Drake and Diplo invest in matcha, not coffee. It’s because busy people and multi-hyphenates know that matcha is indisputably better than coffee. The finely milled green tea powder originated in China in the 8th century. In 16th century Japan, matcha began to be incorporated into tea ceremonies, used as a way to focus on mindfulness and spirituality. Yureeka Yasuda, tea sommelier and founder of Sayuri, a Japanese luxury tea brand explains, “The preparation and representation of Chadō (the way of tea) continues to be an important Japanese cultural activity. It’s counted as one of the three classical Japanese arts of refinement to date, alongside calligraphy (Shodo) and flower arrangement (Kado).”
Nowadays, people are realizing that the beverage can make you function at a higher level. Unlike coffee, matcha imparts a calming yet alert effect. While there is comparatively less caffeine, the caffeine high is better and delivered in an even manner. Yureeka adds “The amino acid L-theanine helps your body absorb the caffeine in your matcha tea slowly and prevents those hyper jitters. The energy buzz is longer lasting and helps with sustained concentration.” The alertness effect can last 4-6 hours, unlike coffee which spikes more quickly and then plummets. Just as grape juice isn’t wine, not just any green tea powder can be considered matcha. Matcha is the purest form of green tea, and must contain 100% of the leaf.
How Do You Know It’s a Good Matcha?
Much like wine, the quality of matcha widely varies and the terms used to describe what’s considered a “good” one are similar. Experts like Yureeka and Daiki Tanaka, founder of D-Matcha, explain that you should generally choose either ceremonial or culinary grade matcha. Ceremonial grade is the highest quality with younger, delicate tea leaves and a more intense flavor. It’s the matcha used for tea ceremonies, and drank straight-up. Yureeka explains that it contains more chlorophyll than older tea leaves, which tend to be harvested for culinary grade matcha. Culinary grade is the type most commonly used for baking or lattes.
Also worth noting are other factors that you see with wine, such as the terroir, which refers to the environment and region where the plant is grown. Tea plants are generally crossbred for desirable traits, so you’ll hear the word “cultivar” which stands for cultivated variety. Some matchas are a blend made by a master while others are single-origin. Depending on the producer and brand, one isn’t necessarily better than the other.
The matcha process begins in April, when new growth from the camellia sinensis tea plant starts to appear. To decrease the rate of photosynthesis and maximize the level of l-theanine in the matcha, the plants are cultivated under shade for at least 20 days. Eighty-eight days after the first day of Spring on the Japanese calendar, at a time called hachijuhachiya, the youngest and greenest leaves are harvested. Unlike other teas, matcha leaves are immediately steamed after harvest to prevent oxidation, which is how they preserve their vibrant, green color. Afterwards, they’re dried and ground into a powder.
Just look at your matcha to judge how good it is. A high quality one is a vibrant, brilliant green, with no hints of yellow. The taste should be a little bitter, with a natural sweetness, and no harshness. The scent should be fresh and grassy.
Yureeka enthusiastically adds, “Matcha is to Japan as champagne is to France. Anything produced outside of Japan simply must be called ‘powdered green tea.’ If your matcha was super cheap – chances are it’s not matcha! This means the time and labor intensive production process could have been skipped or accelerated.”
How Do You Prepare Matcha?
To prepare matcha properly, Yureeka suggests making it like a ritual. Lay out your items, including your bowl, powder, hot water kettle, and whisk (bamboo or electronic) out. She arranges her items on a tray, explaining, “I use my fukusa (silk cloth) to clean each item before prepping my matcha (a wiping gesture of each tool to symbolize purification) in a focused, slow but steady, flowing, mindful motion. It takes me just 2-3 minutes, but every step has intention- and it’s important to concentrate on the sound, visual, aroma, texture, flavour of your matcha - exciting all the senses in the process.” Below, her recipe:
Makes 1 Matcha
One teaspoon of matcha green tea powder (approximately 1.5 to 2 grams)
⅓ cup of water
A proper matcha bowl (called a chawan) or a similar size bowl about 5 inches in diameter
A matcha whisk (a chasen - Yureeka suggests one with ideally 100 bristles, for a finer froth)
A silk cloth (optional)
Pour hot water into your bowl.
Gently place your chasen into the bowl and use a whisking motion to warm it up.
Remove the water and dry the bowl using the silk cloth.
Place your matcha in the bowl.
Turn the stove on high. Place the kettle on. Wait for the water to boil. Let it cool for one minute.
Pour the hot water into the bowl, it should be around 80 to 90 degrees. Do not use scorching hot water, it will ruin the matcha.
Start with a ratio of either 1.5 grams of matcha to 60 milliliters of water which is about ¼ cup or 2 grams of matcha to 80 milliliters of water, which is about ⅓ of a cup, says Yureeka.
Add your matcha into the bowl and whisk. Using your wrist, the motion should be quick back and forth strokes in the shape of a W or M, and encompass the whole bowl. Whisk for about 20-30 seconds, and be sure that the tip of the whisk is not touching the bottom of the bowl. Yureeka also suggests elevating your elbow to 90 degrees to help with the process. You’ll know you’re doing it correctly when the mixture starts to develop tiny little bubbles.
It’s close to done when it starts to look like a thick, bubbly froth. For your final whisking, do one more circle and then end with the chasen at the center of the bowl. This gives it a fluffier middle. It will take a bit of practice, but you will know if you are doing it wrong if your bubbles are too large or you can see liquid through the froth.
Gently pour the remainder of the hot water into the bowl. It should be around ⅓ full. If you prefer a latte, you can add milk. Focus on your senses as you make the matcha -- “concentrate on the sound, visual, aroma, texture, flavor of your matcha - exciting all senses in the process,” instructs Yureeka.
Drink and enjoy.
Ready to make your own cup? Here are some of the best matcha products, according to matcha experts and enthusiasts.
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The Best Matcha Powders
Yureeka Yasuda, founder of Sayuri says, “I’ve done extensive research and after ordering over 30 brands of matcha on Amazon and at supermarkets in London, Paris, Florence, and Mexico City, I’ve never been satisfied with any! Many were utterly undrinkable with a cement-like grey color and an absolutely horrid astringency. This was why I created my collection of Japanese organic matchas and green teas.’”
Daiki Tanaka, founder of d:Matcha, believes that the best matcha is single origin. He prefers what’s produced in the spring. “The Spring harvest called ichiban-cha (first flush) is the best for drinking. Summer harvest is good for latte and sweets. Autumn is not good quality. We at d:matcha don’t use it.” Of his matchas, his favorite is the Okumidori matcha, which he praises for its “well-balanced, natural taste.”
For true green tea enthusiasts, Tanaka has also published a book about matcha, which you can preorder now. It details the different farming practices and aspects of green tea cultivation and preparation that have previously only been available in Japanese. An added bonus? Each order will come with 40g of Sencha, especially selected by Tanaka.
Ippodo is one of the oldest tea makers in Kyoto, and has produced matcha for at least three centuries. On the Reddit.com/Matcha board, it frequently comes up as a recommended brand, with the Ummon variety being a good one for beginners. It has a rich, earthy taste, and reviewers praise it for its umami nature.
Redditers also recommend this matcha from Kyoto-based tea brand, Sazen, as a more affordable alternative to Ippodo. On average, a tin this size for two people with a daily matcha habit, lasts about one month.
Tsuji-San is a fifth-generation tea farmer, and multiple award-winner for matcha. He also received an award for his contributions to tea from the Emperor of Japan. His teas have allegedly been analyzed and found to contain the highest amino acid and L-theamine content. Rishi teas is one of the few brands to carry Tsujin’s tea. They’re pricier than others, but the Asahi is considered to be the best.
If you want to try a ceremonial-grade matcha for the first time, this is one of the best-reviewed ones on Amazon with close to 500 reviews. Reviewers praise the quality and the vibrant green color of the powder.
If you are a die-hard matcha drinker, this is not for you. But if you’d like to try it out with a culinary-grade matcha that can be easily added to lattes, smoothies or baking, this Amazon favorite (with over 50,000 reviews) is a good pick.
If you prefer drinking your matcha in a latte, you’ll like these latte blends from Golde. Dairy and sugar-free, they contain a powdered mix of coconut milk, turmeric, and matcha and happen to taste quite delicious.
For truly smooth matcha, Yureeka suggests getting a tea strainer. She said she does this even for the highest quality matcha to prevent any clumps. Use the strainer after measuring out your matcha, and before whisking.
When it comes to choosing a matcha whisk, also known as a chasen, Yureeka recommends a bamboo one with at least 100 prongs. She explains that these “make for a finer froth.” This one on Amazon, has close to 500 positive reviews. Make sure that you wet the chasen first with warm water prior to whisking, to warm up the prongs.
This kit comes with a chasen, a tea scoop, and matcha in one convenient set.
If you’re looking for a starter bowl to whisk your matcha in, this is a classic, highly-rated option.
A chawan with a spout is handy if you're looking to pour out your matcha into a separate cup for lattes.
For those looking to give someone a nice looking beginner’s set, this one has everything you need to start a matcha practice.
If you’d prefer not to use a bamboo whisk, you can also use an electric frother. This is one of the best-reviewed frothers on Amazon, with close to 45,0000 reviews. People praise it for its efficiency, ease of use, and its fast-working powerful ability to froth matcha, hot chocolate, coffee, and more using just two double-A batteries.
Should you want a frother with a little more power, Golde makes what they call a Superwhisk. Instead of relying on batteries, this one recharges via USB and comes with two speeds -- fast and very, fast. It’s available now for pre-sale.