This Spring of 2019, Joshua visited the 5th generation tea master, Tsuji San, who is the recipient of many prestigious awards for his matcha. He has even received an award from the Emperor of Japan for his unrivaled tencha tea-farming practices (the last time the award was granted was 50 years ago). His passion for traditional farming and artisan practice is inspiring.
Tea bushes for premium matcha are harvested once per year. A tea master farmer like Tsuji San monitors his gardens diligently to choose the best day for harvest. The farming technique is unique and focuses the plant’s energy on the top, tender leaves of the tea plant, where the rich content of amino acids and caffeine concentrate.
As the plants develop, shades are applied in steps and varying layers. The bushes are shaded for 40-50 days. The first layer of shade is applied when the buds begin to break and blocks around 70% of the sunlight. When the two leaves and a bud form, the second layer is applied, increasing the blockage of sun to about 95%. This practice of shading the gardens to block the bushes’ access to the sunshine, while simultaneously feeding the bushes copious amounts of nutrients, significantly enhances the umami flavor and rich sweetness. The intense shading forces the bushes to make their leaves fatter and greener, with increased chlorophyll to seek out the sun. In turn, this farming practice greatly enhances the nootropic and neuro-stimulating substances.
True matcha is more than just powdered green tea, and it is one of the most costly and refined types of tea to produce. Most green tea has a fresh leaf to dried leaf conversion ratio of about 5 kg fresh:1 kg dried tea. The conversion ratio for tencha is 10kg fresh:1kg dried. Additional weight loss occurs when stem and leaf fibers are extracted—about 15%—to render a dried tencha leaf ready for stone milling. The deveined and fiber-extracted tencha leaf is fed into stone mills where it is pulverized and ground to a fine, emerald green talc-like powder we call matcha. This process of stone milling yields about 40-50 grams per hour per one stone mill. Considering the special shading and cultivation it takes to grow tencha and how slow-going stone milling is to convert tencha to matcha, it’s no wonder gram-to-gram the best matcha costs more than its weight in silver.
At Rishi, we are lucky enough to be one of the few to whom Tsuji San sells his Uji matcha, which has been analyzed to have the highest amino acids scores and L-theanine content of any matcha in Japan and the world.
When we brew tea in a teapot, we can get 65%-70% of teas benefits over two or three infusions. However, more than a third of tea’s antioxidants, amino acids, and other beneficial components remain in the leaf and are discarded when we throw the tea leaves away. Brewed infusions will contain only 65% of the small percentage below, so even if the leaves have high amino acids, the infusion cannot match the high content of matcha’s amino acid availability.
Amino Acid Score of loose-leaf brewed infusion:
When we consume matcha, we consume the whole leaf and receive the total energy and benefits the tea can offer. The nootropic effects and neuro-stimulating, alpha-brainwave enhancement of matcha are unrivaled by any brewed tea.