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Saving the Roots of ‘Real’ Matcha

Nicholas Noble | November 09, 2019

A Mission of Health and History Pt. 2

Recommended reading: The ‘Real’ Matcha Mission Pt. 1 

In the previous installment you’ll find important background in matcha’s cultural history, its origins in Japan, and those more brief details in what defines ‘real matcha.'

With that lens, we’re able to better explore the specific differences that can be identified, and particularly felt, between true ‘ceremonial grade matcha’ and that only marketed as such — the latter of but a fractional expertise, technique, and traditional knowledge. 

Critical now, we’ll learn that less savory, often bitter flavor of low-quality matcha is hardly a lone consequence of poor cultivation; many people are either losing-out on same significant health benefits found in the good stuff, or jumping ship entirely due to a bad first-taste.

Intentional or not, this issue is further problematized by the demand for poorly sourced, low quality matcha; by not vetting quality and choosing only Japan's finest matcha, individuals instead are complicit to the ongoing struggles of the few remaining traditional matcha tea farms.  

To be clear, most all sources of ready-made matcha in the U.S. (e.g. your local café chain) have disguised their choice of quality under sweetened lattes or in ‘exotic’ green smoothies — we have a choice to fight.

Even if you Knock it Back

You aren’t alone if you’ve had a bad run-in with matcha (see here for a trustworthy quality). Of course if you’ve never had the bad stuff — more power to you — though a bad taste can be priceless in a full appreciation of the highest qualities. The magical difference is what inspired our Matcha Mission.

On the other hand, if you’ve grown accustomed to knocking back an off-quality matcha just to get it over with, here are 3 things you need to hear:

  1. If the taste is bad, you’re missing out on the health benefits
  2. Poor quality means ancient history, culture, and tradition have been traded for profit 
  3. On the contrary, you're turning down what could be a robust and delicious daily drink

Tradition Translates to Quality

They say correlation isn’t causation, but as proposed context for the importance of quality, it’s appealing that with the timeline of matcha’s inception in Japan also came an unprecedented expansion of Buddhism; these philosophical changes came to resonate across the world, now understood as catalysts in the Age of Enlightenment. [1] 

Speaking of origins, the strict expectations of quality were largely founded from its original exclusivity only to monastics and the elite class. These ruling parties developed a taste for ideal composition, and even more noticeably the greater mental and physical stamina when the tea was especially savory, vibrant green, with little to no bitterness. 

These calming, health-promoting, and energizing effects drew critical acclaim, matcha became elevated as a ceremony in and of itself while also developed as a pivotal tool in meditation, samurai training, and political discourse. The demand for the tangible benefits and the more ideal flavor found only in the absolute highest qualities was incentive to what became a specialized science

Lifetime Commitment

In the past 1,000 years it’s notable how this skill set has maintained itself. Intergenerational lineages of tea-growing families till this very day represent the stakeholders of those dedicated cultivation techniques; today this may only be described as an insurmountable knowledge of environmental conditions, types of fertilizer, age of each tea plant, complex shading schedules, and the sheer intuition of reading quality through the most subtle characteristics.

It’s a lifetime commitment, commonly a family duty, and each generation has sought to carefully guard the wealth of this traditional knowledge for its value in trade, as a source of health, good living, and longevity.

Why the Growing Scarcity 

It’s now popularly documented that matcha (i.e. the ultimate form of green tea) is host to numerous health benefits. The average person has likely heard that it offers potent antioxidants like EGCG, and is widely accepted to improve metabolism. The vast majority of trendy claims are rooted in real science, in fact some of the possibilities might surprise you.

That said, many go further in calling it a natural detox and by using other marketing language. It has become clear how these great benefits have become exploited, coffeehouse chains and other retail spots have begun targeting these growing interests, now seemingly added in everything from lattes to baked goods. 

In fact, use of matcha in the U.S. have increased more than 500% in the last decades, most of which being more recently. This exponential demand has equated to a lack of the cultural knowledge that traditionally accompanies this beverage, most people in the U.S. have no prior knowledge of range in quality, or those of its more authentic purposes. 

Overall, the market has taken advantage of this vulnerability, often marketing the lowest cost/poorest quality as ‘ceremonial grade’ — yet ‘true matcha’ cannot be mimicked in flavor or effect by a simple name change.

Stay tuned for the next segment, where we’ll discuss the loss of health benefits you can expect from poorly sourced matcha, why it’s important to support the few remaining premium matcha tea farms, and more ways we can work together on the Matcha Mission to keep what we love alive.

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