Why Are Matcha and Gyokuro So Expensive?

plucked-leaves-webAlthough “matcha” is appearing on grocery shelves everywhere, why is the real thing so extremely expensive? Because most of what you see isn’t actually matcha, and no, those cookies weren’t made with matcha!

Let’s see why, as we continue our virtual tour of Japan’s tea industry in Shiga Prefecture, along with Lisa, owner of TeaHaus and Eat More Tea.

(If you missed them, see previous posts:
A Look at Japan’s Tea Industry in Shiga Prefecture and Touring a Tea Processing Facility in Japan)

The most valuable or first harvest of tea, the first flush, is in May, and the second harvest in June to July. Sencha may be produced from either the first or second picking, while bancha is the second picking.

For some very high-end teas—such as gyokuro, tencha (the base tea for true matcha), and kabusecha—tea plants are shaded for several weeks before the leaves are harvested for the first time (first flush), as shown here in the Tsuchiyama tea garden toured by Lisa.

shading

Why shade?

As often happens with people, the lack of sunlight stresses the plants.

However, the plants respond perhaps more positively than people in this case—they produce more chlorophyll and amino acid L-theanine. The increased chlorophyll results in a more vibrant green color, which is dramatically shown here. The unshaded plants are to the left and the shaded ones to the right.

unshaded and shaded

That vivid color carries through to the finished product, as in this beautiful gyokuro tea. Further, the increased theanine heightens the umami flavor, making gyokuro, or Jade Dew, an exquisite and highly prized premium tea.

gyokuro montage_sm

making-matcha-2-web

But going back—after the plants have been shaded, the leaves are then carefully plucked by hand, steamed to stop oxidation, and dried.

For gyokuro, the stems and  the main leaf veins are removed, and the leaves are rolled.

If matcha is the end product, remaining leaf veins are removed and the leaf pieces are dried flat. This is tencha. After the leaves are fully dry, they are then slowly stone ground into a fine powder, or matcha.

In this photo (taken by Lisa in Tsuchiyama), you can see grinding stones that are turned by hand, here a personal version or for small production. It takes around 3 hours to grind the tencha to produce 30 grams of matcha; grinding must done slowly so that heat isn’t generated.

As you probably know, matcha is very much in demand in the west, with a huge proliferation of “matcha” products. So much so that Japan has trouble keeping up.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the only true matcha is made from tencha. All others are actually just powdered tea. That’s why you can buy inexpensive “matcha” at your local store. It’s just green tea that’s been ground into a powder.

Genuine matcha is expensive because it is extremely labor and time intensive to make, and the highest-quality de-stemmed and deveined leaves—tencha—are required.

making-matcha-1-web

Lisa’s photo shows the grinding stones with hand crank, tencha, and matcha.

And about those stems and veins that were removed?

kukicha montageThey become kukicha (twig or stem tea), a lightly creamy, nutty tea that is low in caffeine (because there are few leaves); Kukicha Extra is shown here.

Shade-grown teas, pricy, but exquisite!

You can certainly understand why true matcha and gyokuro command high prices.

Many factors contribute, including:

  • first harvest
  • extra labor to shade the plants
  • hand plucking the leaves
  • removing stems and veins
  • slow, stone grinding (for matcha)
  • limited quantity

But the teas?

So absolutely worth it!


Coming Posts: A look at senchas and other Japanese teas, plus other tea gardens.


Japan Gyokuro, Japan Kukicha Extra, and ceremonial grade Matcha (the real thing!) are available at TeaHaus.

11 thoughts on “Why Are Matcha and Gyokuro So Expensive?

  1. Hi Maam/Sir,

    My name is Cynthia Smith and I’m a Branch Manager of Wabisabi Kyoto Tea. I am conducting a research about ” Gyokuro Green Tea Benefits”, and I saw this post of yours: https://itsmorethantea.wordpress.com/2018/07/19/why-are-matcha-and-gyokuro-so-expensive.I wanted to share that I recently published a piece of content about this topic.

    These tips might be a good additional resource to your article that mentioned about “Gyokuro Green Tea Benefits”.I thought you might be interested in taking a look?

    Here it is: https://wabisabitea-kyoto.com/gyokuro-green-tea-surprising-facts/

    I spent a lot of time researching this article and have used a lot of references and given some really in-depth detail. I was wondering if you might be interested in adding my link as an additional source of information to your original post. I think my piece would really supplement your article well and your readers would appreciate the extra information.

    I’d love to email the blog post out to our mailing list in our weekly roundup newsletter. This would be rolling out this coming Friday, I would be happy if I could include yours. This would be a great way to get your site some exposure and net you some extra readers.

    What do you think? Thanks!

    Cheers,

    Cynthia Smith

    ———————–

    Like

    1. Dear Cynthia,

      Thank you for your kind offer. I will definitely keep it in mind for a future post, where I could work your information in more advantageously.

      Best,
      Jill

      Like

  2. hi!
    Thank you for your information. You explain the matcha making very easy to understand and clear.
    But I still have one question I hope you can help me . When you buy matcha how do you sure it is the real matcha ? Because I see that matcha is very varied in price , like in the UK, the cheapest one I can find so far is from Purechimp which around £9.5 per 50grams and the most expensive one can range around £16 – £20ish or even £30ish. If I want to buy the authentic matcha, can I just go and choose among the expensive brands?

    Thank you. p/s : sorry for long question.

    Like

    1. You’ll want to buy matcha from a company or tea shop that you trust, and you want ceremonial grade made in Japan (culinary grade can also be very high quality, but is for cooking/baking and is ground green tea). There are various grades of ceremonial matcha, and they will come in very small amounts and, as you said, will be expensive.

      Like

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