Talking with industry members who can see the import/export numbers, there is the increasing possibility that Japanese matcha may actually contain at least some Chinese leaf (tencha) that has been milled in Japan and then labelled as Japanese matcha. If it is Chinese green tea imported to Japan and then blended and milled in Japan – is it still “Japanese” matcha?
Snapshot of Japanese Tencha Production
According to this presentation from the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF), Japan produced approximately 79,500 tons of unfinished green tea in 2015. 2.8% (i.e. 2,226 tons) of that was tencha. That gives a maximum potential of 2.226 billion grams of matcha Japan can produce for the year 2015.
Japanese Exports To The US
4,127 total tons of green tea was exported from Japan in 2015. 40% (1,650.8 tons) of that green tea total went to the US. This 1,650 tons includes all sencha, gyokuro, teabag leaf portions, and other forms of Japanese green tea used/consumed in the US. If the proportions remain consistent: 2.8% (46.22 tons) of imported Japanese tea was matcha-related. I use the term “matcha-related” because this could include the full range of food-grade (culinary) matcha that gets used for baked goods, matcha for RTD, and other. If 46.22 tons is a correct estimate of the amount of matcha imported, that would mean a maximum of a little over 1.5 million units of Aiya America ceremonial grade matcha (30g per unit). I use Aiya’s product because it is fairly representative of how a unit of higher-grade matcha is packaged.
Gaps In Calculation
Of course there are a lot of ways this calculation could be off:
What if the % of Japanese matcha imported to the US is higher? Can we reasonably expect that the US is getting the higher quality matcha rather than it staying in the Japanese market?
MAFF data indicates there is a declining amount of Japanese land being used to grow tea, and that production levels are also declining. If matcha sales volume continues to increase in the US, where will the supply of tencha come from?
So far, no ironclad case, but enough to indicate the need for further digging. Demand for matcha may