What's The Difference Between Organic and Non-Organic Matcha?
Before our first trip to Japan, I was convinced that organic matcha must be the superior quality and better-tasting option than the non-organic varieties.
After all, in Canada and the United States, it's common for organic produce and food products to be highly sought-after by health conscious individuals, relative to their non-organic counterparts. So why would matcha be any different?
Call me a heretic, but I now prefer non-organic because, well, it tastes way better, and because fears of pesticide are over-blown, because Japan strictly regulates their use.
Don’t believe me that non-organic is a great choice?
There are some key reasons why non-organic matcha tastes better, but it requires a bit of background knowledge on how matcha is grown.
I'll try not to bore you to death. I promise it's key to understanding the difference between non-organic and organic matcha. :)
I’ll start by discussing premium quality, ceremonial matcha, which is what we sell.
Premium matcha is harvested in the spring (called "first flush"), after the tea plants have been shaded for 2-4 weeks. Shading is basically placing large covers over the tea plants to limit the amount of sunlight reaching the leaves.
Why do they shade the plants? It forces the tea plant to push nutrients into its newly formed baby leaves that sprout in the spring. Less light means the leaves need more chlorophyll to produce energy for the plant.
Ok, why the heck does this matter?
Tea plants that have been fertilized (natural fertilizer like pulp from the vegetable oil industry) can pump more nutrient goodness into those newly formed leaves, making the leaves taste sweeter, creamier, and less bitter or woody tasting when harvested and processed into matcha.
They also become a brighter, more vibrant green colour. (We're talkin' Instagram-worthy green. So awesome!)
The issue with this, is that bugs also figured out that these fertilized plants taste better.
Therefore, farmers need to apply some pesticides to keep the bugs off.
We aren’t talking about US-style, mega corporate GMO farms being doused in Roundup, which is where some people’s minds go when they hear non-organic (gasp!).
In Japan, and in Uji specifically, these are small family operations where the type and quantity of pesticide use is strictly regulated.
Outside of Japan? No clue, but that isn’t even technically matcha (no matter what they tell you), so good luck with that.
Organic plants are not fertilized (or at least not as much) because farmers cannot use pesticides. The plant, therefore, cannot be shaded for as long or as intensely, so the leaves don’t develop as deep a green colour and tend to be not as sweet and rich tasting.
Often, this also leads to a slightly more bitter taste than non-organic.
I should note that this isn’t always the case with organic matcha. If the plants are shaded and harvested only once per year (no second or third flush), and the plants are harvested by hand to pick only the best leaves, then you can get a high quality, organic matcha that is on par with non-organic (such as our Organic GOLD Tier Matcha).
But be prepared, the smaller and more manual production method will cost you.
This rationale applies to other grades of matcha as well.
It doesnt matter quite as much, however, because lower grades are either consumed knowing there will be a degree of bitterness, or they are mixed into lattes, smoothies, and/or baked goods where the bitter flavour compliments other flavours.
Metta Tea offers both organic and non-organic matcha tea options. We took the time (and drank A LOT of tea!) to chose organic matchas that taste awesome and are as close as possible to their non-organic alternatives.
There are other matcha companies that choose low quality, culinary-grade organic matcha and stick a ‘premium ceremonial organic’ label on there so that they can mark up the price to make a ton of money.
That’s some fake ass bullshit.
Unlike ‘organic’ product claims, the word ‘ceremonial’ is not regulated so companies can use that word however they want, which many do, and this is why so many people buy the crappy, low-quality matcha (unknowingly) and think it tastes like crap - because it does!
So to recap -
Organic matcha = sweet, creamy, rich tasting, with a touch of bitterness.
Non-organic matcha = sweeter, creamier and richer tasting, with zero bitterness.
If you have any other questions about our organic or non-organic matcha, please contact us and we'd be happy to have a conversation about it, so that you can make the right decision for you.