Let’s Talk About Matcha

Hey y’all, this post has been a long time in the making and I finally took the plunge and did it today. Matcha has been a trendy fad lately and I wanted to give a little info on what matcha actually is and I also tasted three matchas in a horizontal tasting to determine which one was the best so you don’t have to suffer through bad matcha like I have done!

What exactly is matcha? It’s simple, really. It’s green tea. That’s it, green tea. Nothing else. What is different about it though, is instead of taking leaves and steeping them in water like you do with most tea, matcha is the leaves of a type of green tea in Japan called Tencha, which is ground into powder. Traditionally, the farmers would take a shade covering and cover the plants for 30 days before harvesting, which makes the plants work harder to grown and gives the leaves more green color and more flavor compounds. After picking, it is taken and ground between concrete millstones for up to 10 hours until it is made into a fine powder. Instead of steeping the leaves, the powder is mixed into hot water using a whisk, and therefore, the entire leaf is ingested. Because of this, matcha has antioxidant levels that are off the charts and a lot more caffeine than normal green tea (hooray for caffeine, am I right?!)

Matcha is trendy because of the insanely high antioxidant levels and the high caffeine (still less than coffee though). But beware, not all matchas are the same, not even close. Also beware, there are a lot of drinks being sold as matcha that are actually a mix containing milk, sugar, and who knows what else. This is because low quality matcha can taste quite bad and the low quality stuff must be mixed with sweetener to become drinkable, which then negates the health benefits of it (not entirely of course, and I do like a matcha latte from time to time, don’t get me wrong).

To learn more about matcha, I would suggest this video. Mei Leaf has taught me quite a lot about tea, much more than anyone else has for that matter.

To learn about some of the health benefits of matcha, a quick internet search will yield several articles, but I believe it has the highest antioxidant content of any food or drink known to man, so it’s literally a super food.

So, what do you need to make matcha? There are many ways to make it, so don’t take my way as the only or best way, it is just the way that I choose, and it closely resembles the traditional Japanese way with some added steps. You will need a bowl (chawan) a bamboo scoop (chasaku) or a tea spoon will work fine, and a bamboo whisk (chasen) or any kitchen whisk will work really.

You take two bamboo scoops or 1 teaspoon of matcha powder, put it in the bowl and pour about 3 oz water that it is 175 or 180 degrees F. Try hard not to use water hotter than this for any green tea because it will draw out the bitter compounds and will taste bad. Then you whisk vigorously for about 30 seconds or so and the matcha is done. In the Japanese ceremony, the bowl is then passed between participants who drink straight out of the bowl. I like to pour the matcha from the bowl into a glass, and I also add the step of putting it through a strainer. I do this because it has a tendency to leave a few little clumps in the bowl even if you whisk is really well. This might be a personal preference but I can’t stand when I am drinking a liquid and something solid hits my tongue, it is just not good at all. Pouring it through a strainer eliminates any of the clumps that were left behind and leaves a completely liquid and smooth drink.

Now, on to the tasting!

So here’s the setup: I have been saving one last serving of two different brands of matcha for this test and included the matcha I am currently using as well. They are Aiya Ceremonial Grade Matcha, purchased at Publix, Harney & Sons Matcha Jobetsugi, purchased from Harney’s website, and Mighty Leaf matcha purchased from Publix. I used two scoops of each and the same amount and temperature of water and used the same tools to mix them all. I started with the Mighty Leaf.

The Mighty Leaf was quite vegetal and grassy tasting and was very astringent and drying in my mouth. The texture is fairly thick. I can’t say that this tastes “good” It’s more like one of those things that you just get through because you know how good it is for you. But let me say, tea should not and does not have to be that way. If you drink tea that way, take a look around and do some research to find some better tasting tea, because it’s out there. Skip on this one if you see it at the store. however, I will say that if you make it iced, the ice cuts the bitterness a lot. Add a splash of milk and you have yourself a decent tasting iced matcha latte. It serves that purpose well. Up next, Harney.

The Harney matcha was much better than the Mighty Leaf, I must say. I still picked up some vegetal notes, but it was much less astringent and had a texture that reminded me of milk. I also picked up a slight hint of sweetness on the end. Really a pleasant drink and would be a good everyday matcha. Harney sells three grades of matcha and this was the lowest of the three, so I can imagine their two other grades are very good quality. Up next, Aiya.

This tea takes it up a notch further. You can tell from the pictures that this has a smoother and thicker texture. I am very impressed with this one. There was a more prominent sweetness and it lingered on my tongue after I finished drinking for a while. It was very smooth and had a milky texture with very little astringency or drying.

The verdict: Aiya wins and it isn’t close. Harney was still very good, but skip the Mighty Leaf.

The prices on these are not that far off. Aiya is normally $17 for 30 grams, but I have seen it on sale a few times and I bought it for $14. Harney is $14 for 30 grams, and Mighty Leaf is $13 for 42 grams. When it comes to matcha, you really do get what you pay for.

This was also the first time that I really sat down at the table and placed my tools out before making and drinking matcha. I usually make it on the counter and drink it in a hurry first thing on the morning before I head to work. But I noticed how calming and focusing the whole process was for me when I took the time to set the table and the tools and really prepare for the whole experience. If you try matcha, make an ordeal out of it and try to make it a whole experience. I think you will enjoy it. I think I will have to start a little earlier on my morning matcha from now on. Oh, and I will need to get another tin of Aiya ASAP.

The aftermath

I normally write these posts immediately after drinking the tea while everything is still fresh, and I am SO wired right now. Thanks for reading, cheers!

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