Grades of Tea
Just like fine wine uses the best grapes, fine maccha uses the best leaves. These are found in the tips of the green tea tree (Camellia Sinensis), otherwise known as the flush or new growth.
The May pick of Ichibancha (1st flush) is the most sought after flush for many reasons. Mostly it can be attributed to the young leaves slow growth coming out of winter, concentrating the sweet and full-bodied amino acids, chlorophyll, and nutrients. Ichibancha maccha has an unbeatable smooth texture.
The July pick of nibancha (the 2nd flush) is more prevalent; however, these leaves that grow quickly and with volume don’t offer the same rich and full flavours; many people love this flush for its light body and bitter taste, sometimes offering a nice earthy flavour. Because of chlorophyll’s chemical relationship with tannin, the 2nd flush has a higher concentration of the latter and tends to have a resulting pucker and dryness similar to young red wine.
The Art of Blending
Within each flush, the leaves are blended and sometimes cross blended to create a spectrum of quality versus accessibility. Premium maccha is created using “bluish” green leaves with perfect shape and a full-bodied aroma and flavour. Judges with experience assess the variety of flavours, textures, colours, and smells presented to them. The best maccha can sell for thousands of dollars a kilogram at auction.
Other Contributing Factors
Storage, the stone grind, and age can all affect the quality of your maccha. The stone grinding process is an artisan technique and a bad grind can ruin otherwise premium maccha. Humidity, time, and strong odours also have the potential to ruin your tea.
The higher the grade, the:
- sweeter it is (more amino acids)
- smoother the texture
- more vibrant it is
- the “greener” the aroma (chlorophyll)
- fuller it feels in the mouth
The lower the grade, the:
- more bitter it is (more tannin)
- coarser the texture
- more earthy coloured it is
- the shorter the finish
- dryer it feels in the mouth