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Tencha is the name given to tea leaves which have gone through a series of processes to make them ready to be ground into a fine powder. Tencha are harvested leaves that gone through the various steps to prepare them for grounding into the fine Matcha powder. So, the word Tencha is not just the natural leaves of the tea plantation.
All types of teas come from the same plant called camellia sinensis. While the cultivars may vary between plantations and countries, the plant essentially is the same. In this blog, we outline how the leaves from the tea plants are converted into Tencha.
From Tea Leaves to Tencha to Matcha
Growing tea plants in shade
To make Tencha, the plants are grown in shade for at least 20 days prior to harvesting. This increases the chlorophyll and theanine content in the leaves, which gives matcha it’s bright green colour, subtle earthy taste, and high antioxidant properties. The properties of the leaves also vary depending on use of chemical versus organic fertilisers and growing practices. For example, if synthetic fertilisers are used, the plants grow quicker than natural process and the leaves may have slightly sweeter taste compared to naturally grown leaves.
After 20-30 days in shade, the leaves are harvested i.e. picked from the branches. The age and size of the leaves make a difference in the product’s taste and quality. So does the season in which they are harvested. Tea plant leaves are harvested many times in a year and depending on the weather and season, the properties vary. Harvesting is done either using machines (large plantations) or hand-picked. Ceremonial grade matcha is made from young and supple leaves. The grade depends on the age and the season in which the leaves are harvested.
As soon as the tea leaves are harvested, they start getting oxidised due to the reaction of the enzymes with atmosphere. Hence they are steamed almost immediately to prevent oxidisation.
The steamed leaves are then dried by either normal air blowing or hot wind from ovens, as leaves travel through conveyor belts. This can make a difference in the product. Normal air drying takes more time compared of hot wind from ovens and is less damaging to the nutrients and natural flavours. (To make Tencha, leaves are not kneaded before drying, while to make Sencha or Gyokuro tea, the leaves are kneaded. Hence Tencha is has about half the weight as compared to Sencha for the same volume).
The above steps are collectively known as Aracha process.
Separating stems and veins from leaves
Once the leaves are dried, they crumble naturally and start separating from stems. Slow blowing is used to separate leaves from the stems completely, specifically for ceremonial grade matcha. Culinary grade matcha has both leaves and stems.
THE LEAVES ARE NOW CALLED TENCHA AND ARE READY FOR GROUNDING INTO MATCHA POWDER.
Grounding the leaves
Tencha leaves are usually ground using stone mills into a very fine powder with a particle size of 2-20 microns. This is what is called matcha. Due to matcha being a fine powder, it is dissolved in water or liquid and consumed as a whole.