The Matcha Journey, Part 9: Milling Tencha into Matcha Powder
Matcha, finally. This in-depth look into the making of matcha is at its end. If you weren’t able to follow its progress, it starts here
The journey of a leaf is concluded
At long last, ever since the winter when the tea bushes were showered with care and affection by the abundance of fertilizers; the careful cultivation, pruning and pest eradication; to the meticulous shading that required attention week after week; to the painstaking effort of ensuring that only the best leaves would be plucked while preserving the dignity of the tea bush; to the relatively quick preliminary process; the time has come for the sweat of labor to bear fruit.
Bales of tencha leave the processing plant to be turned into matcha. Despite the waves of innovation brought upon by technology to the tea making process, the ways of tradition yet again remain unsurpassed. Tencha - dry, cut, and brittle - are poured into stainless steel funnels direct to the middle of two rotating stone mills that pulverize it to matcha.
These traditional stone mills weigh 30 kg and 30 cm in diameter have etched grooves specifically for grinding tencha into matcha. In the past, workers had to turn the stones by themselves, but now motors are hooked to the mills to ensure constant pressure, speed and unfailing grinding. In modern Japan, only 10 artisans possess the skills and knowledge required to create these mills.
Despite the automation, the milling process cannot be rushed. A tin of Matcha Organics’ Premium Ceremonial Japanese Matcha Green Tea Powder at 30 g requires an hour at the grindstone, plus these wheels rotate very slowly. At these low speeds, heat from friction is kept to a minimum, too much and it might cause oxidation in the powder that alters its flavor. It’s almost like matcha’s zen origins is taught at the milling process with the process being a weird way of meditation.
A beautiful, luminous, silky smooth matcha powder is what you are rewarded with. Before packing, it’s sifted for the last time to ensure no surprises; then it’s weighed and packed by hand.
But not all matcha is made the same. The method described above is only true to ceremonial grade matcha powder, the best, most coveted grade of matcha. Another method of pulverizing matcha is through pulverization machines using ceramic ball mills or jet air pulverization. Because stone mills are less productive by only producing less than 500g of matcha powder over a 10-hour workday, these pulverizations machines are the next best option. It comes at a price - stone-milled matcha is silky smooth at 1-4 microns and can retain flavor, color and aroma better.
That concludes our matcha journey! It’s an incredible experience learning how minute aspects can do much to impact tea. Nature and nurture indeed, but only what is inherent can be improved. It starts a good cultivar whose fate lies entirely upon nature during the winter, but slowly its nurture through spring shapes its final form, that as we learned doesn’t stop until the very last moment when the matcha powder takes residence in a tin, hibernating until it reaches your hand, ready to delight you upon the moment the lid. Thereafter, another journey matcha starts, and this time, it’s with you.
That has been the end of 9-part series. End this journey by beginning your own adventure with matcha - a tin of organic matcha powder may open up a new world of flavors and aromas for you.