While all types of tea come from the same plant (yes, you read that right!) not all tea is created equal. Uji matcha is considered the highest grade of matcha you can get. Read on to learn why.
1. Weather and soil in Uji
It may be hard to believe, but all tea leaves come from the same type of plant, the Camellia sinensis plant. The difference in tea type, quality and health benefits depend on three things: the conditions that the tea leaves are grown in, the way the leaves are harvested and how the tea leaves are prepared after harvest.
Uji is situated on the southern outskirts of Kyoto and can be reached from Kyoto in under an hour by train making it a great place to visit if you get the chance. Uji Japan has the perfect climate and soil type for tea growth. Tea plants grow between March and November and remain dormant for the rest of the year during the coldest months. During the growth season, soil type, PH and rainfall amount has a crucial effect on the yield of tea leaves from each Camellia sinensis plant.
Tea plants grow best in areas where the average yearly temperature is above 16 degrees celsius and the average rainfall is between 1,500 and 2,000 mm per year. Green tea grows best in warm and humid climates with well drained, fertile, acidic soil… conditions all found in Uji!
The climate and soil qualities in Uji are a big reason why the matcha from Uji Japan is so highly regarded.
2. Expert tea farmers in Uji
Tea plants can grow in the wild without any human involvement. But, farmers who are extremely knowledgeable about growing conditions and harvest can greatly increase the quality and yield of the tea plants.
Tea farming in Japan has an epic history. One of the oldest tea houses in Japan, Tsuen Tea, is over 800 years old and is in Uji. The matcha tea ceremony was started by a Zen monk who brought green tea from China to Japan in 1191. In Japan, tea is deeply ingrained in everyday life and Japanese farmers have spent generations becoming experts in tea leaf cultivation and preparation and continue to pass down their knowledge to the next generation of tea farmers.
The tea farms of Uji invented and created the green tea types Sencha and Gyokuro. Uji tea farmers select their plants specifically for their desirable qualities and propagate those plants to create new ones. Propagation is the practice of using live cuttings instead of dried seeds to grow new plants. Live cuttings transfer 100% of the genetic material from their parent plant while seeds only transfer about 50%. Using propagations means that Uji tea farmers can specifically select their best tea plants and basically clone them!
Even though tea plants can live for up to 1,000 years on their own, farmers in Uji replant new trees approximately every 40 to 50 years.
3. Shading and trimming
Uji matcha green tea is known for having a unique umami flavor, delicious scent and a rich, vibrant color that make it so special.
Shading tea leaves and precisely trimming during growth stages are two scientifically studied and proven ways to improve the quality and yield of tea leaves.
Shading practices are kind of like the goldy locks of tea farming. Too much shade or not enough shade equals lower quality matcha green tea powder. Uji tea farmers use very specific shading practices to decrease bitterness and increase the amount of l-theanine, caffeine and chlorophyll in Uji matcha green tea and give it those unique and delicious features.
Another key element of matcha tea farming is plant trimming. Regularly trimming tea plants helps keep them at a height that's optimal for harvesting and also encourages new growth on each plant that results in the plant growing more leaves and having a higher yield of tea. Trimming is a specific practice that requires skill and knowledge, something that Uji tea farmers have plenty of!
4. Harvesting & grinding
The lush, green rolling hills and valleys of Uji are a sight to behold. It’s easy to see why Uji is the birthplace of a ceremonial matcha tea when the landscape itself can take your breath away.
Because of Uji’s topography, even the way Uji tea farmers harvest tea leaves is special.
Large tea harvesting machines can’t be used in Uji. That means that all the tea leaves picked in Uji are picked by hand. Harvesters carefully select the youngest, most tender leaves to use in ceremonial matcha tea and save the heartier, bolder leaves for use in food products.
After harvest, the Uji tea leaves are dried and then ground into an extremely fine powder using a traditional granite millstone that is churned by hand. The powder produced is fine enough that it will mix quickly in hot water and can be blended with little effort using a traditional bamboo whisk.
The lack of heavy machinery in the harvesting and refinement of Uji matcha means that Uji green tea employs many local people and has a very low emission rate of greenhouse gasses into the environment.
The bottom line | Uji matcha is the highest quality matcha green tea powder
For many reasons, Uji matcha green tea powder is the highest quality matcha in the world. Over 800 years ago, matcha was born in Uji and the centuries of tea farming knowledge in Uji will continue to be passed on for generations to come.
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Disclaimer: These statements in this blog post have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. It's essential to consult with a qualified healthcare professional before making any dietary or lifestyle changes.
Chen, X., Ye, K., Xu, Y., Zhao, Y., & Zhao, D. (2022). Effect of Shading on the Morphological, Physiological, and Biochemical Characteristics as Well as the Transcriptome of Matcha Green Tea. International journal of molecular sciences, 23(22), 14169. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms232214169
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