Many folks prefer organic when it comes to concentrated products like green powders, herbs, spices, and even matcha powder. Matcha is made from the Camellia sinensis plant, otherwise known as the Green Tea plant. The highest quality matcha in the world comes from Japan. Historically, matcha was a delicacy reserved for upper-class noblemen and warriors. It was grown and cultivated by small families to sustain a living. The term organic didn't come into the mainstream until the early 2000s. Besides, after formal certification protocols came into effect, many small-scale farmers never bothered to go through the costly certification process, even if they practiced organic farming methods. Therefore, finding organically certified matcha powder from Japan was almost impossible.
Fast forward to 2023, it's rare to find a matcha brand that isn't branded with the term "organic." Organic has become a major selling point in North American markets. Almost 6% of all food products in the U.S. are certified organic, and the retail sales of organic food rose 4.3% in 2022 to a record $61.7 billion.
Just as matcha was once an obscure food product, the rise of organic matcha is a peculiar counterculture trend that's hard to miss.
We'll go over in this article how organic matcha came to be.
Matcha's Arrival in North America
In 2006, the first shipment of matcha from Japan arrived in a sea-enclosed city on the west coast of Canada. It was delivered to Andrews & George Company Limited, the parent company of a premium natural health product distributor founded by John Harrison. It's not an impeccable coincidence that two generations prior, his great-grandfather helped import the first North American automobile into Japan through Andrews & George Company Limited. Little did he know then how far and vast matcha would spread from that day forward.
With some concerted sales efforts, matcha began sweeping across the shelves in select natural health food stores like Whole Foods Market. It was soon picked up by U.S. Whole Foods Markets and other chains. Around this time, the organic movement was heating up, and there were certification bodies in place to certify organic products through rigid standards. For a product to be labelled organic, it must contain at least 95% certified organic content.
This would prove to be a challenge for Domatcha, as at the time, few farmers would go to the lengths to get certified in Japan. The organic certification body in Japan is called JONA, which could give out the JAS (Japanese Agricultural Standard) seal.
Soon the hunt to find organic matcha farmers would ensue. The Domatcha team eventually met the Nishi family in Kagoshima, Japan. The Nishi family started cultivating organic matcha in 1994, shortly after organic certification started in Japan.
The two products that were made certified organic were the Domatcha Ceremonial matcha and Domatcha Summer Harvest. These products are certified in both North America and Europe.
Domatcha brought organic matcha to the North American market in 2010. Before long, it would become some of their most highly celebrated products.
What Does Organic Matcha Mean?
Organic matcha comes from a tea crop. The requirements for organic crop production are as follows:
(Taken from the website of the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service)
- Land must have no prohibited substances applied to it for at least 3 years before the harvest of an organic crop.
- Soil fertility and crop nutrients will be managed through tillage and cultivation practices, crop rotations, and cover crops supplemented with animal and crop waste materials and allowed synthetic materials.
- Crop pests, weeds, and diseases will be controlled primarily through management practices, including physical, mechanical, and biological controls. When these practices are insufficient, a biological, botanical, or synthetic substance approved on the National List may be used.
- Operations must use organic seeds and other planting stock when available.
- The use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation and sewage sludge is prohibited.
Tea harvest in Kagoshima, Japan
The organic agriculture Japan certification allows organic products to be commercialized within Japan. It came into effect in 2022. JAS guarantees:
- Climate and environmental protection.
- Conservation of soil fertility
- Preservation of biodiversity
- Respect for natural cycles and animal welfare
- Absence of use of chemical and synthetic products
- Absence of GMO
- Transparent labelling for consumers
By choosing Domatcha organic matcha, you're ensuring what you consume has not come into contact with chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides; instead, natural fertilizers are used. The tea fields are surrounded by trees and bushes to protect the fields from environmental contaminants. Each batch is tested for chemical and bacterial residue. Sensory testing, colour and tone testing, and nutritional ingredient analysis are also performed on every batch
What are the Obstacles Toward Getting Organically Certified?
In 2018, the overall proportion of Japanese organic farmland compared to conventional was shy of 0.5% of the total farmland. Compared to the United States, which sold more than $50 billion worth of organic foods and products, sales in Japan were US$590 million.
There is some speculation about why the number of organically certified products is significantly lower in Japan than in North America, other than population size. Firstly, it is harder to get certified in Japan than it is in the States. To get an organic certification, one must go through a certification agency. In the United States, there are 80 agencies available to certify farms and businesses. There are only 53 in Japan. Secondly, costs and additional work may deter Japanese farmers from pursuing organic certification. It is estimated that it takes 1.6 times more labour hours with a 15% reduction in overall yield for farmers to transition to organic production in Japan. For many, this is not worth it. Most farmers in Japan are small-scale farmers who utilize organic production techniques but don't want to go through the cumbersome organic certification process.
The Nutritional Impact of Organic Matcha
Many choose organic products because they believe it's a healthier choice. In some ways, this is true. By choosing organic products, such as organic matcha powder, you avoid exposure to pesticides. Long-term pesticide exposure has been linked to cancer and reproductive issues.
The Beauty of Choice
Two decades ago, our food choices were limited. There was no regulation differentiating organic products from conventional in the age of hyper-industrialization and population growth. Companies were out to turn a profit, not to look out for the population's health. In the early 2000s, the tide finally began to turn after enough advocacy prompted the government of the United States to form regulations pertaining to organically certified products. Japan enforced similar policies around the same time. Today, there are much more options to buy organic and non-GMO products. The organic revolution is a beautiful example of how persistent advocacy can impact the world and the ever-changing consumer.
At Domatcha, we constantly listen and attempt to respond to our customer's questions and suggestions. We always strive to stay above the curve and provide the highest quality products to serve our customer's health. This is why we have a whole section dedicated to organic matcha products and were the first to put decaffeinated matcha on the market. We hope to turn our customer's advocacy into a form of inspiration and beauty, leaving behind a strong legacy that binds the traditions of the East to the West.