This ultimate guide to matcha has all the basics you need to know about matcha! Everything including what matcha is, the health benefits, choosing quality matcha, preparing matcha, and recipes to cook with matcha.
Raise your hand if you made some sort of “treat your body better” New Year’s resolution? If you did, good for you! And if you didn’t, me either. I was worried I’d just disappoint myself, but also I’m pretty happy with the balance of what I eat/drink. I don’t do well with restrictions either because the second I’m told I can’t have something, that’s all I think about and crave. Dinner guests who can’t eat cheese? All I want is mac and cheese. Though I guess maybe “continue practicing balance” is my resolution?
Whether you’re being intentional with goals or just working on being your best self, drinking daily matcha fits right into healthy ways to kick off the new year. So as my first post of 2018, I’m sharing this ultimate guide to matcha, complete with information from what is matcha, what are the health benefits of matcha, why I drink matcha, how to buy matcha, ways to prepare matcha, and recipes for cooking with matcha. My hope is that it inspires you to give matcha a solid try to see how it makes you feel and that you’ll have all the information you need to do so right here in this post.
What is matcha
Unlike other green tea that is steeped and brewed, matcha is whole stone-ground powder of green tea leaves. Three weeks before harvest, farmers choose the highest-quality green tea leaves and shade them for slower growth. This shading boosts the chlorophyll, giving it the more intense green color than other green teas. It’s also the process that causes more theanine to grow, an amino acid that causes relaxation without feeling sleepy. See more information on the effects of theanine in the next section on health benefits.
As a traditional Japanese drink, matcha powder is traditionally whisked up with hot water into a frothy drink meant for sipping. Though it’s also popular to mix it up with steamed milk for an everyday matcha latte, enjoyed like you would a morning cup of coffee. The result is a rich earthy tea with vegetal grassy notes, sweet nuttiness, and pleasant bitter undertones. In it’s most pure ceremonial form whisked up with hot water, the flavor is more vegetal, but it can be dressed up with honey and milk for a sweeter morning drink.
If you’re already saying “I’ve tried matcha and I don’t like it,” I encourage you to skip ahead to the section on how to choose matcha and give it one more go! So much of your experience comes down to the quality of the matcha you drink and my hope is that this ultimate guide to matcha will help you start with great matcha.
What are the health benefits of matcha
First, matcha has a profound effect on mood and energy. Since you consume the whole ground leaf, matcha has more caffeine content than other brewed green teas, more comparable to that of black tea. The high theanine content described above combined with moderate caffeine gives drinkers a calm alertness, what some refer to as “zenergy.” While it provides a morning boost, it does so in the form of alert concentration that doesn’t give you the jitters or crash like coffee does. I’ll tell you more about this energy boost in the next section on why I choose matcha over coffee.
In addition to the physical effects it can have on your mood and energy, matcha is also packed with nutrients, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties. Matcha contains high levels of the antioxident catechins (including EGCG), that have been shown to have an effect on preventing diseases, stimulating metabolism and fat burning, helping with immunity, and reducing skin inflammation, among many other properties. In short, with the whole leaves being ingested, matcha is a superfood. Read more about the health benefits of matcha here.
Disclaimer: I am not a health expert, but in my research and experience of matcha, these are just a few of the health benefits I’ve learned about matcha that I find interesting and helpful. Please consult your doctor, nutritionist, or other research for more detailed information, especially if pregnant or nursing.
Why do I drink matcha
If you’re a regular reader, you probably already know that I’m not a coffee drinker and never have been. I did not undergo a profound switch from coffee to matcha, like I know many others have. As someone prone to chronic migraines, I’ve been pretty cautious around coffee. In college, I’d drink the occasional “dirty chai” (espresso + chai + copious amounts of milk and sugar) to get me through deadlines, but I never liked the coming down feeling after the initial high and it always seemed to trigger a migraine.
When I found matcha, it was a game changer. Especially after becoming a new mom with a suddenly much earlier alarm clock than my prior grad school life required. It provides just the morning boost I needed as a non-coffee drinker. It gives me a morning high, without the jolt, buzz, or crash you get with coffee – without the accompanying headache or caffeine withdrawals.
My husband Lucas describes coffee as a steep bell curve. Or maybe more like a cliff, where you quickly get a morning buzz, but then, without more, you hit a wall and quickly come down. I think of matcha like an exponential increase that levels off and keeps me going throughout the day. And, much like coffee, I have trouble starting my day this early without it.
So much so that even my almost two year old will tell you mama drinks matcha in the morning, as you may remember. Just last week, I made a face at the smell of Lucas’s iced coffee, which turned into a playful argument pitting matcha against coffee. Lucas turned to our toddler to settle it – “which is better, Zoella, matcha or coffee?”
Without missing a beat, she quipped back, “matcha.” She gets me.
For what it’s worth, Lucas has also dialed back his love of coffee in the new year, trading it in for matcha lattes due to some chronic stomach troubles he’s been associating with his coffee habit. I’m hopeful he’ll experience the same energy and mood effects I do.
How to choose the best matcha, including grades and brand comparisons
If you’re still reading this ultimate guide to matcha, you’re hopefully interested in trying matcha as your daily drink or even just a once in awhile treat. But how do you choose and buy matcha? There are many factors to choose from, including type, quality, and grade. And not all matcha brands are created equal.
If you’ve ever had a bad experience with matcha and you think you definitely don’t like matcha, I want to encourage you to try it one more time, but keeping these tips for choosing matcha in mind. It’s possible that it’s not for you (hey, coffee’s not for me, but like 80% of adults swear by it, so…), but it’s also possible that you just didn’t try good matcha, which can make or break your experience.
Two years ago, I included much of this information on how to choose matcha in one of my recipe posts, but I’m taking and building on that information here to have it all in one ultimate guide
Look carefully at where the matcha comes from. I like to buy matcha from Japan, where the practice of harvesting has been popularized and honed, and where the agricultural laws are much more stringent. If the matcha you’re looking at comes from heavily polluted areas, like parts of China, it’s more likely that the matcha itself contains high levels of metals or lead.
The first thing to look at when selecting matcha is visual cues. Setting aside taste for a moment, for organic matcha, the more vibrant green the matcha, the higher the quality (and/or grade). In comparison, non-organic matcha can use synthetic fertilizers that control for color/taste that can be misleading with regards to quality.
A few things can influence the color of matcha. A more brown as opposed to vibrant green matcha can mean the leaves weren’t properly shaded or were harvested later, both of which can influence the flavor and health benefits.
Additionally, when matcha is exposed to oxygen or water, it oxidizes and turns brown, which will also negatively influence flavor. Look for brands that consider air-tight storage in their packaging and avoid buying matcha from bulk sections where it’s likely gone bad before you even purchase it.
For optimum taste, it’s also recommended to store your matcha in air-tight packaging in the refrigerator for a maximum of 6 months. If your matcha has lost its vibrant color and the smell is lackluster, it’s probably time to toss it!
The most noticeable flavor notes to consider for matcha is how smooth the balance of flavors feels in the mouth. In the highest-quality matchas, you’ll notice vegetal notes, a pleasant, but not astringent bitterness, nuttiness, and a smooth sweetness. Grassy and sweet, without tasting of dirt.
I compared seven different matcha types and/or brands in a comparison a couple years ago (pictured above). I used a matcha latte to compare because that’s my preferred way to drink it, but you may notice even more subtleties if you drink the matcha straight up with hot water.
Three separate matcha brands sent me their matcha to try in this taste-test comparison, but my loyalties were to the taste and product only and not a specific brand: Encha, Harvest Tea Company, and Organic Evolution. In the picture above, the matcha is lined up from left to right based on our taste preferences: 1. Encha Organic Ceremonial-Grade Matcha, 2. Encha Organic Latte-Grade Matcha, 3 & 4. Encha Organic Culinary-Grade Matcha and Harvest Tea Company (it seems this latter brand has already closed up shop), 5 & 6. The Republic of Tea Matcha & a non-english Japanese ceremonial matcha brought back from Japan, 7. Organic Evolution.
- 1 & 2. On the far left, Encha’s ceremonial grade and latte grade were smoother than the rest. They both balanced matcha’s vegetal notes and nuttiness with a smooth sweetness without a bitter edge.
- 3 & 4. Next up, Encha’s culinary grade and Harvest Tea’s culinary grade compared equally. They were a little more astringent than the ceremonial and latte, but had a noticeable nuttiness that made them still enjoyable.
- 5 & 6. The next two matchas in the line-up (The Republic of Tea and a matcha brought back from Japan) were a tad dull and lacked the nuttiness of the others.
- 7. The far right matcha pictured (Organic Evolution) was the most brown and oxidized of the bunch and was noticeably bitter and unpleasant to drink.
OKAY, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE GRADE?
Up until now, you may have only heard of ceremonial and culinary grades, as these are the two most common and universal. Virtually all matcha companies make one or the other or both. But, seeking to break into a new market of everyday matcha drinkers, Encha developed a third grade, Latte.
In the flavor comparison above, I included all three grades of matchas (and two that didn’t have “grades” listed), but these were are not all created equal to begin with. For example, it makes sense that the ceremonial grade ranked the highest, as it should, and here’s why. Each of these three grades are pictured above in order from left to right for the same brand, Encha.
- Ceremonial Grade is traditionally meant to be served whisked just with hot water and is the highest grade, made from the finest leaves plucked from the first harvest. It is also the highest price point, so best reserved for special occasions. No other sweeteners or additives, such as milk, are traditionally used with ceremonial grade matcha.
- Latte Grade is not a common grade you will find. Like ceremonial, it is also made from the first harvest leaves, and is best balanced with milk in a latte. Encha is the only brand I’ve come across that makes a “latte” grade. It’s a high-quality premium matcha at a lower price, making a quality product more affordable for everyday matcha drinkers like myself. If I’m making a drink or dessert where I want the vibrant green matcha color and a smooth taste, I use Encha’s organic latte grade (ex. coconut matcha horchata or this matcha breakfast brûlée). It’s what I drink as my morning latte every day. If you’re thinking of making the leap into becoming a daily matcha drinker, this is what I’d recommend as a starting point.
- Culinary Grade is traditionally meant for baking or smoothies and is generally made from second or third harvest (Higher-quality brands like, Encha use only second harvest). When baking, those subtleties noticed in the ceremonial and latte grades would be indistinguishable and the culinary grade will still produce vegetal and nutty profiles in your baked goods. When drinking, however, you’ll notice the matcha is much more astringent and bitter.
How to make matcha
There are infinite methods to prepare matcha and countless kitchen tools you can use to do so. I’m including four common ways here and my hope is you’ll take this and improvise or experiment with what you have in your kitchen!
As mentioned before, ceremonial grade matcha is traditionally whisked until frothy with hot water.
Matcha Latte – with Whisk
Now we’re moving onto matcha lattes and to be honest, I’ve made matcha lattes at least 10 different ways, depending on where I am and what I’ve got access to. These are the steps for mixing the matcha with a whisk and adding either steamed or frothed milk.
Matcha Latte – with Aeroccino
Strictly for my love of matcha lattes, we registered for an Aeroccino milk steamer/frother when we got married. I consider it as one does a coffee maker and it’s streamlined my morning matcha more than you can imagine. This is probably the easiest way to make matcha and my mind was blown when I figured out it was possible. This is how I make matcha 95% of the time (the other 5% is when I decide I want to practice my terrible latte-art skills and steam/froth the milk separately).
Iced Matcha Latte
When the weather gets warmer, it’s nice to have your matcha latte cold. You basically prepare your matcha the same as with the whisk version of the warm latte, but pour it over ice with cold milk.
Recipes to cook with matcha
Beyond drinking matcha, there are so many ways to enjoy its unique flavor through recipes. Matcha pairs beautifully with everything from dark or white chocolate to black sesame to adzuki bean paste to mint to coconut. Below is a compilation of some of my favorite matcha recipes here on Snixy Kitchen. Click on any image or link below to be taken to the recipe!
- Chocolate Mint Matcha Cups
- Coconut Matcha Ice Cream with Black Sesame Brittle
- Gluten-Free Tempura Asparagus with Matcha Salt
- Matchata: Coconut Matcha Horchata
- Coconut Matcha Rice Pudding with Date Adzuki Bean Paste
- Matcha Black Sesame Nougat Chews
- Gluten-Free White Chocolate Matcha Shortbread Cookies
- Morning Mint Matcha Milkshake
- Matcha Marshmallows
- Matcha Black Sesame Rice Krispie Treats with Chocolate Chunks
- Matcha Breakfast Brûlée
- Gluten-Free Matcha Cake with Black Sesame Streusel
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Disclosure: While this post is not sponsored by Encha, they have generously sent me matcha for cooking and drinking. Competitor brands have similarly sent me matcha for tasting and as I have found time and time again that Encha tastes the best, you’ll see more mentions and affiliate links to Encha throughout this post accordingly. All thoughts an opinions are entirely my own.