The Ultimate Guide to Matcha (2022)
Everything you need to know about - perhaps the healthiest drink on earth!
This article was last modified July 06th, 2022. by Yuki
The world of Matcha is deep and fascinating. The more you know the more you'll enjoy this unique tea. In this comprehensive guide, we'll cover everything you need to know to enjoy Japanese Matcha in a casual way.
Introduction - What is Matcha?
Perhaps the best-known type of Japanese green tea around the world is Matcha.
The name has become common in all parts of the world as well. You can find Matcha in a "Matcha Latte" at a cafe, or - perhaps in the desert section of your nearby supermarket in the form of "Matcha chocolate" or "Matcha ice cream".
It has spread around the world not only because of its great taste, but also because of its numerous health benefits.
The secret to the health benefits is actually in the form of this tea.
It's actually in a powder form.
Since it's a powder form that dissolves in hot water, you can consume the leaves as a whole. Your body can absorb 100% of the nutrients in the tea leaf, while loose leaf tea leaves only allow you to absorb roughly 30%.
Not only that, this powdered form allows you to benefit from many additional nutrients that don't dissolve in hot water. You can't enjoy these benefits in other types of green tea.
After all, the tea plant is exactly the same. The secret is indeed in the form.
But can you take a normal tea leaf, and ground it into Matcha powder?
The answer is, no you can't! What you'll get is a very astringent, repulsive drink!
The true matcha is not just any powdered green tea - but is actually a special name for a powdered green tea that use high quality leaves which are cultivated by shaded from the sun.
This cultivation process completes the matcha taste by adding the rich umami and sweetness in the tea. This allows the taste to be enjoyable, even when consumed directly by this powdered form.
Furthermore, Matcha specifically specifies a stone mill to be used to ground the powder. This is to avoid generating heat during the process, which will destroy the taste of the tea.
Yes, the definition of Matcha is indeed very narrow and specific.
The term Matcha is commonly misused even in Japan. It is said that only about 40% of tea using the name Matcha are in fact, truly matcha by this traditional definition. They may be using powder of green tea that goes through shorter shading periods, or even no shading periods at all. The chances of coming across a genuine matcha will be even smaller outside of Japan.
The name "Matcha" itself in Japanese directly translates to "ground tea". If you take the definition of the name, it may sound like it covers a very broad range of ground tea.
So it's easy to interpret anything that's grounded tea as Matcha. However again, there is a very strict and proper methodology of making what can be labeled as a true Matcha, and a huge difference in taste.
If you're looking for the authentic taste of matcha, make sure you look out for the differences and buy from a source you trust.
What does Matcha taste like?
If you've tried pure matcha at Starbucks and feel that you know the taste - you should try again somewhere else! That one's more of a "matcha-like" drink rather than an actual matcha.
The actual Matcha is rich and creamy, with an abundance of sweetness and umami - but also with bitter and astringent tastes mixed in a pleasant masterpiece.
Matcha contains the highest level of umami and sweetness among the Japanese green teas. Even within the Matcha, the ones with higher umami and fewer astringent tastes are considered the higher grade and more expensive matcha.
Similar to gyokuro, is also has a distinct aroma similar to seaweed called "ooika" or "kabuseka".
Preparing Matcha is different from other teas - it's not just a matter of mixing hot tea with the Matcha powder.
Matcha does not dissolve well in hot water. The "Chasen" - which is a bamboo whisk - is used to properly mix the two.
The chasen is a fascinating tool. It not only helps dissolve the tea in the water, but a proper whisking technique will generate a creamy thick layer of delicious bubbles which makes the matcha taste mild and pleasant, and gives it texture.
Not many have actually tried the traditional Japanese matcha, and it's a great experience you can't miss.
The Health Benefits of Matcha
The thing about Matcha that makes it so healthy - even compared to other Japanese green tea - is the fact that you directly consume the powder itself!
The normal infusion method of green tea leaves is said to extract only 30% of the nutrients in the leaves. Matcha, on the other hand, allows 100% of the nutrients to be consumed.
Then, what are the types of nutrients are consumed?
Although there are many nutrients in matcha that provide great health benefits, the key nutrient may be a type of polyphenol called catechin. Catechin performs as a fantastic anti-oxidant, 10 times or more the effectiveness of Vitamin C or E! On top of this, it is known to reduce blood cholesterol, reduce body fat, and inhibits high blood pressure. It has an anti-hyperglycemic effect, and even prevents tooth decay and bad breath.
On top of this, catechin enhances the body's absorption of vitamin C - which is also found in matcha. This allows for the health benefits of vitamin C to be maximized, which include helping the maintenance of skin, acting as anti-oxidants, and enhancing the immune system of your body. You can learn more about the nutrients of matcha and other Japanese green tea here.
However - matcha's health benefits do not end here.
Because it is directly consumed, nutrients which are not extracted in normal green tea can be consumed as well.
These include dietary fibre, beta-carotene (which is also an anti-oxidant), chlorophyll (which is effective to maintain the intestinal environment) vitamin E, and other types of minerals such as copper, zinc, manganese.
Matcha is indeed a truly magical health drink.
Similar but Different products
You will find different types of green tea powder in the market which aren't actually Matcha.
For example, sencha that is ground into powder is called "Funmatsu Ryokucha". This is not to be mixed up with Matcha as they taste and are priced very differently. Sencha leaves does not go through the shading from the sun, so will not be nearly as rich in umami.
Proper Matcha on the other hand, are produced from what is called "Tencha". This is a type of tea which are shaded from the sun before harvest. This is extremely difficult to produce in quantity, and is the reason for the expensive price tag.
Nowadays the term Matcha has been commonly misused, and you may pickup a product that says Matcha but actually isn't.
If you come across a Matcha which is seemingly very inexpensive, chances are the Matcha is not made from "Tencha", and may actually be a "Funmatsu Ryokucha" or something else.
How to prepare delicious Matcha?
Matcha powder (g)
Matcha powder (roughly in teaspoons)
Matcha powder (Chashaku)
Instructions on how to make Matcha
A "Chasen", a bamboo whisk, is an essential tool to enjoy Matcha to the max. Use the chasen to quickly mix the hot water with the matcha, and create the creamy thick layer of delicious bubbles.
Koicha and Usucha
There are 2 ways to enjoy Matcha. The Koicha and the Usucha.
Koicha is when the amount of tea powder is high and you enjoy it as a thick and rich tea. You typically would do this for high quality matcha. You can read about how to make Koicha here.
Usucha is the more typical way of enjoying Matcha. When you use more water compared to the Koicha. The details on how to make delicious Usucha can be found here.
Other than this, cold Matcha in Ice is a good refreshing way of serving Matcha.
Preparing matcha at 80-90 degrees Celsius is the ideal temperature. If it's too hot - the astringent and bitter taste of the catechin will be produced too much.
However, lower temperatures of 50-60 degrees Celsius (the temperature you would prepare gyokuro or kabuse-cha) is not recommended either. This is because when you whisk the tea, the tea's temperature will drop and by the time you drink the matcha will not be hot. It's also becomes too light without some of the enjoyable astringency.
The hotter the matcha is, the better aroma and the thick creamy bubbles you can make. Therefore, balancing at around 70-80 degrees is the best.
Slightly acidic soft water with hardness of between 30 to 80 is said to be the best for extracting the taste and aroma of green tea. The tap water in Singapore is "moderately soft", which makes it perfect for Japanese Tea.
Many mineral waters may be too "hard" for matcha. When you look for mineral water, check the labels.
How is it made? (Manufacturing Method)
The "Chanoki" or Camellia Sinensis is the tea tree used to make matcha. This is the same species of tree used for all Japanese green tea. However, there are many types of breeds that have different tastes and characteristics.
There is the "Yabukita" category that originates from Shizuoka, such as Yabukita, Sayama Kaori, Okumidori. There are also the breeds that originates from Uji Kyoto, such as Asatsuyu, Yutakamidori, Saemidori, Asahi, and Samidori.
Learning the type of breed is another way to enjoy matcha.
Cultivation - Shading from the sun
Matcha is produced from a tea form that is called "tencha". Tencha is grown by shading from the sun before harvest, similar to that of gyokuro or kabuse tea. However, the length of the shading is the longest.
The Tencha also have the distinct aroma similar to seaweed called "ooika" or "kabuseka" which can be found in gyokuro or kabuse-cha as well. This distinct smell is produced when the tea tree is shaded from the sun using material such as straw and reed.
A 2004 statistic from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishery in Japan shows only 1,650 tons of tencha was produced. This is very small compared to the 64,900 tons of sencha being produced in the same year. This indicates the level of difficulty of producing tencha, and how precious matcha is.
After the leaves are picked and steamed, it will not go through the usual rolling process characterized in the Aracha method, which is used for normal green tea manufacturing such as sencha. It will instead be dried and subsequently the "demono" will be picked apart. Demono are the non-leaf parts of the tea. This consists of small twigs and stems, buds and powders.
The remaining tencha will then be grounded into powder, by using a stone mill, which will become matcha.
There are many areas in Japan that produce exemplary Matcha. However, if I were to be asked where is the most famous area, I would invariably say it is the Kyoto area of Japan. The Matcha produced here is called Uji Matcha.
Kyoto has always been dominant in Japan's National tea competition in the Matcha category. Marukyu Koyamaen from Uji won the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishery award (which is the number one award of Matcha) most recently in 2020. They have won it 30 times in the past as well. Additionally, the "Area award" (which goes to the overall quality of the producers of the area) in the Matcha category has been a domination by areas of Kyoto.
While you may have had matcha tasting drinks or food before, you may have never experienced an authentic matcha prepared properly with the rich foam produced from the chasen.
If not, try taking a look at our selection of matcha. It's a great experience you should definitely try!
How long is the shelf life of a Matcha?
The shelf life of a pack of Matcha is generally between 5 to 8 months after it is packed, depending on the manufacterer of the Matcha. It is very much shorter than normal loose leaf tea, and the decline in taste will be very obvious.
This shelf life is based on proper storing conditions. For an unopened pack or can, please store in the refrigerator or freezer. (When opening the pack, make sure you return to room temperature before doing so. This prevents the condensation from building and effecting the tea)
There are Matcha products that indicate a longer shelf life. 1 year shelve lives are almost common, and I've seen a product that indicates as long as a 2-year "best by" date! This is not possible for a Matcha of high quality. Expect this to be a Matcha of a low quality.
After you open the pack, how fast should I finish using the Matcha?
Once you've opened the pack, try to use the Matcha powder within 2 weeks. The decline of the quality of Matcha after you opened the pack or the can will be very fast.
Of course, this is based on proper storing conditions as well. If you have an air-tight can, you can use the refrigerator. (When opening the pack, make sure you return to room temperature before doing so. This prevents the condensation from building and effecting the tea)
I'm a beginner, and I don't have any tools for Matcha. Is there anything I need to try making Matcha other than my Matcha powder?
I strongly recommend you to find a Chasen, or a bamboo whisk. The Chasen makes the tea so much more enjoyable because it helps mix the Matcha well with water, and also adds a delicious froth. I do advise people without Chasen to use a milk froth or even a shaker, but honestly the quality of Matcha will be very different.
All other tea tools are realatively easy to find a replacement for in a normal kitchen setup.
Can I take any tea leaf and ground it to make my own Matcha?
No - You'll need tea leaves called "Tencha" if you want to ground them to make Matcha. The Tencha leaves are special tea leaves specially produced for Matcha. It's grown under the shade to build up the Umami.
If you just take normal Sencha leaves and try to ground it, it will be extremely bitter and unpleasant.
The Matcha I had wasn't completely frothed. Is this the wrong way of preparing?
Not necessarily. In Japan, how to mix and the amount to froth the Matcha actually depends on the style or school you learn from.
For example, an "Omote-senke" style will not completely froth the tea, while an "Ura-senke" style will.
Is there a way to tell good Matcha from bad Matcha?
One indicator is the color. Try to find the Matcha powder with a vivid, vibrant green. The color will turn dull as it reduces in quality.
However, this indicator is not fool proof. Sometimes you find Matcha with less suitable color but with much better taste. So use this only as a guideline.
I have a blogpost on identifying quality of Matcha which you can refer to as well.
Yuki is the Editor-in-Chief AND Community Manager at Tealife. He bleeds Japanese Tea and loves being a part of the Japanese Tea journey of others. Writes, does events, conducts tasting sessions, drinks, drinks and drinks tea! Easily accessible - hit him up on whatsapp (+65) 85882980.