Because Matcha is still relatively new to the Western nations, we’re not surprised to hear that some people are skeptical to try it. Often times, people unknowingly purchase bitter, gritty, low quality Matcha, giving them a terrible first experience and turning them off to Matcha overall (ugh). So what’s the difference between high and low quality Matcha, and how can you tell?
First off, there are two main types of Matcha—“ceremonial grade” and “ingredient grade.” Ceremonial grade Matcha is meant for mixing with water only, and should have a smooth finish with little to no bitterness. Cooking or mixing this grade with anything else would just mask the mild flavor. On the other hand, ingredient grade Matcha has a more bitter, astringent flavor that is great for mixing with other ingredients (like milk, sugar, flour, etc). But how can you tell if your ceremonial or ingredient grade is of high quality? Here’s how.
The first indicator is the price. Matcha is an expensive tea. Tons of labor goes into the cultivation, harvest, and manufacturing of Matcha, and the average price point for a ceremonial grade Matcha is around $25-30 per 30g tin (1 oz). Be wary, as low prices often indicate low quality.
The second indicator is color. Good quality Matcha is vibrantly green in color—often described as jade green—and lower qualities tend to have a more yellowish/brownish hue. The vibrant green color is due to the shade growing process of Matcha; shade growing promotes the overproduction of chlorophyll, which is what gives the tea plants its natural green color.
A high quality Matcha should smell sweet and vegetal, thanks to the L-theanine amino acid that is preserved in the shade. Open air grown teas lose their amino acids because they are converted to catechins when exposed to the sun.
Next, taste your Matcha. The same amino acids that give Matcha its sweet smell should actually make the tea taste slightly sweet, too. When grown properly, a ceremonial grade Matcha shouldn’t be bitter. Ingredient grade Matcha should be slightly bitter, but not too much.
You might not think to feel your Matcha, but it’s actually a great indicator of quality. A high quality Matcha should feel very fine and silky—similar to the feel of eye shadow or baby powder. The particle size is only around 5-10 microns, which is actually even finer than baby powder! Lower quality Matcha will have larger particle sizes that feel coarse between the fingers.
Make a Bowl of Matcha
Lastly, try making a bowl of Matcha the traditional way . When you vigorously whisk a good quality ceremonial Matcha with a bamboo whisk, it shouldn’t be too hard to create a layer of foam on top. No matter how hard you try, whisking a lower quality Matcha will often just result in large air bubbles (and frustration). Making drinks or baking with your ingredient grade Matcha should result in a deep green hue, and a pleasantly mild tea flavor. The taste shouldn’t be too bitter or too mild, but should perfectly compliment the other ingredients.
Be wary when choosing your Matcha, because low quality Matcha is more readily available than you may think (even at your local health food stores!). Unfortunately, the quality of Matcha isn’t standardized in the U.S., so any grade or quality of Matcha can be passed off as a good one. But no worries! Just follow our guide above, and you’ll be a Matcha master in no time. Happy whisking!