Grades, History, and Recipes of Matcha
What is Matcha and How is it Grown?
Matcha, which literally translates to “ground tea” from Japanese and Chinese, is specially grown and processed green tea leaves that are stone ground into a fine powder form. Matcha is not coffee and not the same as green tea, but it is considered a type of green tea. The matcha powder yields a beautiful hue of bright, emerald green. When rubbed between your fingers, high quality matcha green tea has a fine and smooth feel to it, with a consistency similar to that of baby powder. It is derived from Camellia sinensis, the same plant as white, green, black and oolong teas. Compared with regular green tea, matcha also has a different taste due to the cultivation and production process. Matcha tends to be sweeter and smoother, while green tea has a more flat and level flavor.
It also has a very precise and intensive growing process that begins its tea field harvests by growing in the shade. This lack of sunlight helps matcha retain more nutrients, specifically chlorophyll. This chlorophyll is what gives matcha that vibrant, rich green color—and what also fills it with delicious nutrients that leave you feeling energized and vibrant.
In the production process, green tea is pulverized with air pressure, which gives it the more yellowish-brown hue of green. Matcha is ground to a powder using a slow-turning wheel, which only grinds about 40 grams of matcha powder per hour. This slow process minimizes friction, which helps maintain more of the matcha’s natural nutrients.
How It’s Graded
When comparing the different grades of matcha, these important qualities must be assessed:
- Color of the tea (more vibrant green, usually the purer it is)
- Grinding process
- Texture and density (finer the powder, generally the more delicate the flavor)
- Brand and product quality (stem or leaves)
- Exposure to oxygen
- Grinding process
- Treatments prior to processing
There are two main grades of matcha: ceremonial and culinary grade. Going further into the culinary grade, there are five additional categories: premium, café, classic, ingredient, and kitchen. Let’s ground up what these grades are and how matcha is categorized into these grades.
Ceremonial grade is the highest quality matcha powder that exists. It is created to be used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, so it’s considered more luxury and high-end. It’s made from the youngest matcha tea leaves with the stems and veins removed, leaving only the richest and most nutritious parts of the plant for production. The leaves are stone-ground into an extremely fine texture, which generates a delicate and airy taste.
The flavor is sweet and mild in comparison to other grades, which adds to its high-quality. Ceremonial grade matcha is also usually served on its own. The flavor is lost if you add milk or sugar, so it’s traditionally consumed with only hot water. You also don’t want to cook with ceremonial grade matcha; it would be like cooking with a 100-year old bottle of wine!
Ceremonial matcha creates a thick tea that tastes scrumptious and fresh, with a slightly grassy aroma.
Culinary grade has a different flavor profile than ceremonial matcha, not a lower quality product. It’s usually more robust and bitter, which allows it to work better in lattes, smoothies, and baked goods. It still retains that characteristic fresh, holistic taste and bright green color that’s so distinctive to matcha.
There are five further-broken-down types of culinary grade matcha for its different uses, and each has its own production and harvest.
Premium grade matcha tea is ideal for everyday consumption, from a morning latte to an afternoon matcha smoothie. Premium grade matcha tea has a very fine texture, which breaks up easily in water. It is slightly less vibrant green than ceremonial grade matcha. Compared to ceremonial grade matcha tea, premium grade is a very good blend at a usually slightly lower price. This makes it an excellent choice for everyday use.
Made with less delicate leaves than ceremonial and premium grade matchas, café grade matcha offers an extremely strong flavor – perfect for cooking and baking. It’s one of the more expensive types of matcha powder, and you can tell it apart from the lower grades by its unique green color. Café grade matcha tea has a fine texture that blends well, whether you are making a cool green tea smoothie or warm matcha cappuccino.
Ingredient grade matcha tea is an excellent choice for recipes that contain milk and other dairy products. Use it to make green tea ice cream, a matcha smoothie, or matcha latté. Because of its thick consistency, it works well when added to sauces and desserts. Prevent lumps in your recipes by stirring the matcha well, preferably with a whisk.
Kitchen grade matcha tea is one of the most economical brands, and is made with less delicate leaves than the other grades. It has a strong astringent flavor that makes it perfect for large-scale brewing and mixed into other foods. Not quite as fine as the other types of matcha powder, kitchen grade matcha tea is a bit darker in color and usually sold in large bulks. This matcha is ideal for experimenting with new recipes and getting creative in the kitchen.
Classic grade matcha tea is an enjoyable blend with an excellent economic value. It’s one of the higher grades but usually costs less than the other grades. Classic grade matcha has a strong and distinct flavor, which lends itself to many uses – and it is more widely available compared to other matcha teas.
Is Matcha Good for You?
It is widely known that matcha provides a range of health benefits. Matcha is packed with antioxidants, which may reduce cell damage and prevent chronic disease. There has also been research shown that daily consumption of green tea helps aid in weight loss and improve skin health. Matcha has also been associated with reducing one’s risk of heart disease attributed to the micronutrients abundant in matcha, especially ECGG.
Since matcha is a form of green tea, matcha contains the similar long list of researched benefits as green tea. Given that matcha is made from whole green tea leaves, it holds all the nutrients from the entire leaf and has more catechins and antioxidants than regular steeped green tea. Studies have found that matcha contains up to 10 times more antioxidants than regular green tea. Matcha also contains approximately half the caffeine content as coffee, but some turn to consuming matcha on a daily basis instead of coffee for a less jittery pick-me-up.
A Sip of History
This superfood can be traced back to traditional practices in China and Japan. However, in the current times, matcha rituals are still unique to Japan for the most part. To be more specific, its roots stem from the Tang Dynasty in China, which reigned from the 7th to the 10th centuries. During this time, the Tang Dynasty steamed tea leaves to form into bricks, making their tea harvests easier to transport and subsequently trade. These tea bricks were prepared by roasting and pulverizing the leaves then mixing the resulting tea powder with water and salt.
Song Dynasty, which spanned from 10th to 13th centuries, is largely credited with making this form of tea preparation popular.
Eisai, a Japanese Buddhist Monk, spent the better part of his life studying Buddhism in China. In 1191, Eisai returned permanently to Japan, bringing with him tea seeds along with the Zen Buddhist methods of preparing powdered green tea. The seeds that Eisai brought back with him from China were largely considered to create the highest quality tea leaves in all of Japan. Eisai subsequently planted these seeds on the temple grounds in Kyoto, the home of the Kamakura Shogun. During the period of the Kamakura Shogun, matcha was only produced in extremely limited quantities and was thus regarded as a luxurious status symbol. Soon after Eisai’s return to Japan, Zen Buddhists developed a new method for cultivating the green tea plant. Tencha was developed by growing the green tea plant under shaded conditions – this method is largely credited for maximizing the health benefits of matcha.
In terms of the current day tea ceremonies, it was not until the 1500’s that a Zen student named Murata Juko brought together several fragmented pillars of the tea ceremony into a formalized ritual that included the cultivation, consumption and ceremony. Zen Master Sen-no-Rikyu is largely credited with popularizing Juko’s tea ceremony ritual and has become the most well-known and revered historical figure of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, which is called “Chado” or “Sado”, translating to “The Way of Tea.”
Sen-no-Rikyu formed the four basic principles of the Japanese Tea Ceremony:
- Harmony (wa)
- Respect (kei)
- Purity (sei)
- Tranquility (jaku)
Simple Matcha Recipe
Matcha has skyrocketed in popularity lately, with matcha shots, lattes, teas, and even desserts appearing left and right from health stores to coffee shops. Here’s a simple matcha recipe you can use for your daily dose of caffeine or as a base to recreate a matcha drink/dessert!
Ingredients1 tsp. matcha powder
6 oz. hot water
milk of choice, optional
1 tsp. agave, maple syrup, or honey, optional
- Mix 1 ounce of hot water with the matcha to form a thick paste. Using a bamboo whisk, whisk the matcha in a zig-zag pattern until frothy.
- Add more water to the matcha while whisking vigorously to avoid lumping.
- Add warm milk to the latte or sweeten with sweetener of choice, if desired.
- For a cold drink, pour over ice and enjoy.
Strawberry Matcha Latte Recipe
For the sweet tooths out there, the Strawberry Matcha Latte is the new craze at drink shops, especially bubble tea or boba stores. Here’s out you can make this fruity, earthy, and milky drink at home:
- ½ cup strawberry, diced
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon matcha powder
- ⅓ cup hot water
Optional: boba pearls
- Make the strawberry purée: Add the strawberries and sugar to a medium bowl. Use the back of a fork to muddle the strawberries. Let sit for 10–15 minutes, until the strawberries begin to soften and release their natural juices.
- Make the matcha: Add the matcha powder to a mug and slowly pour in the hot water. Whisk with a small whisk or a matcha whisk until tiny bubbles form on the surface.
- To assemble, put the boba pearls to the bottom of a serving glass (optional). Add the muddled strawberries, then the ice. Slowly pour in the half-and-half over the back of a spoon for a layered effect, then use the same technique to pour the matcha on top of the ice.
- Stir and enjoy. Don’t forget to use a wide straw if boba pearls were added.
Find Matcha on Umamicart
We have a large variety of matcha powders (in different grades), kits, and drinks here at Umamicart, including some of the ones below:
- Sugimoto Organic Daily Matcha
- Takaokaya Shizuoka Organic Matcha, Gold Standard
- Maeda en Ceremonial Grade Matcha
- Matcha Love Matcha Latte Mix
- Copper Cow Matcha Iced Tea Latte (5 pack)
- ITO EN Sweetened Matcha Green Tea Powder Mix
- AGF Blendy Cafe Latory, Matcha Latte
- At-Home Matcha Starter Kit
- Matcha Set, Snowfall
- Matcha Set, Sakura Bloom
- Chasen Matcha Tea Whisk 80 Prong
- Matcha Bowl & Whisk Presentation Kit