If you're a fan of matcha tea, you might have noticed that it's not exactly the cheapest tea out there. In fact, it's pretty darn expensive. But have you ever stopped to wonder why matcha is so expensive? In this blog post, we're going to explore the world of matcha and the reasons behind its high price tag.
The Matcha Production Process
Matcha is a type of green tea that is made from shade-grown tea leaves. The tea leaves are covered with shade cloth for several weeks before they are harvested. This process increases the chlorophyll content in the leaves and gives them a vibrant green color. After the leaves are harvested, they are steamed, dried, and then ground into a fine powder using a traditional stone mill.
The process of making matcha is so labor-intensive that it is often referred to as a "labor of love." The entire process is done by hand, and the quality of the matcha is highly dependent on the skill and expertise of the tea farmers and processors. The process begins several weeks before the tea leaves are harvested when the tea plants are covered with shade tarp.
The shade tarp serves several purposes. First, it helps to protect the tea leaves from direct sunlight, which can cause the leaves to become bitter and astringent. Second, it stimulates the production of chlorophyll in the leaves, giving them their characteristic bright green color. Finally, the shade causes the tea plant to produce more amino acids, particularly L-theanine, which contributes to the unique flavor and aroma of matcha.
Once the tea leaves are harvested, they are steamed to stop the oxidation process and preserve their fresh green color. Next, they are dried and sorted to remove any stems and twigs. This sorting process is critical to ensuring that only the highest quality leaves are used to make matcha.
The dried leaves are then ground into a fine powder using a traditional stone mill. This production process is incredibly time-consuming and labor-intensive. It takes about an hour to grind just 30 grams of matcha, which is enough for about 15 servings. Compare that to regular loose-leaf green tea, which can be brewed in minutes and yields many more servings per gram. So, right off the bat, we can see that matcha is going to be more expensive than regular green tea.
This process can take up to an hour to produce just 30 grams of matcha powder. The stone mill used to grind the tea leaves is also crucial to the quality of the matcha. The millstones must be carefully maintained to ensure that they do not become too hot and damage the delicate tea leaves.
The result of this laborious process is a fine powder that is bright green in color and has a smooth, silky texture. The flavor is delicate and slightly sweet, with a slightly grassy and earthy undertone. The quality of the matcha is determined by several factors, including the growing conditions of the tea plants, the skill of the tea farmers and processors, and the quality of the stone mill used to grind the tea leaves.
It is easy to see why matcha is so much more expensive than regular green tea. The entire production process is done by hand, and the quality of the matcha is highly dependent on the skill and expertise of the tea farmers and processors. In addition, the high cost of labor in Japan adds to the overall cost of the product.
Matcha Labor Costs
Matcha is a labor-intensive product, and the high cost of labor is one of the main reasons why it is so expensive. Japan, where most matcha is produced, has a relatively high minimum wage of around 961 JPY per hour, which is higher than most countries. This means that workers in Japan are paid more than their counterparts in other countries.
However, it's not just the minimum wage that contributes to the high labor costs in Japan. There is also a culture of craftsmanship and attention to detail that is deeply ingrained in Japanese society. Workers are not just paid for their time, but also for their expertise and skill. This is particularly true in the tea industry, where the quality of the tea is highly dependent on the skill and expertise of the workers who produce it.
In the case of matcha, the process of growing, harvesting, and processing the tea leaves is incredibly labor-intensive. The tea plants are grown in shade for several weeks before harvest, which requires careful attention and maintenance. The leaves are then hand-picked, which is a time-consuming and physically demanding task. After the leaves are harvested, they are steamed, dried, and then ground into a fine powder using a traditional stone mill. The process of grinding the tea leaves into matcha is particularly time and labor-intensive. This means that there is a great deal of manual labor involved in producing matcha, and the workers who perform this labor are highly skilled and highly paid.
In addition to the high labor costs, there are other factors that contribute to the high price of matcha in Japan. For example, the cost of land in Japan is very high, which means that farmers must pay more to rent or purchase land to grow their tea plants. This, in turn, increases the cost of producing matcha.
The skill of the tea farmers and processors is also critical to the quality of matcha. Skilled workers know how to grow and harvest the tea plants to produce the best quality leaves, and they know how to process the leaves to preserve their flavor and aroma. The use of traditional stone mills to grind the tea leaves is also important. High-quality mills are carefully maintained to ensure that the tea powder is ground to the perfect consistency, which affects the flavor and texture of the final product.
The Quality of Your Matcha
But labor costs and production time aren't the only factors that contribute to matcha's high price tag. Quality is also a huge factor. The best matcha is made from the youngest and most tender tea leaves, which are hand-picked and carefully processed to ensure that they retain their vibrant green color and delicate flavor.
The quality of matcha can vary greatly depending on factors such as the grade of tea leaves used, the location and climate of the tea farm, and the skill and experience of the tea master who processes the leaves. High-quality matcha can cost upwards of $30 per ounce, while lower-quality matcha can be found for as little as $5 per ounce.
Matcha is classified into different grades based on the quality of the tea leaves used, and each grade comes with its own price tag. The highest grade of matcha, called ceremonial grade matcha, is made from the youngest, most tender tea leaves, which are hand-picked and carefully processed to ensure that they retain their vibrant green color and delicate flavor. Ceremonial grade matcha is also shade-grown for longer periods of time than lower grades, which increases its chlorophyll content and gives it a sweeter taste.
Lower grades of matcha, such as culinary grade, are made from older tea leaves that are harvested later in the season. These leaves have a stronger, more bitter taste and are used primarily for cooking and baking. While culinary grade matcha is still high quality and can be used for making matcha lattes and other beverages, it is not as prized as ceremonial grade matcha and is therefore less expensive.
Another factor that can affect the price of matcha is the skill and reputation of the tea master who processes the tea leaves. Just like with any other artisanal product, certain tea masters are highly respected for their expertise and the quality of their matcha. These tea masters can command a higher price for their matcha, as customers are willing to pay more for a product that is produced by a master craftsman.
In addition to the grade and tea master, the location and climate of the tea farm can also impact the price of matcha. Matcha that is grown in certain regions of Japan, such as Uji, is highly sought after for its unique flavor profile and is therefore more expensive than matcha from other regions.
When shopping for matcha, it's important to keep in mind that price isn't always an indicator of quality. While it's true that high-quality matcha can be expensive, it's also possible to find affordable matcha that is still of good quality.
Why is the Quality of Your Matcha Important?
Quality is important because it directly affects the taste and health benefits of matcha. High-quality matcha has a bright green color, a smooth and creamy texture, and a delicate, slightly sweet flavor with hints of umami. It also contains high levels of antioxidants and other beneficial compounds, which make it a popular choice among health-conscious consumers.
When it comes to matcha, you really do get what you pay for. High-quality matcha is made from the youngest and most tender tea leaves, which are carefully picked and processed to ensure their vibrant green color and delicate flavor. These leaves are typically grown in shaded conditions to enhance their sweetness and umami flavor.
Lower-quality matcha, on the other hand, is made from older leaves that have been exposed to more sunlight, resulting in a duller green color and a more bitter taste. These leaves may also be processed using lower-quality methods, such as machine grinding instead of traditional stone grinding, which can affect the texture and flavor of the final product.
One way to ensure you're getting high-quality matcha is to look for specific grades. Matcha is typically graded based on the quality of the leaves used and the processing method. The highest grade, ceremonial grade, is made from the youngest and most tender leaves and is processed using traditional methods. This grade of matcha is typically the most expensive but is also the most prized for its delicate flavor and smooth texture.
Other grades of matcha include premium, culinary, and cooking grades, which are typically made from older leaves and may be processed using less traditional methods. These grades are often used in cooking and baking or for making matcha lattes, as they have a stronger flavor that can stand up to other ingredients.
Ultimately, the quality of your matcha will directly impact the taste and health benefits you receive. While it may be tempting to opt for a cheaper option, you may end up sacrificing flavor and potency. It's worth investing in high-quality matcha from a reputable source to ensure you're getting the most out of your cup of tea.
So, now that you know why matcha is so expensive, you may be wondering where to buy it and how to ensure that you're getting a good quality product. Here are a few tips to help you out:
Check the Grade: Matcha is graded based on the quality of the tea leaves used, with ceremonial grade being the highest quality. While there are different grading systems, looking for matcha labeled "ceremonial grade" or "premium grade" is a good place to start. These grades are made from the youngest and most tender tea leaves, which are carefully processed to preserve their flavor and health benefits. Lower grades may be made from older tea leaves, which can result in a less vibrant green color, a gritty texture, and a less nuanced flavor.
Consider the Price: While price isn't always a reliable indicator of quality, extremely low-priced matcha may be an indication that it is of lower quality. This is because high-quality matcha is more expensive to produce, due to the labor-intensive process of shade growing, hand-picking, and stone grinding the tea leaves. Conversely, extremely high-priced matcha may not always be worth the price, as some brands may be charging a premium for their name rather than the quality of their product. A balance between price and quality is key.
Check the Source: Matcha is primarily produced in Japan, where the culture of craftsmanship and attention to detail leads to a higher standard of quality. When looking for matcha, it's best to choose a brand that sources their tea from Japan. Some brands may also indicate the specific region or farm where their matcha is grown, which can provide insight into the quality and flavor of the tea.
Matcha is expensive because of its labor-intensive production process, the high cost of labor in Japan, and the importance of quality in producing a product with a vibrant green color, smooth texture, and delicate flavor. When buying matcha, look for products that are made in Japan, labeled with a high grade, and have positive reviews from other customers. And, remember that matcha is not only delicious but also a healthy beverage with a range of potential health benefits.
So, go ahead and treat yourself to a delicious matcha latte or a hot cup of matcha tea. Your taste buds and your body will thank you!