No trip to Japan would be complete without visiting one of our most trusted suppliers of matcha. We spent the afternoon in the fields inspecting this years crop of plants: it is going to be a great year! The spring has been mild enough to avoid serious frost and the bright green shoots are out in full force.
Our producer here is relentlessly pursuing new and unique varietals and production methods in the pursuit of experiencing new tastes in tea. We got a chance to visit a top secret field that is growing albino matcha! Thats right…albino. This version of matcha is grown from a new varietal that is “self shading”. Here is how it works:
When tea is shaded it cannot properly perform photosynthesis. As a result, the plant produces L-Theanine, an amino acid, to continue producing energy for the plant to survive. L-Theanine is the unique chemical that adds the “umami”, or savoriness to matcha, gyokuro, and kabuse (all shaded teas). It is also responsible for the creamy finish of matcha. Tea that is grown in full sunlight continues to photosynthesize and in turn does not produce adequate amounts of L-Theanine to be noticeable.
This new strain of tea plant makes albino matcha function differently than most plants. It’s shocking bright color signals the absence of many of the naturally occurring components contained in regular tea plants. These missing cellular puzzle pieces force the plant to find ways to survive since normal photosynthesize can’t take place, even in full sunlight. The plant naturally produces L-Theanine as an energy source to flourish and in doing so is replicating the covering process. This natural umami is unheard of until now: basically you are getting the flavor profile of an shaded tea from one growing in full sunlight. SUPER COOL.
We had a chance to taste the matcha and it’s delicious: incredibly fresh, creamy with an umami tang that lasts after the last sip.
The traditional matcha for this year looks amazing too. We included some photos of “shuppin”, or competition grade, matcha right before picking. When you are under the tana covering its so peaceful. We shot a little video of these plants here.
We feel so lucky to be working with the best of the best in Japan. We have a network of restless and driven personalities pursuing the future while respecting the past. Our hats are off to all of them!