Just like there are fine wines, there are fine matchas. It’s easy to tell the highest grade (Ceremonial Grade) from the next lower grade (Grade A) because the grade is often written on the label. But other than the labeling, what is it you should be looking for in a good matcha?
Matcha in both the powdered and prepared forms has a beautiful color. When powdered, it’s a vibrant, bright green. When prepared, it darkens into a magnificent emerald hue. There are a few reasons why Matcha has this amazing color. First, tencha (the leaf eventually ground into matcha) is usually shade-grown, which helps lock in chlorophyll. This chlorophyll gives the leaf a deep green color. The other is that matcha is the powder of an entire leaf. While many green teas are just the extraction of oils from leaves, matcha is the tea leaf itself. That means you’re getting the concentrated color of the leaf, too.
A great matcha, like Ippodo or Haru No Ko, will have this signature, bright green color. Lesser matchas won’t be this amazing shade. They’ll still be green, but the color itself will include more yellow or brown. This discoloration comes from the oxidization of the matcha. You’ll even notice high quality matchas picking up these colors if you don’t store your tea properly. Exposure to light, heat, and air can taint matcha’s amazing color. Therefore, fresher, high quality matchas that have been handled properly and swiftly will have a more vibrant green color.
Flavor and Scent
Even though all tea comes from the same plant, flavor can vary wildly. A black tea tastes nothing like a Japanese green tea. And Silver Needle tastes very dissimilar to a highly-oxidized oolong. Matchas can have slightly varying flavors, too. All matchas will have a grassy, sweet, umami flavor, as that is the nature of Japanese green teas, but some will be sweeter or grassier than others. Great matchas will also have a velvety-soft mouthfeel in common. Though this texture will vary from matcha to matcha, too.
If your matcha is overwhelmingly bitter or has an off scent, it’s likely not the best quality. While matcha can have subtle bitterness, like a non-powdered tea, matcha should not be astringent. We’ve also heard of bad matchas smelling fishy. While matcha can sometimes have an umami, grassy scent, it should never smell “fishy.” In fact, we’ve never encountered a matcha with that scent.
Which Quality to Use
We pride ourselves in sourcing great matcha. That being said, we do carry two distinct qualities of matcha: Ceremonial Grade and Grade A. You can enjoy both as a traditional cup of matcha or served over ice. You could also technically use both in cooking. However, we find that its best to use each grade of matcha in certain ways. Learn more about which matcha grade to use in this helpful guide.
From January to March, our matcha doesn’t just taste good. It does good, too! A portion of every matcha purchase from Art of Tea will go to Gift of Life Marrow Registry. This organization helps build donor registries so that more people in need can find their perfect matches. Want to help? Just stock up on matcha. It’s never been easier to give back.