On the surface, blending Matcha might not seem remarkable.
The mechanisms are simple – combining tea leaves from one batch with leaves from another batch. However, the art of blending is much more than just tossing together tea leaves. Properly blending Matcha is the secret to achieving consistent flavor, aroma, and quality, and to ensuring that you get to enjoy the same delicious cup of Matcha every single time.
Why Blending Matters
The process of blending helps cancel out natural variation created from plant to plant, and even from year to year. Such variation occurs because unlike many other crops, the entire tea plant is not harvested and replanted each year. Instead a single tea plant can be grown, cultivated, and selectively harvested for as long as 30 years! As it matures throughout its service, the leaves will produce natural variation – in color, flavor, size, and even tenderness. The only way to ensure consistency is to combine leaves from different plants, and from different harvests.
The process of blending Matcha is similar to blending grapes to make wine. Like Matcha, the same vines produce grapes each season. However, each vine and each harvest year may produce subtle differences in qualities like acidity and aroma. To achieve consistent flavor and quality, experts called “sommeliers” sample the wines and combine batches to create a wine that very closely matches what was produced previously.
The tea industry (like the wine industry) also relies on the expertise of sommeliers. Highly trained Matcha sommeliers make sure that each cup of Matcha delivers the same taste and the highest quality. Balancing the natural variations of Matcha requires a keen sense of taste, and a series of careful samplings.
The Basics of Blending Matcha
Step 1: Sensory Testing
During sensory testing, the sommelier inspects the tencha, the base tea for making powdered Matcha.
Essentially, the sommelier looks at, feels, and smells the tencha leaves, even before the leaves have been added to water or steeped. From just the color, feel, and aroma of the tencha, an experienced sommelier can already understand a great deal about how the finished Matcha will turn out. Developing this skill requires years and years of experience.
Step 2: Brewing and Tasting Tencha
Next, the sommelier brews the tencha leaves with hot water to sample how the leaves taste when mixed with water. Brewing brings out different notes, flavors, and tones from the tea.
The sommeliers taste the brewed tencha by swirling the tea around in their mouths. Oxygenation naturally enhances flavor perception. So like tasting wine, adding oxygen to the tea by slurping and swirling improves your ability to fully taste the flavors of the tea. This is why the openings of wine glasses vary in width, to allow more or less oxygen to enter the wine, and why properly whisking and aerating your Matcha is so important!
Step 3: Grinding and Tasting Matcha
After sampling the tencha, the sommelier determines the amount of tencha to blend from each batch to achieve the desired taste. The tencha is then sent to the Matcha grinders to create a test batch. Once ground, the Matcha goes through the same testing as tencha – visual, olfactory, and taste tests.
After the final testing, the sommeliers compare their impressions and decide on the blend that will become Aiya’s Matcha. The final blend is mixed, ground, packed, and shipped to the world!