What Are Matcha Cultivars?

I am often asked why are there subtle flavour differences within the same brand of matcha? The short answer is when, where and how a tea plant is harvested will affect its colour, potency and flavour. There’s also another factor, one that is often overlooked but responsible for the teas quality and taste, and that would be - the tea cultivar.

A cultivar is a cultivated variety, which is a fancy way of saying selected and bred by humans. In Japan, many tea cultivars are grown to produce matcha. To preserve the desired qualities of the cultivar and to prevent any genetic surprises, Japanese tea is usually propagated using cuttings, not seeds. This means that most tea fields are full of tea plant clones, with exactly the same DNA. This is one reason why even though all tea comes from Camiella Sinensis, it can taste drastically different.

I often share with customers the analogy of apple trees when speaking about the cultivars. There are over 7,500 apple tree varieties worldwide but they are all apples. It’s the same in the matcha world. There are over 200 different cultivars in Japan yet, it’s all matcha. We all have a favorite kind of apple and most of us will also develop a favourite matcha cultivar over time.

If you have ever read the label on the Hachi Matcha brand you will notice the cultivar written on the box. Bronze is 100% Yabukita, Silver is blended from Gokou and Yabukita tea leaves, Gold is blended from Samidori and Asahi tea leaves and Platinum is blended from Asahi, Uji Hikari and Samidori tea leaves.

In 1908, a farmer in the prefecture of Shizuoka named Sugiyama Hikosaburo developed a cultivar in a field to the north of a bamboo grove. He named it Yabukita, from yabu (薮) grove, and kita (北) north. This cultivar was remarkably frost resistant and hardy, could survive in a variety of locations, and had a strong flavour.

In 1954, Yabukita was registered as an official cultivar, and quickly spread throughout Japan. Now, it constitutes 76% of Japanese tea, and 69% of tea in Kyoto prefecture. Source: Obubutea.com

Gokou is known for its distinctive, sweet aroma. The name is likely derived from gokou (後光), which means halo or nimbus. Gokou is picked just a few days after Yabukita in the spring, and is especially creamy.

Cultivars with Midori (緑), meaning green, in their name are intended for green tea production. Sa (早) means early, referring to the fact that samidori is resistant to cold weather, and therefore an early sprouting tea. As matcha, it tastes smooth, soft, and velvety.

Uji, Japan is a famous tea-growing region in the Kyoto prefecture where all of our Hachi Matcha line comes from. Which cultivar is your favourite?

Take your moment,