Ceremonial Grade-A Matcha: Love at First Sip

This is the story of our Ceremonial Grade-A Matcha discovery.

… at one point my heart melted. I was stopped dead in my tracks, and all was well in the world. After that soft, sweet, umami, first sip, there was no going back.

During our sourcing trip to Japan last Fall, we had the opportunity to meet with our Japanese matcha tea supplier — a family-owned and run business in the heart of the famous tea-producing region Shizuoka, Japan. As an incredible host (which Japan notoriously takes to a new level), the owner of this company arranged for me to stay at a local traditional hotel (with traditional tatami mat rooms, a futon bed, heated bidet, and traditional Japanese breakfast), then picked me up in the morning with a translator, Yumi.

They brought me to their office and warehouse to sit with me all morning to talk and taste all of their best teas. At the facility, we all put on slippers to get out of our street shoes, adorned lab coats, and sat down in the office lounge to taste some tea. His lovely and gracious wife steeped up a wide variety of their teas, one after another, as we discussed the leaves, the aromas, and the flavors. He was so humble and personable. He even humored my curiosity to steep up some tencha, the finished tea leaves prior to being ground up into matcha. For as powerful as matcha is, these leaves steeped up into a cup that was surprisingly light in taste and aroma — a surprise to both me and Yumi.

Tencha Tea Leaves

As Japanese green teas were the first teas that I fell in love with over 20 years ago, I honestly thought I had died and gone to heaven. I was actually in Japan, drinking tea with a respected Japanese tea master. Somebody pinch me!

As we drank tea, we talked about global tea trends, the US tea market, and what types of teas and flavors most interest Americans. He was surprised that more Americans didn’t love dark roasted green teas like hojicha, given our culture’s love of coffee. It was surprising to him that our most sought-after tea, that has been booming for a number of years in the US, was matcha – the most bright green and verdant tea in the world. He was thrilled about this, and the global matcha boom was even helping him open up a new larger facility right next to their current refrigerated warehouse and processing facility, set to open this spring.

bancha and kukicha teas

Finally, we tasted the matcha teas. We viewed piles of powder from all matcha grades side-by-side, smelled the aromas, tasted the teas, and at one point my heart melted. I was stopped dead in my tracks when I tasted their Ceremonial Grade-A Matcha, and all was well in the world. After that soft, sweet, umami, first sip, there was no going back. I was forever ruined and in love, a newly self-proclaimed matcha-snob. I knew in that moment that we absolutely had import this premium-grade matcha and share it with our customers. They HAD to experience this heightened level of matcha too!

Matcha Tea Tasting

After our morning of tea tasting, we were all buzzing with energy and a serious need to pee. We then went through their sanitizing air-blasting corridor, to get a full tour of the facility including the refrigerated storage area where finished teas await shipment, further evidence of their commitment to quality and freshness.  I got to see how a modern matcha processing facility gets their green tea powders so incredibly fine. This modern process uses stainless steel ball-bearings pummeling a batch of tencha leaves for over an hour, along with a series of fine sieves to ensure the fineness of the final powder, yielding just 10 pounds of finished premium matcha per batch.

We then visited the new Tea Museum in Shizuoka for lunch, where every dish in our delicious meal incorporated tea, from tempura fried tea leaves paired with matcha sea salt, to pickled tea and root veggies, paired with cold-brewed gyokuro.

tea museum lunch

We then drove to the nearby mountains to meet one of their local partners. Mr. Iizuka is a tea farmer who had been growing tea for 3 generations and was now working side by side with his son to pass along the knowledge he had acquired over the years, a source of family pride. He was kind and loved the land, and loved the leaf. I’ll write another post on all the things I learned at the farm. For now, check out his genuine smile — it says it all. And if you look closely you can see the iconic Mount Fuji in the background!

 Mr. Iizuka tea farmer

I later learned that their highest grade matcha (our beloved Grade-A Japanese matcha) still gets stone-mill ground in the traditional method, using 100% first harvest tea leaves from Oku Midori and Yabukita leaf cultivars grown in Yume, Fukudori Prefecture. So I don’t know whether it’s the traditional milling method or the premium quality of the tencha tea leaves that give this Grade-A matcha its premium taste. But I will not question the masters. I will only say thank you, and more matcha, please.

Domo arigato. Motto matcha o kudasai.

New Friends

But is it worth the price? We think so. Every last drop is pure bliss. And even still, this most premium matcha is ~1/3 the price per serving of a matcha latte at Starbucks. And while matcha lattes are indeed a tasty dessert to please your inner child, this pure ceremonial grade matcha is the real deal — full of life and healthy goodness, and satisfying on so many other levels. I invite you to whisk up a bowl and let us know what you think.

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