From Leaf to Cup: How Matcha is Harvested |

green tea leaves field and the matcha tea cup with whisk and bamboo scoop on the bottom

From Leaf to Cup: How Matcha is Harvested

How is matcha made? It’s a complicated question that doesn’t have a solid, straight answer. There is a lot that goes into the growth, harvest, and production of matcha, and you’ll find there’s a wide array of different answers depending on the grade and characteristics of your favorite Japanese matcha powder. 

If you’re interested in the process, however, that might be something that we can help to explain. How is matcha made? Keep reading to find out more:

If you’re interested in the process, however, that might be something that we can help to explain. How is matcha made? Keep reading to find out more:

Knowing the Right Plants

Did you know that all of the tea produced comes from the same tea plant? All tea, whether it be green tea, oolong tea, black tea, or even matcha, come from the camellia Sinensis plant. There are a couple of different varieties of this plant, but the ones that produce the best matcha are all Japanese varieties named samidori, Oku Midori, and yabukita. 

You may be wondering how these different varieties of tea, including Japanese matcha powder, can come from this single plant. The answer is simple: it’s the same plant but with different harvesting times, harvesting methods, and processing methods. 

Green tea comes from this plant and is simply steamed and dried once it is harvested. Oolong tea is made when you partially ferment the tea leaves, and black tea is the result of a full fermentation of the leaves. 

Matcha is also green tea, but the harvesting, growing, and production are much different. Instead of processing matcha so you can steep it, this type is made into a green tea powder and enjoyed like that. 

As a result, Japanese matcha powder has a very distinct flavor apart from the other types of tea. It typically has a bold but smooth vegetable-like flavor, much like spinach or brussels sprouts, with a slightly sweet yet grassy finish. This is because the flavor of the tea comes from the leaves themselves, and the chlorophyll gives it that unique flavor that doesn’t quite come through in other types of tea. 

Technically, it is possible to make tea from practically any plant, but to have the true experience of tea, it should come from the camellia Sinensis plant. Anything else may not match up to expectations! 

green tea leaves

How You Know Your Matcha is the Best Quality

When you’re trying to determine if your Japanese matcha powder is the best quality possible, there are a few different determining factors. 

The first thing that you should look for in your green tea powder is the color. When you have a high-quality Japanese matcha powder, the powder should be a bright, vivid green. If it isn’t the bright green color that you’re expecting, that means the matcha was either not preserved properly or stored properly.

 When the green tea powder is brown or a ruddy color, it means that oxygen has gotten into the mixture and it’s begun to oxidize. It makes the tea taste bitter and lose the delicious and sweet flavor that Japanese matcha powder is so well known for.

Another important characteristic of good quality matcha is taste. Good quality ceremonial-grade matcha will have a smooth, vegetable-like taste with a sweet and grassy finish. The term that most people would use to describe this well-balanced taste is “umami.” If there’s no umami quality to the matcha, then your matcha may not be the best quality. 

The next important characteristic of the best matcha tea is that it should have a good terroir. Like wine, the terroir of tea can change the flavor and quality of the tea. 

Geographic location, soil composition, climate, and plant age can all affect the taste of the tea. This is another reason why harvesting ceremonial grade matcha is such an art form.

The fourth important characteristic of matcha is that the tea should be a delicious frothy treat when whisked. If you prepare matcha the traditional way with the bamboo whisk in the tea bowl, your matcha should froth up into a thick, almost cream-like texture when you drink it. The best quality Japanese matcha powder will have that delicious frothy consistency.

Finally, the final characteristic to be aware of is the smooth finish of the tea. Your tea should not be bitter and should have a smooth, light texture throughout the experience. If your tea is gritty, or it separates before you’re able to enjoy it, then the matcha may not be the best quality. 

While all ceremonial grade matcha and other green tea powder may not meet these criteria, the most skilled and prideful harvesters aim to meet each of these talking points when they begin to harvest the tea leaves to produce matcha. They know that the season, the elevation, which leaves, what grind, and more are all imperative to having a good tea experience.

The Harvest Seasons of Japanese Tea

When harvesting tea to create the different types of tea mentioned above, the leaves are typically harvested during different seasons. Depending on the region the tea farm is located in, there are usually three or four seasons of tea harvesting during the year. 

From early April to early June, the ichibancha season of tea harvesting occurs. Nibancha, or the second tea season, usually starts in June or July. Sanbancha is the third tea harvesting season, though this season is typically only observed in the southern regions of Japan. This harvesting season is done in the late summer, usually beginning in August or September. 

Finally, the fourth harvesting season is called either shuutobancha or harubancha, depending on the time of year the harvesting takes place. These two harvesting seasons are more commonly known as the “final trimmings.” Essentially, this final harvesting season is to prepare the plants for the beginning of the next harvest. Shuutobancha harvesting takes place from the middle of October to the middle of November, while harbancha usually takes place during March to prepare for the April ichibancha harvest. 

green tea leaves

What Teas Are Produced During Each Season?

Believe it or not, the season in which the tea is harvested determines the type of tea it will become! Let’s use matcha as an example. The grade of matcha you purchase is usually determined by the season in which the leaves were harvested. 

Ceremonial-grade matcha and other refined, expensive teas are harvested during the ichibancha season. This season, because it is the first of the growing season, produces soft, tender leaves that lend themselves to delicate flavors of tea. They have not sat in the sun or grown on the vine for an extended period, making the leaves delicate and lending a unique flavor to the tea.

Culinary matcha is typically harvested during the nibancha or the sanbancha harvest seasons. While still a delicious tea, the culinary matcha that this harvest produces just can’t compete with the gentle flavors of the leaves harvested during the ichibancha season.

Finally, the leaves harvested during shuutobancha or harbancha are tough and fibrous after having been on the plant for a significant amount of time. These tea leaves are best for roasting instead of grinding and making them into matcha or another common type of tea. These leaves are perfect for making hojicha tea. 

Which Season Gives the Best Quality of Tea?

Teas that come from the ichibancha harvest are the most prized and expensive teas on the market. The harvesting window for teas produced during this time is so small that they are highly sought after. There is truly no other tea or green tea powder that can rival the taste of one produced from leaves harvested during the ichibancha season. 

This is not to say that teas from other seasons can’t be equally as delicious, as they absolutely can be. However, the delicate and gentle flavors of tea produced during the ichibancha season cannot be replicated. They’re unique and different since the flavors emerge from the actual leaves themselves, and not from the production, roasting, or any other process. They’re unique in that way, and that’s what makes them so sought after. 

How the Season May Put Your Tea at Risk

As with any crop grown in the great outdoors, there are a wide range of factors to consider that can affect both the quality and quantity of your harvest. 

For example, many harvests—not just tea harvests—have to be cognizant of the dangers that insects can bring to their crops. Just like the corn sap beetle can destroy a crop of sweet corn, the tea green leafhopper can cause much of the same damage in tea plants. If there is a big enough outbreak, then tea production may have to cease entirely.

 These insects cause the most damage in June and September, so the harvest seasons around those times of year may be affected. 

Another risk factor is plant diseases. From May to September, a prolific fungus called anthracnose poses a serious threat to the second and third harvests of tea. If a farmer isn’t careful to contain the fungus when they see it spring up among their plants, then they may lose the plants or lose their revenue for those harvest seasons. 

What is Pruning?

If your family had a garden when you were a child, you were surely dragged out of bed at an unsightly hour of the morning to help prune the plants. You were most likely handed a pair of gloves, and some small shears, and given the basics of what to do so that you wouldn’t ruin the plant. However, did anyone tell you why you were doing what you were doing?

Pruning is an important part of the matcha harvesting process. When you prune a tea plant, you’re trimming and shaping the tea plant to allow new shoots to grow and to make the tea plant a little easier to harvest when the time is right. It’s a time-consuming process, but it’s a guaranteed way to make sure that your tea plants are giving their all when harvest season comes around. 

Tea farmers will typically do surface-level pruning between harvesting seasons, and every three to five years, they’ll do a deeper pruning to make sure that the tea plants are healthy and thriving. This process is to complete the general upkeep of the plant and to ensure that the plants are still growing as well as they should. Remember: tea plants can live over fifty years or more!

green tea leaves

Other Factors That May Affect Taste

As stated previously, just like wine, the terroir of a tea will affect how the tea leaves taste. This is even more evident in a tea like Japanese matcha powder, where you consume the entire leaf in your tea preparation instead of letting the leaves steep. 

There are a wide range of reasons that the taste of your tea may change, even though they may seem insignificant from the outset. Factors such as soil composition, rainfall, temperature differences between night and day, and even the mist in the area can affect the taste of the tea. This is why, even though your matcha of choice may come from the same plant, harvested from the same growing season, the Japanese matcha powder may taste slightly different than the batch harvested the year previously. Crazy, right?

The Grinding Process

While all of the information about the harvesting seasons is interesting, it still doesn’t answer the final, burning question: how is matcha made? Not harvested, but produced into the fine powder that we understand matcha to be. 

Once the tea leaves for matcha have been harvested, they are steamed to retain their vibrant green color and allowed to dry completely. Then, the most labor-intensive process of all begins: destemming and deveining all of the leaves harvested to grind into matcha powder. It’s a long and tedious process and one that is taken extremely seriously by tea makers. 

When the tea has been determined ready, the leaves are then stone ground—slowly, so that they don’t scorch—into the fine, cornstarch-like powder that matcha is known for. This grinding process is actually where matcha gets its name: “ground tea.”

When the matcha has been ground and the powder has been sifted to remove any final, lingering impurities, the powder is sorted into containers and vacuum sealed to preserve its freshness, waiting to head out into the world.

green tea leaves

Matcha Outlet

Here at Matcha Outlet, we are proud to offer a wide array of different grades of matcha. Our ceremonial matchas offer a sweet, delicate way to enjoy the flavors of matcha without any kind of alterations or inhibitors. Our delicious culinary matcha may not be the best choice for mixing into a latte, but it makes for a spectacular addition to cakes, cookies, pies, and more. 

We want to give you the best quality matcha, and we know that we have what it takes to leave you feeling satisfied after your morning tea break. If you’re interested in Matcha Outlet for your next matcha purchase, then check out our website!