If you’re new to matcha, welcome! We’re convinced that artisanal matcha is the healthiest AND tastiest beverage on the planet, and in these pages we’ll explore it from many angles. Below is a list of some the aspects of matcha we’ll cover here, with many more on the way. If you have suggestions on other matcha-related topics that merit exploration, let us know.
(Editor's Note: We actually do offer several organic matcha now, but I've decided to leave this entry up anyway, since it explains some issues related to growning organic matcha. I originally wrote this piece several years ago, and since then some fearless and curious Japanese matcha farmers have actually managed to produce something very good, and we decided to offer them here at Breakaway Matcha --we're very happy about this development! -- EG).
This is a tough one for me, because we REALLY want to offer an organic matcha. Alas, we cannot. And here’s why.
It’s all about taste. Organic matcha simply doesn’t produce enough amino acids/umami to meet our severe quality standards. Why not?
It has to do with how tencha (the tea leaves used to make matcha) is grown; that is to say, tencha spends the last, and most important, part of its life in shade so that the amino acid content of the plant can develop and remain intact when harvested. If it gets sunlight, those coveted amino acids that we’re after get converted, via photosynthesis, into catechins, a process that changes the taste from sweet and brothy to bitter and unpleasant.
The dilemma thus becomes: if a plant can’t get energy to grow from sunlight, from where does it get its energy? In matcha’s case, it gets its energy from fertilizers. It NEEDS this added energy, since it’s not getting it from sunlight. And the bitter truth (so to speak) is that organic tea fields using organic fertilizers can’t, at least by today’s technologies and standards, give it enough energy to grow with maximum amino acid structure. It just doesn’t deliver enough nitrogen for the plant to develop complex amino acids.
Tencha can, and does, grow using organic methods, but the resulting matcha tastes weak, flat, and, often, bitter. It tends not to have much, if any, umami.
That said, our farmers are hardly dumping industrial-strength fertilizers into their fields. They use very high-quality natural fertilizers (mostly fish meal), but they are not certified organic. The plant NEEDS this added energy, since it’s not getting it from sunlight. Needless to say, we would switch to organic matcha in a heartbeat if and when it becomes clear that new organic technologies are beginning to deliver superior matcha. But until that day arrives, we’re sticking with conventional.
So this is why purely organic matcha grown only with organic fertilizers is actually inferior to conventionally grown matcha: purely organic fertilizers simply don’t have enough stored energy to create these ethereal, umami-packed, new-growth leaves in the absence of sunlight.