased and the market is now completely flooded with junk. Cheap, inferior matcha is often sold as "culinary grade" tea for use in baking, smoothies, lattes etc. In my opinion, this is just an excuse to sell a lousy product without people noticing how bad it tastes! You can still cook with high-grade matcha without breaking the bank. Many recipes don't require large amounts of the tea anyway!

The bottom line is that there's simply no reason why matcha can't taste good and be healthy as well!

A close-up of a few matcha capsules commonly sold as a dietary supplements.
A few matcha capsules. What's wrong with drinking tea?

Now don't get me wrong, there is definitely great matcha out there but it's not exactly easy to locate.

In fact, the whole reason that I started Tora Tea Co. was because I was sick of constantly being disappointed by the many different brands of tea that I tried. I wanted to start a company based entirely on quality. I want my customers to be able to purchase tea from me every time without worrying whether they made a mistake or not! I deliberately source only the best tea that I can find: if I don't think a tea is good, then I don't sell it—it's that simple! I would rather earn less money providing an excellent product than earn a fortune selling cheap garbage. Money is always in short supply and like many customers, I hate wasting mine on products that I don't like!

High-Grade Matcha vs. Low-Grade Matcha

Unfortunately, before you actually purchase a bag/tin of matcha, it's going to be difficult to tell whether it's good or bad. Many times, you can't see the powder in the package before you buy it. So what do you look for in this case?

First and foremost: check the origin.

The best matcha traditionally comes from Japan where it has long been revered for it's health benefits. For centuries, matcha served as the ritual drink of samurai warriors and Zen Buddhists. Today, drinking matcha remains an institution of Japanese culture, particularly in the form of the traditional tea ceremony, or chadō (茶道)—"the way of tea." Consequently, the preparation and consumption of matcha in Japan is a very serious affair. Furthermore, the cultivation and production of this tea has been slowly perfected following centuries of knowledge and innovation. Matcha from Japan is simply the best in the world!

A woodblock print illustrating a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
An antique woodblock print depicting the ceremonial preparation of matcha.

A majority of the low-grade matcha being sold today comes from China and Korea. Historically, matcha can trace its roots to ancient China but it's important to note that the country has not produced anything of quality for over 800 years. Currently, the only matcha coming out of China is cheap, mass-produced crap! Unfortunately, the increasing popularity of matcha worldwide has allowed China and other tea producing countries to enter the market in an effort to meet the growing demand. Despite the ability to churn out a vast quantity of matcha, none these countries have the long tradition of expertise required to produce quality matcha!

If you decide to purchase matcha from Japan, you're on the right track; however, there are still a few other factors to consider...

Good Matcha is Expensive

In most cases, the higher the price of the tea, the better the quality. You simply can't buy premium matcha without spending a little extra money. Expect to spend at least $1 to $2 per serving.

I'm sorry and I hate to break it to you... but those 3 oz. containers of matcha for $20 are going to taste terrible.

All of them!

No exceptions!

Like most products on the market, you get what you pay for and matcha is no exception! A lot of labor goes into producing high-grade matcha and price is simply a reflection of that hard work. If you want the best stuff, you're gonna have to pay a little more.

Furthermore, you can't always rely on terms like "premium grade," "super-premium" or "ceremonial grade" etc. as indicators of quality matcha. Far too often, these labels are applied to products completely undeserving of them. While you should be looking to purchase real, ceremonial grade matcha; consider the price of product before any fancy superlatives. If the tea is really cheap, it doesn't matter what the package says because it would probably never be used in a traditional tea ceremony!

After the package is opened, it should be very easy to tell whether you've purchased high-quality matcha or not...

The Greener the Better

High-grade matcha should have a vibrant, emerald green color. This is what you want to see every time you open a newly purchased bag/tin! This bright green color is the result of shading the tea fields approximately one month before harvest. The shading process increases the production of chlorophyll and amino acids within the tea leaves. Chlorophyll is the pigment responsible for the beautiful, green color of matcha while a high concentration of amino acids provides the tea with a smooth and naturally sweet flavor. Moreover, there is a positive correlation between the color of matcha and its amino acid content. The greener the matcha, the more amino acids present within the tea. This makes color a rather reliable indicator of quality: if the tea is really green, chances are, it will taste pretty good!

The unmistakably beautiful, bright green color of TORA Ceremonial Matcha powder.
TORA Ceremonial Matcha powder. Note the rich green color.

Often times, you may find matcha for sale that is dull green, yellow, brown or even gray in color! This is not good stuff! The leaves may not have been properly shaded, if at all, or in many cases—the tea has oxidized. Oxidation is the enemy of good matcha and ultimately compromises color, taste, smell and overall quality. Oxidation usually occurs when matcha is improperly dried, steamed or stored.

A scoop of inferior dull green matcha powder.
The dull green/yellowish color typical of cheap matcha.

Even worse, the "matcha" that you purchased may not even be real matcha! It may be an entirely different type of tea. It's not hard to find ground sencha powder masquerading as matcha. This is particularly common among matcha products with a low price tag.

Matcha should always be green! If you purchased "matcha" and it is any other color than green—it's not matcha! Even if it is green, it still might not be matcha!

You should always rely more on your sense of taste and smell...

An example of an unknown powdered tea often found falsely labeled as matcha.
Another example of low-grade "matcha." What is this stuff? Sand from the beach?


The Sweet Smell of Matcha

The second thing you should notice after opening a package of matcha is the smell. Good matcha will smell very sweet, like fresh leafy greens. There is nothing like opening a brand new bag of matcha and watching the fragrant, green wisps of powder slowly waft toward your nose! Unfortunately, bad matcha often emits a distinctive "hay-like" odor. Stay away from this stuff, you will most likely be disappointed!

Smooth, Sweet and Earthy

Finally, and perhaps most importantly—taste reveals the true nature of matcha. Color and smell may aid your judgement but taste is the only reliable indicator of quality.

Matcha has a rather complex taste comprised of many different flavors. Much like wine, the taste of matcha can vary based upon a number of different factors like soil conditions, growing region, temperature, sunlight etc. Generally speaking, high-grade matcha has a smooth, creamy mouth-feel; it should coat your palate and leave an earthy, sweet flavor that lingers long after you've finished the tea. Conversely, low-grade matcha will almost always taste bitter, astringent and grassy.

Cultivation and Processing

In Japan, the best tasting matcha is produced from the young, tender tea buds of the first flush; or harvest of the year. These leaves are gathered early in the spring, usually around April or May, and are known as ichibancha (一番茶)—"first-picked tea." Matcha produced from second and third flush leaves does not taste nearly as good. In fact, some farmers will only harvest their crop once per year, preferring not to be bothered with subsequent yields; however, this is the exception to the rule. Many times, second and third flush leaves are used to produce lower grade matcha products. It can be impossible to tell whether or not matcha is produced from first flush leaves unless it is specifically mentioned on the package. Ceremonial grade matcha should only be produced from ichibancha, anything less would never be used in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

It is important to note that matcha is produced from a particular type of tea known as tencha (碾茶). Tencha consists of shade-grown tea leaves with the stems and veins removed. If the stems and veins are not removed from the leaves, then when the matcha is ground, the flavor and quality of the tea will be compromised. Unfortunately, many times this removal process is curtailed or skipped entirely when producing cheap matcha.

A large pile of tencha leaves.
Tencha leaves like these are used to produce ceremonial grade matcha.

The speed at which matcha is milled can also have an effect on the quality of the final product. Matcha that is quickly and carelessly ground will often produce a "burnt," inferior tasting tea. Traditionally, high-quality matcha is slowly stone-milled between large granite disks for many hours on end. Just 30 grams of matcha can take over an hour to produce!

TORA Ceremonial Matcha

Clearly, there are many factors that can influence the overall quality of matcha. I hope this guide has helped you to better understand exactly what you should be looking for when shopping for this tea. I know this is a lot of information to digest but there are many things to consider if you wish to purchase the best stuff available.

Fortunately, there is no longer any need to endlessly search for real, high-quality, organic matcha. Tora Tea Co. offers some of the finest ceremonial grade matcha on the market today! Imported directly from Japan, TORA Ceremonial Matcha meets all the standards for high-quality matcha outlined above. There is no need to worry about wasting your money when you buy from us!

So what are you waiting for?

Try TORA Ceremonial Matcha today and experience just how good a cup of tea can be!

Click Here to Purchase TORA Ceremonial Matcha Now!!!
Click Here to Purchase TORA Ceremonial Matcha Now!!!

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