Already hooked? Even if not, use this guide below to help understand where you stand in the world of matcha. You might learn a thing or two, and maybe even decide to join ranks with a higher quality of matcha. Alright, let’s dive in!
Matcha Deep Dive
As you’re learning, great matcha is a delicious journey, and our goal is to help you navigate some of the more complex aspects in a knowledgeable and optimal way. The more you know, the closer you’ll grow to your individual matcha practice. Check out these common questions:
Different matcha for each way to consume
Certain preparations of matcha involve traditional methods which extract all of the flavors, and can even highlight specific tastes and aromas. Generally, the highest grades are reserved for ceremonial preparation and traditional utensils. All matcha is delicate, but with greater qualities like thick-tea (koicha), the more sensitive to heat, high-power blending, and additives. Thus, the traditional method of preparation ensures no characteristics are lost.
On the other hand, sipping matcha (usucha) is more amiable to modern preparations, such as blenders, portable espresso makers, and even minor sweeteners and other additives. What’s more, is that aside from a slightly reduced L-theanine content, these grades of matcha contain the same health benefits as thick-tea (i.e. Ceremonial Grade), just with a slight hint of bitterness or astringency.
Breaking down Thick
Thick tea (Koicha) — Thick teas represent the highest spectrum of quality in matcha. Also known as Koicha, this category offers a super-fine particle size and exceptional sweetness and makes for unforgettably rich teas that literally glimmer and shine. Koicha teas are traditionally associated with, and in fact reserved for, the Japanese Tea Ceremony (i.e., Ceremonial Grade).
While Ceremonial Grade is host to its own range in premium quality, the spectrum is related through a brighter and more vibrant green color. They also share in floral, full-bodied, and earthy aromatics. Flavor-wise, Koicha also boasts surprising levels of natural sweetness, umami, and a very long finish. Thick matcha teas are also produced with significantly higher natural levels of L-theanine, chlorophyll, and antioxidant catechins like EGCG.
This dense composition stems exclusively from the harvest of the youngest and freshest tea leaves from single, heirloom cultivars. Typically, these tea-plants are at least 45 years old, of which each leaf is hand-picked (not machine harvested) immediately following a pre-harvest shading period. The highest grades are ground into matcha by 100-year-old stone granite wheels, and unlike their counterpart Usucha (Thin Tea), they are always hand-picked and appropriate for use in any matcha preparation.
Flavor terms: Bright grassy notes, vegetal, nutty, naturally sweet, full-bodied, full of umami
Breaking down Thin
Thin tea (Usucha) — Usucha represents much of the middle ground in the total range of Japanese matcha. While less exclusive, many thin teas remain high in quality, essential nutrients, and health-promoting compounds. Due to their increasing hint of bitterness, however, Usucha is considered suitable for only certain settings and preparations. It is perfect for a thinner tea, one which uses less matcha and greater frothiness to overcome greater tannin content. Usucha is also produced from tea leaves harvested of more than one cultivar, typically those less than 30 years old.
Thin teas like First Harvest or Organic Superior are nonetheless a step above Culinary Grade matcha, still produced under strict harvest and shading practices, and feature many common experiential elements such as the aroma and effects of thick teas. Modern preparations often make use of an almond or coconut milk in a matcha latte to undress their bitterness.
Flavor terms: Foamy, spry, with a gentle umami tone throughout, clean and light with a vegetable depth
Does Organic matter with Matcha?
We understand that organic can be a necessity for some. Although Japan is a world leader in agricultural standards, and in many ways their standards exceed USDA Organic qualification, we offer both non-organic and organic options. We’ve ensured that there is incredible, tasteful, aromatic matcha available for whatever your preference is. Keep in mind that while not all of our matcha is organic, all of our matcha is batch-tested for radiation, pesticides, and heavy-metals.
What about Culinary matcha?
Culinary grades matcha — If you happen to be looking for health benefits only, and excellent taste isn’t a primary concern, then our culinary matcha is by far the most cost effective choice. This grade is produced from less finely attended, less exclusively harvested, and those more mature, tannin-rich tea leaves. The flavor and aroma is more robust and bitter than other grades and is unlikely to taste pleasant, or sweet, by itself. This makes culinary matcha a strong candidate to cook, bake, shake, or mix — where it may impart a distinctive taste without overcrowding the palate.
Flavor terms: Well-balanced, creamy, fresh green flavor
The Bottom Line
Some types of matcha can be enhanced by milk or added sweetener, while others may react negatively and result in an unpleasant taste or loss of natural flavor. We guarantee you’ll find a matcha that works best with what you like.
Depending on your matcha needs, much of the range in quality is open to you. For example, if you plan to use matcha as a base or accent flavor in pastry and baked goods batters, you will have more leeway in the balance of cost, quality, and taste through culinary grades. In frostings or dust-toppings, where matcha will preside as a dominant or immediate flavor, you’d be better to choose a middle ground between quality/cost, all while ensuring a great flavor.
The same line of thinking applies to all sipping matcha, where depending how you foresee your style of preparation, including what you add to it (if anything), you’ll be getting great health benefits, but the choice is yours as to what’s the best balance.