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Frequently Asked Questions

Matcha and Saihōji

 

What is matcha?


Matcha (抹茶) is an incredibly healthy type of green tea, the best of which comes from Japan. It is made from green tea leaves which have been ground into an ultra-fine, brilliantly green powder using granite stones. 


Unlike regular green tea, the leaves used to make matcha are shaded in the last few weeks before they are picked. This process increases the natural chlorophyll content in each leaf, which is rich in amino acids and other nutrients and gives the highest-quality matcha its beautiful, electric-green color. 



What does matcha taste like?


High-quality matcha tea tastes savory-sweet without any bitterness. Generally, a good quality matcha will have a nutty, malty flavor profile or otherwise be particularly floral and refreshing. The highest grades of matcha have plenty of umami which gives the tea more savory notes. The umami comes from the increased concentration of amino acids in the leaves which develop while the tea leaves are shaded.



What is ceremonial grade matcha?


The term "ceremonial grade" was created in the West to denote matcha that is supposed to be of the highest quality and suitable for the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. However, there is no industry standard for what “ceremonial grade” means which is why the quality of a lot of “ceremonial grade” matcha on the market is actually quite poor. 


Good quality "ceremonial grade" matcha should be picked by hand, come from the first flush of the spring harvest and only the newest and most tender two or three leaves from the top of the plant should be used. The plants should be shaded for a few weeks to increase the chlorophyll content and amino acids in the leaves which give the tea its distinctive umami flavor. The tea leaves should also be ground into a fine powder using granite mills instead of machines.


The best matcha will also have the following characteristics:


Color: A deep, electric-green color.
Aroma: Fresh, savory, malty.
Taste: Rich and nutty or delicate and floral with little or no bitterness.
Texture: Silky smooth and creamy.
Foam: A fine crema when whisked vigorously.

 

What grade of matcha is right for me?


Choosing the right grade of matcha depends on what you want from the tea.


If you just want the health benefits, then culinary grade matcha may be the best option. Culinary grade matcha is significantly cheaper than ceremonial grade matcha but it can taste unpleasantly bitter when consumed by itself with hot water. By adding it to smoothies, juices or desserts, you can neutralize the bitterness of the tea while still retaining all the health benefits.


If you want to savor the flavor of the matcha, you should only buy ceremonial grade matcha from a reputable source and prepare it with hot water (around 80C/175F) and nothing else. This allows you to taste the matcha in its purest form without other ingredients interfering with its flavor.

 

Why is ceremonial grade matcha more expensive than other types of tea?


The production process for the finest matcha is a lot more time-consuming than for other teas which increases the price accordingly.


Firstly, the tea plants are grown in the shade for the last 3-4 weeks before the spring harvest begins and the nutrients in the soil have to be maintained during this time to ensure the plants stay healthy while they are deprived of sunlight. Secondly, the best matcha is picked only once a year at the beginning of the spring harvest (known as the “first flush”) and only the top two or three leaves are chosen. These are the most tender and flavorsome leaves on the plant. Most other teas are picked using machines which is far quicker and less labor-intensive but limits the ability of the farmers to select the best leaves. Thirdly, matcha undergoes an intensive filtering process to remove the rougher material from the stems and veins in the leaves. Finally, the finest matcha is ground into a powder using granite stones to give it a silky smooth texture. This is a time-consuming process and it can take over an hour to produce 20g of matcha. If the matcha is of a lower quality, it will have been blasted inside a machine to reduce the leaves to a powder. This is cheaper and quicker to do but it produces larger particles of matcha with a coarser texture which gives the matcha a less appealing mouthfeel.



Where does Saihōji matcha come from?


Our matcha is sourced from Uji and Nishio, in the heart of Japan, each of which is renowned for producing some of the finest and most flavorsome Japanese matcha.


The terroir in Uji is unique and produces some of the best matcha in the world. Uji's mountains and rivers ensure the soil is nutrient-rich and help to produce fog and mist which envelop the tea plants and protect them from frost. When coupled with the mild climate and sharp changes in temperature at night, the conditions are perfect for growing exceptional green tea.


Nishio also has ideal terroir for matcha. Similar to Uji, its climate is mild, its soils are fertile and its position is elevated. All of which help to produce enticing flavors in the matcha.



What makes Saihōji different?


We tried the matcha that you find everywhere in the West - in most supermarkets and health stores. And then we tried real matcha from Japan. The two are incomparable.


We spent the next four years trying samples of matcha from all over Japan before selecting our signature matchas - Raku Paradise, Hagi Paradise and Tsutsui Paradise. We chose them because they showcase the flavor complexities and textural qualities of some of the very best matcha currently available.


The search for ever-better matcha is never ending though. Our signature matchas are examples of what can be achieved with the great skill and care of the farmers who nurture the tea plants and transform the leaves into matcha powder. But there’s always a chance that something better will be discovered or that the farmers will craft something even more spectacular. 


It is that sense of discovery that inspires us and why we continue to try samples from farmers across Japan to ensure our selection is the best it can be. Each year, we also travel to family-owned farms and meet with artisanal producers to develop and strengthen our relationships with the people on the ground and ensure the exceptional quality of our matcha is maintained.


We also supply matcha utensils that are handcrafted by artisans whose families have been making them for generations. Most of the matcha utensils available on the market are mass-produced in China and South Korea. They may be perfectly adequate for the task at hand but they lack the human element that resides in a tool made by another person. This is why we’re passionate about supporting traditional crafts and sourcing our utensils from craftspeople who are equally passionate about the quality of their products.


Preparing and Storing Matcha


How do you prepare matcha?


Traditionally, matcha has been prepared in one of two ways - usucha (“thin” matcha) or koicha (“think” matcha). 


Usucha uses more water than koicha and koicha uses more matcha powder. However, you should feel free to experiment with different amounts of water and matcha to increase or decrease the concentration of the flavor to suit your preference.



What temperature should the water be?


80C/175F is ideal for matcha prepared with hot water. 


Be careful though - if the temperature is too hot it will ruin the flavor of the tea and make it taste much more bitter. Unless you have a temperature controlled kettle, leave the water to cool for a few minutes once boiled or pour the water between two cups a few times to reduce the temperature before adding it to the matcha. 



How should you store matcha?


Matcha should be kept away from light and stored inside an airtight container. Once opened, matcha should be refrigerated and consumed within 8 weeks. After 8 weeks it will still be perfectly safe to drink but it will begin to lose some of the strength of its flavor as it reacts with the air.



Does matcha have an expiry date?


Yes. Once ground, the best matcha will typically have a shelf life of 9-12 months. A lot of companies importing to the West will have much longer expiry dates for their matcha (sometimes up to two years) but in Japan it’s customary for matcha to have a shorter shelf life as the tea begins to lose some of its flavor after 12 months even if the bag remains unopened.


The expiry date for our matcha is noted either on the foil bag or the base of the canister.

 
Benefits and Health Properties of Matcha


Is Saihōji matcha healthy?


Yes! Our matcha is rich in antioxidants, amino acids and many other healthy nutrients, which help to boost the immune system, detoxify the body and calm the mind. Some of our matcha’s health benefits include:


Rich in Antioxidants


Matcha is rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants help to protect the body against harmful free radicals, the molecules responsible for aging, tissue damage and chronic diseases.


Energising and Calming


Matcha contains a large number of amino acids, including L-theanine. L-theanine stimulates your alpha brain waves, the ones that make you feel calm and energised. When L-theanine combines with the tea’s natural caffeine and other amino acids, you enjoy a sustained and focused energy boost, lasting between three and six hours.


Healthy Skin and Detoxification


Matcha’s nutrients help to promote healthy skin and safely cleanse and purge the body of harmful elements. Matcha contains an abundance of polyphenols and chlorophyll. Polyphenols help to inhibit UV skin damage, while chlorophyll, a natural detoxifier, helps to regenerate and cleanse the body. 


Increased Metabolism and Weight Loss


Matcha contains a unique, potent class of antioxidants known as catechins. As well as helping to fight harmful free radicals, these catechins, particularly the EGCG catechin (epigallocatechin gallate), help to boost the body’s metabolism which encourages it to burn fat. Matcha is also virtually calorie free, containing only three calories per gram.



Does matcha contain caffeine?


Yes. The amount of caffeine in a cup of tea varies depending on a number of factors, including how hot the water is, how long the tea is brewed for and whether you consume the whole leaf. 


A cup of matcha brewed with water at 80C/175F generally has around 70mg of caffeine whereas a cup of filter coffee has around 140mg of caffeine.



Can you drink matcha while you are pregnant?


Yes, but as with all caffeinated drinks and food during pregnancy, you need to be careful not to consume too much caffeine. The general recommendation for pregnant women is not to consume more than 200mg of caffeine a day. 


If you are in any doubt, you should speak to your doctor.