A 'ceremonial' tea grown in Japan, Matcha is a whole food in that it contains all of the tea leaf, which is crushed into a fine powder and added to water (cold or hot), unlike regular tea, which is steeped in hot water such that many of its nutrients stay in the pot or teabag.
While Matcha is typically sold in powdered form for consumers to add to hot water and mix or 'froth' with a mini whisk, several companies have developed ready-to-drink products (such as Jade Monk’s organic high-pressure-processed ‘cold brew’ beverages) and Matcha-based powders with flavors and sweeteners that can be added to cold water for an instant, on-the-go beverage.
Sales of Matcha products in the U.S. and Canada will continue to grow 25% annually between 2015 and 2018, predicts report
Matcha has also been gaining traction as a food ingredient, showing up in everything from energy bars and chocolate to ice cream including high-profile products from Häagen-Dazs ice cream to Jamba Juice smoothies, said Sage Group founder Brian Keating, an expert in the specialty tea market and author of The Matcha Report.
“In 20 years of analyzing the tea industry it is clear Matcha is not a passing fad, but a major trend with long term viability. The international attention being paid to Matcha currently is revitalizing the centuries-old Japanese Matcha industry. Consumers are also benefiting from a fun and novel way to boost their wellness lifestyles,” noted Keating.
“Sage Group forecasts that sales of Matcha products in the U.S. and Canada will continue to grow 25% annually, compounded year-to-year, between 2015 and 2018."
He added: “After centuries of relative obscurity and a couple recent decades of low-key promotion by die-hard tea fans, Matcha is now exploding onto the global beverage stage in a way that was truly incomprehensible a few years ago… If you’re considering getting involved with Matcha, your moment is right now.”
Beware cheap imitations?
But is the Matcha on the US market all authentic, Japanese Matcha, and does it matter if it isn’t?
Keating told FoodNavigator-USA: "Authentic Matcha originates in Japan. However, China is now producing powdered green tea that is 'Matcha-style''; sometimes using plants originating in Japan, but now grown in China, and also some classic Matcha processing techniques (shade grown, and so on.). There also rumors that one of the biggest Japanese Matcha companies is collaborating with a Chinese farm to produce Matcha, which makes sense as Japan is short of land and labor is tight."
But is Chinese-grown Matcha the genuine article? "Ask a Japanese Matcha producer if this Chinese ‘Matcha’ is Matcha and he will likely say ‘NO'," added Keating, who said that lower grade material is often brownish green (as opposed to bright green), bitter, and suspiciously cheap.
How is Matcha produced?
According to Jade Monk: "At harvest the Matcha tea leaves are picked, flash steamed, dried with no heat, and then finely ground under large granite grinding wheels at a low friction to preserve the nutrient content. The result is a pure, bright green powder that is nutrient dense."
"Chinese Matcha is quite a bit lower cost than the Japanese variety, so much of is used to make cookies, skincare products, and so on. However, there is some matcha-style tea being produced in China that is quite good, although none equals the ceremonial (top) grades of the Japanese…so far."
'Some matcha-style tea produced in China is quite good, but none equals the ceremonial (top) grades of the Japanese… so far'
And should demand for Matcha continue to grow, he added, “It is reasonable to assume that the Chinese tea industry, with the intense commitment and resources needed to make pure Matcha, could end up servicing future marketplace demands for the green gold, albeit using tea leaves that offer very different sensory attributes than do Japanese tea plants and traditional Matcha processing methods.”
But what about analytical tests? Can buyers test products to ensure they are getting Japanese Matcha? "Stay tuned," said Keating. "This technology is needed and we’re working on it for all tea types, not just Matcha."
* Market data provided by SPINS for the natural channel (excluding Whole Foods), covering the Specialty Gourmet Channel and Conventional Multi-outlet. Powered by SPINS, IRI.
Click HERE to find out more about The Matcha Report.