What to know to start enjoying matcha (even if you’ve never had it before)
As someone with Japanese roots, I’ve been in contact with matcha in one form or another as long as I remember.
So, I was surprised when my husband decided to give it a try (after hearing good things about matcha’s nutritional benefits)… and he didn’t know many things I thought were common knowledge (I mean, being married with me, he already had matcha desserts or drinks before, but he just hadn’t paid attention to it).
That’s why I decided to write this simple guide for those who are curious about matcha tea.
While I don’t consider myself a matcha expert (the world of matcha is truly deep!), I think I can share some tips so you so you can get the best start possible.
In this post you’ll learn what to expect from matcha, how to choose a good matcha (that doesn’t break the bank), how to handle it and of course, how to enjoy it!
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What is matcha?
Matcha is a powdered tea with a vibrant green color.
By having matcha you consume the whole tea leaf in grounded form (instead of steeped in water, as with other tea types), so you may benefit from a higher concentration of tea nutrients as compared to other teas.
How does matcha taste?
Matcha’s taste has quite a lot of nuances, so I find it a little difficult to describe its taste.
But if I have to just use one short sentence: good matcha has a mellow bitterness.
Other things you may experience by tasting matcha are a hint of sweetness, some vegetal notes, buttery and nutty undertones and umami (pleasant savory) flavor.
Some people compare the taste of matcha to that of dark chocolate: it has an elegant taste and a flavor profile that vary depending on many factors, like the origin of the tea or its grade.
The grade of the matcha can greatly impact its taste.
Lower quality grades may be too bitter or astringent and even have a fishy smell and taste, but these aren’t signature flavors of good matcha.
Dietary benefits of matcha
Besides for its taste, matcha is gaining worldwide popularity because it’s a superfood.
Some benefits of consuming matcha are:
Matcha nutritional facts
Below is the estimated nutritional information for 1 gr. (half teaspoon) of matcha powder:
* The caffeine content of matcha can vary depending on the type of the leaves used and brewing time/water temperature (source).
Other remarkable nutrients in matcha (per 1 gr.) are:
Amino Acids 200 mg
Potassium 27 mg
Calcium 4 mg
Magnesium 2 mg
Phosphorus 4 mg
Iron 0.2 mg
Zinc 0.1 mg
Copper 0.01 mg
Vitamin A Beta Carotene 290 μg
Vitamin A Retinol activity equivalents 24 μg
Vitamin E 0.3 mg
Vitamin K 29 μg
Vitamin B1 0.01 mg
Vitamin B2 0.01 mg
Niacin (Vit. B3 )0.1 mg
Vitamin B6 0.01 mg
Folic acid 12 μg
Vitamin C 1 mg
(Source: Guide 2020 for Nutrition by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Technology-Japan)
Matcha is also high in natural antioxidants and beneficial phytochemicals such as polyphenols (catechins such as EGCG), phenolic acids, rutin, quercetin, chlorophyll and theanin (source).
Precautions when taking matcha
While consuming matcha in moderation is considered totally safe, as with everything, it may also bring undesirable side effects.
This can happen specially if overdoing it or when choosing poor quality matcha.
Here are the main disadvantages of taking matcha:
- High caffeine consumption:
As you may already know, caffeine may cause headaches, irritability and stomach discomfort.
According to FDA, healthy adults should limit their caffeine ingest up to 400 mg caffeine per day (pregnant and breastfeeding women should stay under 200 mg caffeine/day).
Matcha’s caffeine content varies depending on the brand and sort, but the caffeine content of 1 gr.matcha powder ranges between 25-50 mg caffeine.
This means, you reach the daily caffeine limit of 400 mg with around 8 gr. of matcha powder (that’s 4 teaspoon).
- Risk of contamination:
While matcha provides the benefits of green tea in concentrated form, it also brings an increased risk of contamination.
Cheaper, lower quality matcha that is grown in untested soil may be contaminated with heavy metals, specially lead (also arsenic and cadmium) and pesticides.
That’s why it’s really important to choose matcha from trusted sources, tested and if possible, organic.
How to choose matcha
As we’ve just seen, quality matcha doesn’t only tastes worse; it may even contain harmful substances, so you should really aim for matcha that:
- was grown in regularly tested soil (free of contaminants like lead or from radiation)
- if possible, organic and certified
Matcha grown and harvested in Japan tends to have the best reputation.
Where to get matcha
You can find acceptably good matcha in well-stocked supermarkets, health food shops and of course, also online.
If you are looking for premium matcha (this might be advisable if you plan to drink your matcha plain), you may want to go for a specialized tea shop.
Luckily, nowadays there are a lot of good tea shops online; their vendors are usually passionate tea lovers that describe their products with great detail (and they are also happy to answer your questions about their tea in case you still have some).
Should I buy ceremonial grade or culinary grade matcha?
Ceremonial grade matcha is more expensive and tastes finer.
It is made from the youngest and most tender tea leaves and it may also provide more nutrients.
But this doesn’t mean culinary grade matcha is bad.
Culinary grade matcha may have a less delicate flavor than ceremonial grade matcha, but you can still use it to make tea and other drinks.
Specially if you plan to use your matcha to bake, to make smoothies with several other ingredients or to make matcha lattes, culinary matcha might be a good choice.
Here you can get both types at once.
How do I know if my matcha is good?
These are signs that the matcha is good:
- Vibrant green in color:
Normally, the more rich and vibrant green the matcha is, the higher its quality.
Culinary grade matcha has a more pale color, while ceremonial grade matcha has a deeper green color.
However, if the powdered tea isn’t preserved properly, it oxidizes, turning dull and yellow, even if it’s a high quality matcha.. even high quality matcha that’s been exposed to light and air, overtime, will begin to oxidize and turn yellow.
- Finely ground:
Good matcha has a smooth and creamy finish.
You can test matcha’s texture with a “finger test”: dip a finger in matcha powder and then smear it in a white paper (the color doesn’t of the paper doesn’t really matter so much) to draw a line with the finger. A long line with little or no breaks is a sign of higher quality.
How to properly store matcha
Green tea has lots of nutrients, but some of them decrease over time due to oxidation (not to mention, tea that get old tastes worse).
Even high quality matcha oxidize with time, specially if stored incorrectly, getting a dull, yellowish tone.
That’s why green tea should avoid contact with air and light as good as possible.
On top of this, the smaller the tea particles, the more sensitive the tea is.
That’s why matcha, which is very fine ground tea, should be stored with special care, in an airtight container, away from light and moisture.
In case of doubt, pay attention to your package’s recommendation, but I can tell you how I personally store my matcha: once the package has been unsealed, I close it as well as possible, letting the air out.
Then, I store it in the freezer.
Doing so, matcha will keep its taste and nutrients for several years!
I learned this trick from a Japanese tea tasting seminar with Markus Hastenpflug
When you store your matcha in the freezer, don’t open its recipient as soon as you take it from the freezer: when the matcha is colder than the room temperature, it will bind humidity when it comes in contact with the air, accelerating oxidation.
To avoid this, simply wait a couple of minutes before opening the package.
After you’ve taken the amount of matcha you need, you may put the closed recipient in the freezer again (if it’s in a bag, don’t forget to let the air out before closing it with a clip).
How to use matcha
Now that you know how to choose and store your matcha, let’s move on to the most enjoyable part: how to use matcha.
While matcha is used for making tea in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony (which needs practice and special tools), you can actually enjoy matcha very easily:
all you need is mix the matcha with whatever you want to have it.
Specially if you are taking matcha for its nutritional value, you can add a half teaspoon to almost anything you like: smoothie, protein shake, yogurt…
While matcha is traditionally prepared with warm water (up to 176 °F (80°C), you can also prepare it cold.
Just remember that matcha doesn’t solve in liquids (it only suspends), so you should shake it, whisk it (that’s the traditional way) or blend it well with the other ingredients.
- for a tea, you just have to mix a small amount of matcha with water
- for a matcha latte, shake a teaspoon matcha with milk (and sweeten if desired)
- for smoothies, just blend in with the rest of the ingredients
If you are looking for more detailed recipes, here are some easy and delicious ways to use matcha:
How much matcha should you use
The exact proportions for a serving vary depending on the recipe and on the taste of each person, but usually, you’ll need 1g of matcha (half teaspoon) for around 4 oz. (120 ml) of liquid.
Remember that to avoid possible unpleasant side effects associated with matcha’s caffeine content, it’s recommend to stay under 8 gr. of matcha daily (4 teaspoon).
Other common questions related to matcha
Yes, matcha is made from (a special sort of) green tea leaves that are finely ground.
Since green tea has no net carb nor sugar, matcha it’s keto-friendly.
The tea leaves used to make matcha need a very special treatment, so it is more time consuming and expensive to produce than other types of tea.
First of all, the tea leaves get covered for 20-40 days before harvesting.
Leaves that grow shaded contain more L-Theanine, giving them a smoother taste.
Shading tea leaves also makes them produce more chlorophyll, which gives matcha its beautiful signature color.
Unfortunately (?) not. Even if you buy tencha tea leaves (the leaves used to make matcha), you can’t ground them fine enough without a special stone mill.
In case you’re curious, you can see the results of my failed experiments to make fine powdered hojicha at home.
Fear not, matcha’s catechins are heat-stable, so you may use it for baking or for hot drinks.
No, good quality matcha has a mellow sweetness (although it’s also slightly bitter) and when prepared the traditional way, it’s served as is, without milk nor sugar.
However, nowadays there are lots of recipes that combine matcha with all kind of ingredients, like milk (dairy or non-dairy) or sweeteners. The possibilities are endless.
How to make matcha without special tools
- Glass or cup
- Jar with lid Or any other recipient you can close (e.g. a bottle or a cocktail shaker)
- ½ teaspoon* Matcha powder (1 gr.)
- 2.7 oz. Water (80 ml.)
- Put the matcha powder in a recipient you can close tightly.
- Add the water**, close the recipient and shake vigorously for some seconds, until there are no clumps. Enjoy freshly made.**Traditionally matcha is made with water at 75℃～85℃ (167ºF ～185ºF ), but you can also prepare it with room temperature or cold water.
If you prefer your matcha thicker (“koicha”), you may double the amount of tea (1 teaspoon -2 gr-) for the same amount of water.
Just take into consideration that “koicha” might taste too intense for the majority of people.
Also, if you decide to make “koicha”, I recommend using high quality ceremonial grade matcha; otherwise, it might taste too strong.
I hope this guide has helped you with your questions about matcha.
By the way, do you know there is a matcha day? Check it out when it is at this post with all non-alcoholic holidays.
For other Japanese tea types, you might be interested in this post on Japanese herbal teas.