Is your Matcha real?

We constantly check new teas in our market. One new “matcha” caught our attention because one of the buyers we deal with was “raving” about it. She says, “Every time this company does a demo, this product sells so well because it’s cheap!”

So we decided to make a purchase and give it a taste test.

Yes, it had a really good price for matcha: $8.99 for 100g pouch. Matcha is usually more expensive than any other type of green tea because it requires intensive labor to grow.

We read every word on the label and still couldn’t find the reason why this matcha could be so cheap. We opened the package and made a cup. Even before we had a taste, we had a doubt about the quality of this matcha: “Is this really matcha??!”

Real matcha should have these two apparent characters: 1) bright green color and 2) creamy taste. (There are also distinctive nutritional characteristics—please click here to see nutritional differences in green tea.)

But the color of this matcha was not bright green. It was dark green, the color of sencha green tea powder.

We took a sip and the taste confirmed our first reaction. The flavor was not creamy at all as matcha should be. It was lightly “shibui”—that’s sencha’s characteristic flavor—English doesn’t have the word with perfect match, but it could be translated as tartness.

So, the buyer was right—the “matcha” was selling well because of the cheap price. Our sample was most likely sencha, and is not organic and is imported from Shizuoka, Japan.  We were terrified thinking of the possibility of what people are really paying for this ‘cheap’ matcha.

As an owner of small tea company which started as a way to spread hope to people, I feel a strong objection about this mislabeled product. But unfortunately in the tea industry, it’s a well known fact that this product is not the only product labeled as ‘matcha’ that is actually made with sencha tea leaves, in order to save cost.  Even worse, if they use “bancha”, tea leaves and stems harvested in late summer or early fall, to make ‘matcha’ powder.  As always, a price that is ‘too good to be true’ may not be a bargain.

So please be smart and learn more. Know what you are paying for and be confident about your choice.

I’d love to summarize what matcha is, so you will be able to choose the best matcha for the price at your local store.

What is Matcha?

Matcha is green tea powder traditionally used for the Japanese tea ceremony. Before they are ground into powder form, the tea leaves are called “Tencha.” Tencha tea leaves are made from green tea plants, Camellia Sinensis, the same plant used to make the other green teas, such as Sencha and Gun Powder. Tencha (matcha) is made from tea leaves grown in shade, Sencha and Gun Powder are made from tea leaves gown in full sun.

If you would like to read now about the differences between matcha and sencha, click here.

What Does “Shade Grown” Mean?

This environment with less sunlight gives the following effects in the tea leaves:

1) Tea leaves create more chlorophyll to obtain more energy from less sun light. Chlorophyll makes energy from the process of photosynthesis. Also Chlorophyll is a pigment, so tea leaves have a brighter green color.

2) Sunlight converts L-theanine in tea leaves to Catechins, green tea’s phenomenal antioxidants. Less sunlight converts less L-theanine and produces fewer Catechins. So the tea leaves grown in shade have more L-theanine and less Catechins than tea leaves grown in full sun.

3) Studies show that the less sunlight, the more caffeine. Tea leaves grown in shade have more Caffeine than tea leaves grown in full sun.

These characteristics from matcha are also found in young tea leaves—because young tea leaves have been exposed to less sun light than more mature leaves.

Matcha History

During the 16th century in Japan, the tea ceremony, “the way of tea,” was established and became popular among the privileged class, such as Zen monks and Samurai warriors. The host and guests valued harmonious tranquility derived from refined simplicity. This sense of beauty is called “Wabi, Sabi” in the Japanese language. Matcha provided a feeling of restrained beauty, or ‘calm alertness.” Modern science has revealed the calm alertness they enjoyed comes from a good balance of caffeine and L-theanine in matcha. Many studies show that majority of the nutrition, including antioxidants, stay in tea leaves after steep tea leaves and that ‘consuming entire tea leaves’ is far more beneficial than drinking steeped teas. Many doctors, including Dr. Oz and Dr. Weil, recommend matcha as a way to consume entire tea leaves, rather than drinking steeped teas.

Matcha Nutrition

Consuming the entire tea leaf is the best way to get powerful green tea health. However, since matcha is grown in shade, matcha contains more caffeine and more L-theanine than the other types of green tea as explained above. The caffeine content depends on the size of the serving but typically one serving has about 25% more caffeine than black tea, and about two-thirds the same amount of caffeine as from a standard cup of coffee.

So, if you want more caffeine but would like to achieve the “calm alertness” of a modern warrior, rather than the “jitters” caused by other strong caffeine drinks, matcha is a great choice for you.

Please note that matcha has more Vitamin A and Chlorophyll than other green teas as a result of its effort for a more efficient photosynthesis process in reduced sunlight.

Please go to “Sencha vs. Matcha” for more detailed information.

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