Simply put, Matcha is a powered form of green tea.
Matcha is typically shade-grown, or at least shade-covered for a few weeks, before the bright green leaves are picked. Shade covering is thought to help concentrate the catechins (EGCG), antioxidants, chlorophyll, and caffeine, resulting in even more of the health-boosting benefits of green tea.
In producing the highest quality matcha, only the small, fresh, vivid green tea leaves and bud will be hand-plucked. Older leaves, broader leaves, or leaves from a second-picking may be used for lower quality matcha. After picking, they are immediately steamed, preventing (further) oxidation and preserving their nutrient concentration.
With all matcha, the stems of the leaves are removed, but with the premium matcha, the veins of the leaves are also removed, to create the softest, finest powered green tea. The matcha is then ground (usually with stone) and packaged to preserve it’s color and nutrient value.
Traditionally, matcha was only grown in Japan; though, now other countries are beginning production of matcha, namely China.
Wherever you shop for matcha, you are likely to encounter different grades, levels, and price points. Broadly speaking there is ceremonial grade matcha and culinary grade matcha, though even within these you may find both a higher and lower grade. (Organic certification may also drive up the price.)
Typically ceremonial grade is meant for drinking alone as tea, though it may or may not be prepared in a ceremonial way. If you want to prepare and drink matcha tea at home, you’d likely go with ceremonial, as you’re likely to find it smoother, more palatable and perhaps even naturally sweet.
Culinary grade matcha is more typically used in smoothies, desserts or pastry decorating, and in general cooking general. Culinary grade tends to be a bit darker, having less of a vibrant green color. It may be a bit more bitter or tannic-tasting; some may say it’s “harsher” and less pleasant that ceremonial matcha, hence why it’s mixed into foods.
In most cafes offering matcha, you will frequently find it offered as a matcha latte, sweetened and prepared with some kind of steamed or frothed milk. Other places you may be offered matcha-sencha, a blend of green tea leaves (sencha) with the matcha.
In speciality matcha cafes you may be offered “koicha” (thick matcha) or “usucha” (thin matcha). You will be most familiar with usucha “thin matcha,” which has a greater water to matcha ratio and is much more common. Should you want a very energizing beverage, and are willing to pit your taste buds against the extremely strong, even bitter taste, koicha may be worth a try. (I ordered koicha at a speciality cafe and not only did I need more water added just to sip it, it took me all day to drink it and I was totally wired.) Fair warning, it is not for the caffeine-sensitive nor for timid taste buds.
When shopping for matcha, if you’re not sure what to get, consider whether you’ll most likely drink matcha as tea or use it for cooking. For cooking, baking, or smoothies, go for the cheaper options. If you’ll use it for both or are unsure, a medium price point would be safe. You could also get a few single-serve sticks here to test out whether you’re more likely to drink it or cook with it.
Traditionally matcha is prepared in a bowl with hot water using a bamboo whisk. A “w” shape is swirled repeatedly with the whisk until the powder has blended and a froth has formed.
For those with less patience, a milk frother will do the trick. Or in a pinch, a household whisk works, but with any utensil, choose an adequately sized bowl or mug.
While on the go, add 1 single-serve stick or half to 1 teaspoon of matcha to a water bottle of cool water or a tea mug filled with hot water, then shake vigorously. You may need to reshake if the powder settles or clumps form.
Cooking applications of matcha abound. For inspiration, check out my pinterest board or search for your own recipe. Did I mention, matcha is also great in cocktails?
Matcha should be stored in an air-tight container to preserve its freshness and nutrient value. If you plan to keep it for an extended period of time, the fridge is best.
To summarize, matcha is the powdered, nutrient-dense form of green tea. When shopping for matcha, consider whether you intend to drink it straight or cook with it and that’ll determine whether you should go for the more expensive ceremonial grade or the more economical culinary grade. Consume as you’d like, and make sure you store it well.
Ready to try out matcha? Shop now for single-serve matcha!