Matcha is a powder that can be mixed into a tea or added to other drinks or foods, most commonly desserts.
It’s known for its strong, green coloring and sweet, earthy taste.
Matcha is high in antioxidants and is known for supporting heart, brain, and liver health.
The bold taste of matcha will make you want to spend the extra money just to be able to enjoy it.
Why Is Matcha So Expensive?
Many factors play into why matcha is so expensive.
Matcha was once a luxury tea that was served throughout Japan, and it became more popular as more people began to learn of its strong, delightful taste.
The plant that is grown to make matcha tea is a fickle plant that must be tended to frequently and can only survive in the perfect conditions.
The trouble doesn’t end once the tea is grown, but instead, it’s just as difficult to turn into the green powder that consumers recognize as matcha.
Here are 7 reasons matcha is so expensive.
1. Difficult Growing Process
Matcha comes from camellia sinensis that has been shade-grown.
Shade-growing is a traditional Japanese method of growing different types of plants.
This method was brought into use in the 1860s, near the end of the Edo period of Japan.
Shade-growing requires farmers to cover their plants with a material like black plastic mesh.
During the Edo period, farmers would cover their crops in rice straw.
The plants will spend some of their time in direct sunlight and some of their time in the shaded tents that go over the fields.
Shading is used to help increase the amount of chlorophyll and amino acids in the leaves of the camellia sinensis.
It is also what gives matcha its distinct, green color.
Time in the shade also gives the plants more time to build up caffeine and theanine.
Coffee and tea lovers both chase down the energizing feeling of caffeine, but not as many know what theanine is.
The more theanine you have in your tea, the higher it makes the quality of the tea.
Theanine also gives the tea a sweeter taste, while still maintaining some of those earthy undertones.
During their time in the sun, the plants will increase their levels of Vitamin C and tannins.
Tannins can also be found in other luxury beverages such as wine.
The more savory taste of matcha is from the level of tannins in your tea.
Farmers must tend to the crops frequently in order to ensure the quality of the tea.
All it takes is the plants to be out in the sun too long once for the whole field to be damaged, if not completely ruined.
Many shade-growing farmers have managed to master the timed art through generations of training.
2. Low Harvests
Unlike green tea powder, matcha powder is only made with tencha, or the leaves of the camellia sinensis.
Other teas may include the stems and twigs of the plants, which helps them be able to create more ground tea.
Matcha only uses the tencha because it gives the tea a flavor that is noticeably smoother than most other teas.
It also makes matcha packed to the brim with nutrients, making each cup that you drink count.
In Japan, there are four harvest seasons for crops; ichibancha, nibancha, sanbancha, and shuutoubancha.
The seasons don’t have exact dates that they start on and depend heavily on the location and climate of the area that the farm is located in.
Ichibancha is the first of the harvest seasons and starts in early April and ends in early June.
Nibancha is the second harvest season, which normally starts in June or July.
Sanbancha is a harvest season limited only to farmers that are in southern Japan that starts in the middle of August and ends in the middle of September.
Shuutoubancha, or harubancha, is the final harvest season of the year.
Both shuutoubancha and harubancha start in the middle of October, but shuutoubancha ends in the middle of November and harubancha ends in late March.
Matcha can only be grown and harvested during the first of Japan’s harvesting months, ichibancha.
This limits harvests to only about two months on average.
All it takes is too dry or hot of a season and the limited harvest time is reduced even more.
Unlike places like the United States, Japan is a much smaller country with a lot less land for farms, especially tea farms.
The smaller farmers don’t have the room to grow all the tencha that is needed for the matcha powder.
3. Geological Strictions
Matcha can only be grown in two regions of Japan: Kyoto and Aichi.
It is grown in the city of Uji in Kyoto and Nishio in Aichi.
Both of these cities have been growing the tencha needed for matcha since the Edo period of Japan.
Uji is known as Japan’s matcha capital.
Walking into the town, you can smell the air that is faintly scented with all of the matcha being grown, made, and brewed.
Uji is a town lined with teahouses and shrines that are incredibly important to the town’s rich history.
The Uji river flows through the town, creating a picturesque view anywhere you go.
Uji was one of the first places to begin growing green tea.
Green tea and matcha are grown from the same plant, but the difference in how the two types of tea are raised and how they’re later processed allows for them to have such distinctly different tastes.
Matcha was created after about 1,000 years of cultivating green tea in Uji.
Tea masters from all over the world flock to this historical town in order to learn from the local tea masters how to brew the perfect cup of matcha tea.
Funnily enough, Nishio also claims to be Japan’s Matcha capital.
They use the river that flows near their town to keep their soil at the perfect moisture level for the tencha.
They claim that the fog allows their plants to get the proper amount of moisture in the morning and protects them from direct sunlight.
In Nishio, they prefer to use tana covers to keep the sun from drying out the leaves.
Their dedication to their tea leaves has made their tea incredibly popular in Japan.
Even critical tea fans adore matcha from Nishio.
4. Tedious Preparation
Once the matcha is done growing, it must be prepared for processing.
The first step in the preparation process is picking the tencha. Because matcha only uses the youngest, greenest leaves, each leaf must be studied by hand before it is plucked and used in matcha.
Vibrant green leaves show that the plant has plenty of theanine and chlorophyll, which will give the matcha that strong taste the tea is known for.
Young leaves will also have plenty of tannins, to give the tea a taste that is as smooth as silk.
Those who are looking to get the finest matcha will want to get their matcha during the first harvest of the season.
Later harvests consist of older leaves, which leaves them with fewer of the nutrients that make the tea delicious.
As soon as the leaves have been harvested, they are put onto a machine that steams the leaves for 20 seconds.
This prevents the leaves from oxidizing and losing color or any nutrients, such as amino acid.
After they have been steamed, the leaves are put through an air dryer to prevent moisture from building up in the leaves.
Workers go through the steamed and dried leaves in order to remove any stems or veins from the leaves.
This must be done for every single leaf and missing any stems or veins results in a lower quality tea.
The final step in the preparation process is to grade the leaves.
Each leaf will be sorted by color, texture, and aroma.
They will then add hot water to test the tencha they have created, ensuring that the leaves are able to behave as well as they seem.
Each assortment of tencha is labeled and put in jars that will be refrigerated until they are ready to be processed.
5. Slow Processing
The prepared tencha has one more phase to go through before becoming the matcha that people know and love.
It must be ground up into a fine powder using a special method that is unique to matcha tea.
In order to grind the tencha into matcha, a stone grinder is used to grind up the extremely fine matcha powder.
You need a stone grinder because it is smooth enough not to cause the matcha to lose all of its flavor.
Most tea makers consider granite grinders to be the best kind of stone grinder to use on matcha because it is able to grind the powder into a paste so fine that it gets stuck between the ridges of your fingerprint.
The best grinders are the ones made by generational stone carvers in Japan.
At top speed, these mills are capable of making 1.4 ounces per hour.
The process of harvesting tencha and creating matcha powder is an incredibly slow process for only a little bit of product at a time.
Matcha producers are fighting against nature and the clock in the process.
After the match has been processed, the powder must be kept out of direct sunlight and away from any humidity.
It is then packaged quickly and shipped as soon as possible in order to preserve the taste and nutrients of the tea.
This further limits how much matcha powder can be made at one time.
The limited amount of matcha doesn’t pair well with the high demand for the product.
This is enough to make the price of matcha skyrocket.
6. Different Grades
The grade given to a tea during the preparation process has a lot to do with the cost.
There are two major groups: ceremonial and culinary grade.
There are five subgroups of culinary grade, which are premium, café, classic ingredient, and kitchen.
The best grade of matcha tea that you can buy is ceremonial.
It will cost you much more than other grades of matcha.
Ceremonial matcha tea is made with the youngest and greenest leaves out of the ones that were already chosen for being some of the youngest and greenest.
Having an extremely fine wine that has been aged for decades is the equivalent of ceremonial grade tea.
It should only be served with hot water, never adding milk or sugar like lower-grade matcha teas.
With the higher price comes higher quality, resulting in needing less of the powder in order to properly flavor your tea.
Ceremonial tea only requires about a half of a teaspoon per cup.
Culinary grade is the second group of matcha.
Culinary grade isn’t worse than ceremonial.
It just has a different taste that works better when cooked into other foods or drinks.
Culinary grade is more bitter and earthy than ceremonial, which is why it is often paired with milk or sugar.
Premium grade is the best of the culinary grade subgroups.
For those who prefer to drink their tea straight, you will want to go with the energizing premium grade.
Café grade is the grade of matcha that is used in lattes, smoothies, and any other blended beverage.
Classic grade is the grade of matcha you’d find at the grocery store.
It’s more affordable at the cost of just being okay matcha while kitchen and ingredient grades matcha are the grades that are used in baked goods.
7. High Demand
Matcha was once exclusive to Japan.
As trade between countries has become commonplace, the love of matcha has spread like wildfire.
This has resulted in an even more limited supply for those who want to enjoy the great flavors of matcha.
Japan produces more than 1,000 tons of matcha powder each year.
While 1,000 tons is a lot of finely ground powder, it isn’t enough for every person in the world who wants a bit of it.
Many Japanese matcha producers will run out of product within weeks.
Matcha isn’t just used in drinks and foods.
Many cosmetic companies use it in their personal care products.
The many applications for matcha combined with increased popularity are creating an insanely high demand for matcha.
In the United States alone, the demand for matcha has grown rapidly.
Other countries such as Canada, France, Germany, Australia, and the United Kingdom are also major consumers of the fine green powder.
Japan wants to take advantage of the starving market they have by producing more matcha, but it doesn’t seem to be physically possible without significantly reducing the quality.
Tea making holds an important place in Japanese culture, so there is no way they’ll decrease their quality.
Instead, the price must be raised.
Even if Japanese matcha producers could produce more matcha, they would still have to increase costs due to the increase of production.
With an increase in production comes an increase in expenses like labor costs and maintenance costs.
To balance out the increase in expenses a company amasses, they must increase the profit margin they are making on each product.
While either answer is going to cost the consumer more, increasing production compatibility will create less of a price hike than keeping production at the same level.
Is Matcha Worth the Price?
The health benefits that come with matcha make it incredibly worth it, no matter what you’re using it for.
When applied to your skin or hair, matcha has incredible rejuvenating capabilities.
Eating or drinking matcha is a great way to feel better and fight off all sorts of medical problems.
The health benefits of matcha tea make it worth every single penny you spend on this miracle tea.
One of the most praised traits of matcha tea is its ability to help your body fight off cancer.
Matcha is packed with epigallocatechin gallate, which is a type of catechin found in the antioxidants of matcha.
Matcha has 137 times the antioxidants of green tea, thanks to the critical harvesting process.
There are no stems or veins in the tea to dilute it. It only contains the most nutrient-rich part of the plant.
Matcha can also help your liver by increasing the number of enzymes in your liver.
This is especially good for those who are diabetic.
Matcha has been seen to prevent damage to the liver or kidneys.
Similar to coffee, matcha improves brain function.
It can help with your memory, reaction time, and help you focus.
Older people have seen improved brain function by consuming only a couple of grams of matcha each day.
Those with cholesterol problems may want to try adding matcha to their daily diet.
A little matcha every day can reduce the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides in your body.
It can also help you lower your risk of heart disease or stroke.
Matcha is able to speed up your metabolism and help you lose weight.
Between the boost in energy it brings and the way it helps your body burn fat, it makes for the perfect drink to start your day or to have before a workout.
Matcha Is Worth The Price
When considering all the effort and time that goes into creating matcha, it begins to make more sense why the tea powder is so highly priced.
You can save money on matcha by buying a lower grade, such as a classic grade matcha tea.
The limited space and amount of product that is able to be made plays a large role in the high cost of matcha, as well.
The only way you’ll see the price of matcha drop is if the demand lowers, but that won’t happening any time soon.