Quick Guide to Purchasing and Preparing Traditional Matcha Tea
Okay, so you’ve been convinced by all the cute, vibrant green baked goods (I mean, matcha macarons?! Those cute lil green sammys couldn’t look better!) and matcha lattes that there’s somethin’ special about matcha. So you head to your local Whole Foods and make your way into the coffee/tea aisle. Behold, the matcha tea section! When you reach for the shiny tin that catches your eye, you notice there’s a LOT of matcha teas to choose from… and option paralysis settles in.
If you’re at all like me, you may stand in front of this section for over 30 minutes, trying to research what all the grades are, why some cost $30 and others are $12, and why some have added sugar. There’s all this talk about different regions, quality, and growing processes on the canisters. In the process, your phone probably starts telling you the battery is dying because your compulsive research is making it exhausted. You might end up buying one, but then get home and realize you made a terrible mistake by buying one that isn’t even grown in JAPAN! Hours of research later, you create a wee blog entry to share all you learned in hopes others don’t have the same paralyzing event in the tea aisle…
Lo and behold: this mini guide is born. I certainly don’t claim to be an expert, just trying to learn more! Here’s some things to consider for your next trip to the grocery store to buy matcha and how to prepare it the traditional way! Cute green drinks are underway…!
I wish I could say I didn’t buy matcha tea and then later return it after spending 30 minutes in the grocery store doing research, but it’s what happened. I ended up buying the matcha that looked the cutest from the outside, only to find out what was inside wasn’t the highest quality or grade I was looking for!
The quest for finding my favorite matcha still continues, but these are all the things I’ve begun learning as I have been preparing matcha nearly daily! I love matcha as my midday cup of calm, grounded energy. Curious about the health benefits of matcha? Don’t forget to read this blog post!
Grades of Matcha
There’s so matcha to consider when purchasing matcha tea! When choosing matcha tea, one of the first things to look for is the grade. Options include:
- Ceremonial: This is the HIGHEST grade and the sole purpose is drinking. It has been used for centuries in Japanese tea ceremonies and is made from the youngest tea leaves.
- Culinary: As the name suggests, this grade of matcha is used primarily for cooking/baking. Its color is not as vibrant. However, it is not considered a “poor quality” grade – just different in its flavor profile! It tends to be more bitter/astringent, so is most often mixed in lattes/smoothies and added to foods. There are FIVE grades of culinary matcha:
- Premium Grade: Great for smoothies and lattes. It’s good for everyday use as it’s high-quality, but not as pricey as ceremonial.
- Café Grade: A little less delicate than premium grade, this has a strong flavor. It has the bright green color and is often found in coffee shops for lattes, smoothies, and blended drinks.
- Classic Grade: This is more economical than the above, but still quality with a fine texture and bright color. It’s a little bitter, but still creamy!
- Ingredient Grade: This is a little thicker and best for dairy recipes, sauces, and desserts. It can get a little lumpy, so it’s suggested to whisk it!
- Kitchen Grade: Made with less delicate leaves, this is even thicker and the astringent flavor is stronger. It’s often found in grocery stores and is darker in color.
Other Purchasing Considerations
- Region: Matcha is grown in two regions of Japan – Uji in Kyoto and Nishio in the Aichi prefecture. Look for cities like Uji, Kagoshima, Nishio, Shizuoka, and Kyushu, which produce high quality of matcha.
- Color: A brighter, more vibrant green indicates higher quality matcha!
- Texture: Fine matcha will have a texture like cornstarch, whereas lower quality is more coarse and gritty.
- Packaging: Matcha should be stored in an air-tight, opaque container. A lot are sold in tins.
FYI: It’s recommended to store matcha in the fridge to keep it fresher longer once you open it at home!
Quick History Lesson
Matcha was originally consumed by Chinese Zen Buddhist Monks over 900 years ago, then was adopted into Japanese culture in the 11th century. The word matcha comes from Japanese: “ma” means rubbed or ground, and “cha” means tea. Matcha continues to be a strong part of ceremonies and customs in Japan.
How to Prepare Matcha (Traditional Method)
There’s no wrong way to prepare matcha, yet I was most intrigued by the traditional method of preparing matcha! The bamboo whisk and scoop are gentle on the matcha, and the strainer helps to separate the matcha for the best integration into your cup of green goodness. In order to continue treating your matcha kindly, a water temperature of 160 degrees is ideal for preparation, but I totally get it if you (like me) don’t have the ability to be this precise.
Here’s a video for step-by-step instructions:
1. Place stainless steel sifter over your chawan (tea bowl).
2. Use chashaku (bamboo scoop) to add about half teaspoon (1 gram) of matcha to sifter.
3. Use bamboo scoop to sift into bowl. This prevents clumps & makes matcha ultra smooth!
4. Pour ~2oz of hot (NOT boiling!) water into bowl (ideally 160 degrees F).
5. Use a bamboo whisk to mix the matcha using “M” motions until frothy, about 10-20 seconds (my fav part!).
6. Add a little more water if desired. I usually add ~4oz more of water.
7. ENJOY 🍵💚
The Matcha I’m Drinking
While I’m really excited to try a variety of matcha teas and compare the brands, styles, grades, flavors, etc., I’m currently drinking Jade Leaf organic ceremonial grade matcha. I prepare this the traditional way (see above!) for my mid-day cup of calm.
Why did I choose Jade Leaf? I love that Jade Leaf is connected to family-run businesses in Japan and focuses on sustainable sourcing of the tea. I also really like how Jade Leaf uses teas from all four regions of Japan to produce quality matcha products without overpricing. There is so much education on Jade Leaf’s website about matcha, which I have been using for reference in preparing my matcha tea. The “farmers direct” approach is hugely important to me with the goods I purchase and consume. I also love how Jade Leaf’s US location is in Seattle, which is where I used to live. SO fun!
Post updated May 21, 2021
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