Matcha is made by finely grinding tencha leaves, tea leaves that have been shaded for about four weeks, and more importantly, that have been steamed and dried without rolling. The combination of these two techniques along with careful cultivation to produce leaves rich in flavor create the characteristic taste of matcha.
The grinding process is often said to be done with stone mills, such as the one pictured to the right (which is a small personal-sized version instead of a commercial version). This is the traditional method and given as a reason for the high price of matcha.
Stone-mill grinding is often used to produce very premium matcha, but the secret that many Western matcha brands don't want you to know is that many many matcha powders are actually produced with other types of high volume grinders including ball mill pulverizers and very cool sounding jet air pulverizers. Newer mills--both stone and otherwise--are often equipped with cooling functions that prevent friction of grinding from producing heat that degrades both flavor and aroma.
In the end, the type of grinding is actually less important than the harvest season. Spring produces the highest quality leaves with the richest flavor and highest nutritional content. Culinary grade matcha would be produced from Autumn harvested leaves, in which there is a lower overall nutritional content but a higher ratio of antioxidants (making it more bitter). Autumn leaves also tend to be larger and stiffer, producing a grainy texture that would ruin the matcha as a drink.
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