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Matcha Quality: How To Buy Good Matcha for Beginners

Key Takeaways

  • Opt for matcha from Japan, especially regions like Uji and Nishio, for assured quality.
  • Look for this term for a finer texture and more delicate taste.
  • High-quality matcha feels silky and has a bright green hue.
  • A fresh, grassy scent is a good indicator of quality.
  • Quality matcha produces a rich, uniform froth when whisked.
  • High-quality matcha has a rich umami flavor without excessive bitterness.
  • Choose matcha in sealed, opaque, and air-tight packages.
  • Check production and expiration dates for freshness.
  • Expect to pay more for ceremonial-grade matcha due to its production process.
  • Look for third-party testing and certifications like JAS for Japanese matcha.

The popularity of matcha tea has recently boomed in the Western world, with many health-conscious people enjoying it for both its unique and refreshing taste as well as its many science-backed health benefits.

So let’s say you’ve recently had your interest spiked and you’re looking to purchase some matcha tea. Where is the best place to get it from?

And what are some of the common mistakes you can make when buying it?

There is now an almost endless list of options when it comes to matcha brands and producers, however, there is a huge gap in quality and purity between many of these brands, and unfortunately, also safety.

In this article, we’re going to give you a full overview of how you can source the highest-quality matcha tea powder possible.

We’ll highlight the 11 most important criteria to look at and give you the tips you need for deciding on the best matcha for you.
high-quality matcha powder

What Is Considered a Good Matcha Quality?

Before we get to some of the common mistakes people make, we’re going to explain what generally makes a good matcha tea powder and how to check for these factors when buying them.

Origin:

The first thing you’re going to want to look out for is the country of origin.

Most of the world's matcha at this point is grown in China and Japan - and generally speaking, Japan has better growing, safety and quality assurance practices. This is not to say that good quality Chinese matcha doesn’t exist- it is just harder to find.

Japan is generally renowned for producing some of the highest-quality matcha, particularly from regions like Uji and Nishio. These regions have optimal climate conditions and centuries-old expertise in matcha production.

When shopping for matcha, always check the label for the country and region of origin. Japanese matcha is generally a safer bet for quality and authenticity.

Stone Ground:

Another aspect to look at is whether or not the matcha has been ‘stone-ground’. As you can probably reason - this means that it has been finely ground in the traditional method using grinding stones which makes for a noticeably better texture and a more delicate taste.

Feel:

The texture of matcha powder can tell you a lot about its quality. High grade matcha should feel silky and smooth to the touch, almost like eyeshadow. If the powder feels gritty or coarse, it's likely of lower quality. Some stores offer sample packs, allowing you to feel the texture before making a larger purchase.

Colour:

The color of matcha is a direct indicator of its quality and freshness. Top-tier 'ceremonial grade' matcha is easily recognizable by its vivid, bright green hue.

This bright color is due to the high chlorophyll content, which is a result of the shading process the tea plants undergo before harvest.

If you open up a bag of matcha and you see that it’s a darker colour - this indicates that it's likely oxidised or that it has a low chlorophyll content and is ‘culinary grade’ (more on this later). While dull or yellowish-green matcha is usually a sign of oxidation, poor quality, or age.

It’s small details like this that can mean the difference between an authentic matcha experience and a disappointing one.

three different matcha quality or grades

buy matcha online

Aroma:

Your nose can be a powerful tool when selecting matcha. Quality matcha should have a fresh, grassy, and slightly sweet aroma. A musty, stale, or hay-like odor is a red flag and usually indicates that the matcha is either old or of low quality.

Froth:

When whisked in water, good quality matcha should produce a frothy layer on the top. The froth should be rich and have tiny, uniform bubbles. If your matcha doesn't froth well, it's often an indication of poor quality or incorrect whisking technique. Make sure to use a bamboo whisk for the best results.

Taste:

Tasting matcha is the ultimate test of its quality. High-quality matcha should have a rich umami flavour with a slight natural sweetness. It should not be overly bitter or astringent. If possible, opt for stores that offer tasting samples. Your palate will be the final judge.

Finish:

The "finish" refers to the taste and sensation that lingers in your mouth after swallowing. Quality matcha should have a smooth, velvety finish that leaves a pleasant umami taste on your palate. A chalky or gritty aftertaste usually means you've got a subpar product.

Packaging:

Packaging plays a significant role in preserving the quality of matcha. Look for matcha that comes in a sealed, opaque, and air-tight package. Exposure to light, air, and moisture can degrade the quality of matcha. Some premium brands also offer nitrogen-flushed packaging to ensure maximum freshness.

Shelf Life:

Matcha is highly perishable and doesn't age well. Always check the production and expiration dates on the packaging. The closer the matcha is to its production date, the fresher and more flavourful it will be. Once opened, it's best to consume matcha within a few weeks for optimal taste and health benefits.

Pricing:

Quality matcha isn't cheap, and its price often reflects the labour-intensive production process. Extremely cheap matcha is usually too good to be true and is often of inferior quality. While you don't have to break the bank, be prepared to spend a bit more for a quality product.

Matcha Quality Grades

Matcha comes in various grades that determine its quality, flavour, and usage. The two main types are Ceremonial and Culinary. However, here is a breakdown of the four typical grades you may find in stores:

Ceremonial Grade: This is the highest quality of matcha and is exclusively used for traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. The leaves are handpicked, and only the youngest leaves are used. The stems and veins are meticulously removed to ensure a smooth, fine texture. Ceremonial-grade matcha is characterized by its vibrant green color, delicate aroma, and rich umami flavor.

Culinary Grade: This grade is more versatile and is commonly used in cooking and baking. It's also used to make lattes and smoothies. Culinary-grade matcha is ideal for cooking - but does not have a good flavour or texture for making matcha tea. The leaves are usually from later harvests and may include stems and veins, making it less fine and more bitter than ceremonial grade. 

Ingredient Grade: This is the lowest quality and is generally used in food production. It's not recommended for traditional matcha tea preparation due to its coarse texture and dull color. Unlike culinary grade, which still retains some level of quality suitable for individual cooking and preparation, ingredient grade is more suited for industrial food production where matcha is not the focal point.

Premium Grade: This is a middle-ground option that offers a balance between quality and price. It's good for everyday consumption and has a less refined texture compared to ceremonial grade but is smoother than culinary grade.

5 Mistakes People Make When Buying Matcha

1. Matcha Purity

Matcha tea has some incredible health benefits when bought from a reliable source and prepared correctly.

The problem is that some questionable producers will find ways to bulk up their packets by adding additional ‘filler’ ingredients and still market it as ‘pure matcha’.

If you’re interested in making traditional matcha tea, you’re going to need to make sure you are sourcing 100% pure matcha tea - so always check the ingredients list and fine print carefully before committing to a purchase.

There is one additive that is worse than others, but we’ll go into that in more detail in the next section.

2. Matcha With Added Maltodextrin

Maltodextrin is a common additive in many low-quality matcha tea products & often it will be the only other ingredient.

It is usually used as a thickening agent, or filler to increase the volume of anything it’s added to.

It’s one of the common ingredients you’ll find added to all manner of processed deserts and as a result, is something you should probably stay away from if you’re looking to drink matcha for its health benefits.

Like other carbohydrates or sugar, maltodextrin is notorious for causing spikes in blood sugar.

It’s particularly problematic for those who are on a weight loss diet or those who suffer from diabetes.

It’s perfectly healthy to drink a few cups of pure matcha tea per day, but if you’re also consuming maltodextrin then they’re likely to be a lot more taxing on your body.

3. Non-Certified Matcha

low quality vs high quality matcha

If you’re buying matcha of any kind - you’re going to want to make sure that it's certified and 3rd party tested.

If you’re buying Japanese matcha - look for the logo of the Japanese Agricultural Standard (often abbreviated as JAS) and you’ll know that it has been officially certified and tested for honest production and/or processing.

That’s not to say you can only buy matcha from Japanese sources, but there are products from other parts of the world where production is not so heavily monitored and has been known to contain nasty contaminants.

For example, a lot of blends produced in China are going to have dubious production histories and should be avoided–this is because production methods are not as heavily regulated in this part of the world.

4. Lead-Contaminated Matcha

Unfortunately, buying non-certified matcha can also leave you with blends that have excessive levels of heavy metals such as lead.

Lead is not something you ever want to consume in large amounts, and there are a lot of problems around the world with lead contaminating various forms of green tea.

Because Matcha is made from an entire leaf and then ground into a fine powder, you’re going to need to be careful about matcha that is contaminated with lead as it is concentrated and there is no way to avoid consuming it.

To keep yourself safe, it’s best to stick to certified matcha brands that are monitored and tested for lead levels - and show transparent results from 3rd party organisations.

5. Ceremonial vs Culinary

Matcha tea has a rich history in Japan and China where it was often used for traditional tea ceremonies.

The grade of matcha powder for these ceremonies is typically 'ceremonial' grade, while anything less is referred to as 'culinary' grade.

Both products should only ever contain 100% stone-ground green tea leaves, however, the flavour of both products is vastly different.

To recap, ceremonial grade matcha uses only the youngest and freshest shade-grown tea leaves with the stems and veins removed to produce a vibrant green powder that is smooth and refreshing.

Culinary-grade matcha still uses young green tea leaves - but often from the second or third harvest. It often contains the stems and veins still, and less chlorophyll. It generally has a more bitter and astringent flavour profile - perfect for cooking but not so great straight up as a tea.

buy matcha online

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Why is my matcha dark green?

Dark or deep green matcha is usually a sign of oxidation or poor quality. It may also indicate that it's culinary grade, which is not ideal for traditional tea preparation.

Q2. What does good matcha smell like?

High-quality matcha emits a fresh, grassy scent. If you detect a musty or stale aroma, it's likely that the matcha is either aged or of inferior quality.

Q3. Is quality matcha expensive?

Generally, you get what you pay for. Ceremonial-grade matcha can range from $20 to $40 per ounce, reflecting the meticulous production process and the selection of only the youngest tea leaves.

Q4. Does matcha taste like seaweed?

Some people describe the umami flavor of matcha as slightly "seaweed-like," but this is usually a characteristic of high-quality, ceremonial-grade matcha.

Q5. Does matcha have lead?

Quality matcha, particularly from reputable Japanese sources, undergoes rigorous testing for contaminants like lead. Always choose from trusted brands to ensure you're getting a safe product.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it! That was our short guide into what makes a quality matcha powder and how you can ensure you’re sourcing the best varieties you can.

Just remember that more expensive does not necessarily mean more authentic, and the most important thing you can do is keep a close eye on the ingredients list, testing certifications, colour, texture, and the country of origin.

We hope that this guide has helped you to understand the importance of checking the matcha blend you’re looking for before buying and that you now feel more confident about the whole process.

Darcy Ogdon-Nolan

Holding a Bachelor Of Science (Hons.) combined with close to a decade now in the health food and wellness industry, I believe I'm uniquely positioned to provide a depth of knowledge and first-hand experience on emerging health products, trends and ideas! From greens powders and medicinal mushrooms through to protein powders and workout nutrition - I'm particularly interested in what modern science can uncover about what human cultures have been using to treat ailments for millennia!

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