Matcha is finely ground powder of specially grown and processed Japanese green tea leaves, originally consumed in East Asia but now available around the world. The green tea plants used for matcha are shade-grown for three to four weeks before harvest; the stems and veins are removed during processing. During shaded growth, the plant Camellia Sinensis increases its production of theanine and caffeine. The matcha powder is consumed differently from tea leaves or tea bags, as it is suspended in a liquid, traditionally by being whisked into hot water, rather than "steeped".
The traditional Japanese tea ceremony centers on the preparation, serving and drinking of matcha as hot tea, and embodies a meditative spirituality. More recently, matcha is also used to flavor and dye foods, such as mochi and soba noodles, green tea ice cream, matcha lattes and a variety of Japanese wagashi confectionery. Matcha used in ceremonies is referred to as ceremonial grade, meaning that the powder is of a high enough quality to be used in the tea ceremony. Lower-quality matcha is referred to as culinary-grade, but no standard industry definition or requirements exist for matcha.
Blends of matcha are given poetic names known as chamei ("tea names") either by the producing plantation, shop, or creator of the blend, or by the grand master of a particular tea tradition. When a blend is named by the grand master of a tea ceremony lineage, it becomes known as the master's konomi.
Why FRESH Matcha Matters
Let’s Start with Taste
The best feature of freshly milled ceremonial grade Matcha is its rich umami flavor without any bitterness. Freshly milled matcha prepared with hot water does not require milk or sugar to cover up the taste, as do many non-fresh matcha powders, which are susceptible to degrading flavor and rapid oxidation with time.
So if it’s all subject to the same changes, why buy this fresh matcha?
From the moment the tencha (the specially prepared green tea leaves) are ground into a matcha powder, matcha may last from 6 months to a year in an unopened airtight tin kept at room temperature. However, many matcha drinkers notice meaningful flavor changes after one month. Since nearly all commercial matcha is imported from Japan, the age of the product is typically unknown, as were the temperatures the tin experienced during its voyage. This is true of even the highest quality grades of matcha! The expiration date is relatively meaningless on such a tin, whereas the production date of the matcha is critical. At Northeast Tea House, we mill the matcha and mail it to you in an airtight tin on the same or next day, ensuring extraordinary freshness and the best ceremonial grade matcha you can find.
Are there increased health benefits of fresh matcha?
Matcha is loaded with catechins, a class of plant compounds found in tea that act as natural antioxidants. One of those is Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG). These antioxidants help stabilize harmful free radicals in the body, and can neutralize those compounds that cause cell damage, inflammation and chronic disease.
Matcha also contains a compound called L-theanine, one which helps lend the matcha its deep umami flavor, but which also changes the effects of the caffeine in matcha, to provide sustained energy without the jitters and crash in energy level that may accompany other caffeinated products. L-Theanine may also help induce relaxation and reduce stress.
Tryptophan is an amino acid in Matcha that helps the body create serotonin and melatonin, both neurotransmitters that are important for maintaining healthy sleep cycles.
Finally, Matcha contains dietary fiber as well as vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, E, and K.
Whether freshly milled matcha has more of these compounds has not been studied, as few people even have access to fresh matcha. However, the better something tastes, the more likely you are to drink a lot of it!