What is Matcha?
After becoming more popular in the United States, matcha has had widespread success in coffee shops, cafes, specialty stores, and even in the average American household. However, matcha has been enjoyed for centuries—even millennia—in places across the globe.
With its unique grassy, umami flavor, there isn’t much that can truly replicate the flavor of the bold, yet delicate and sweet matcha. It is something uniquely its own that is hard to describe to another person without having them experience it for themselves. Matcha can be found everywhere: from drinks to smoothies to salads to pastries, adding a deep richness that no other product can truly match.
If you don’t know much about this curious drink, you might find yourself asking where exactly matcha comes from and why it has become so popular in recent years. Let us at Matcha Outlet help. Here’s a short history lesson:
What Exactly Is Matcha?
Essentially, matcha consists of high-quality green tea leaves that have been ground up into green tea powder. Since it’s made from a plant called the camellia Sinensis plant and is very labor-intensive to make, it should come as no surprise that this tea is one of the most expensive kinds of tea on the market. It is set apart from other green teas by its intense flavor and vibrant green color.
Instead of steeping the tea as you might with a typically green or black tea, you use a whisk to mix this green tea powder into hot water and enjoy it like that. The water must be hot, not boiling, as boiling water can affect the flavor and make the matcha bitter. Traditionally, matcha is enjoyed in a bowl after being whisked vigorously with a bamboo whisk, with no additional flavoring or sweeteners added.
Why Is Matcha Different From Regular Green Tea?
Matcha powder is different from green tea–not in its ingredients, but its growth and preparation. Traditional green tea and matcha powder are typically made from the same or similar tea leaves, but making matcha is a much more intense process that separates it from green tea, and the traditional way of enjoying matcha is much different than enjoying a cup of green tea.
The biggest—and probably the most notable—difference between traditional green tea and matcha is that matcha is not steeped. Once the matcha powder is complete, the way to enjoy it is to whisk it in hot water so that you can get the full impact and flavor profile of the leaves. It is rich, creamy, and frothy, and has a bold flavor that is quite different from green tea.
The Growing Process
When tea leaves are specifically being grown to become matcha, there’s an intense and careful process with how the tea leaves are grown. All matcha is shade grown; it’s a labor-intensive process to carefully control how much sunlight actually comes into contact with the tea leaves. Shading the plants helps the plants to produce more chlorophyll, which boosts the bright green color of the leaves, helping the powder to achieve the vibrant green color that matcha is so known for. By controlling the sun, the growers can alter the flavors of the tea leaves because more or less sun essentially changes the chemical composition of the plant.
The leaves in matcha are also carefully selected and only certain leaves are picked to become matcha powder. Only new spring buds and three tea leaves from the shade-grown plants are used. This is one of the reasons that matcha tends to be more expensive: it’s so laborious to harvest and is only available for a short period in the growing season.
When the leaves are harvested, they’re first steamed before they’re dried, solidifying the color and making the flavor more pronounced. This steaming helps the matcha to taste more vegetable-like, giving it that umami but slightly sweet matcha flavor. After it is steamed, the leaves are allowed to fully dry, and the veins and stems of the leaves are removed. The matcha is then stone ground, which makes the green tea powder soft and fine.
The Different Grades of Matcha
Another marked difference between matcha and green tea is that matcha has different grades. Ceremonial grade matcha is the smoothest ground matcha made from the highest-quality tea leaves. Before it is ground, it is double and triple-checked that all of the stems and veins of the leaves are removed to ensure that the powder is soft and fine. Ceremonial grade matcha is meant to be enjoyed as-is with no additional sweeteners or additives. It is typically a slightly sweet matcha with a light vegetable flavor.
Culinary grade matcha, also known as premium matcha, is slightly different from ceremonial grade matcha. Premium matcha has a bit more of a bitter flavor than the slightly sweet matcha taste of the ceremonial grade matcha. The powder is often not as smooth or fine as what is seen for ceremonial grade preparation, and may often have stems and veins of the leaves ground into the powder as well. This matcha is not typically enjoyed in the traditional fashion, but stands up well to mixing with other flavors. Premium matcha is perfect to mix into a latte, bake into some delicious matcha cookies, or add to a smoothie.
A Brief History of Matcha
Matcha has a long and rich history that not many people who enjoy matcha regularly even know about. The camellia sinensis plant was first cultivated in China in approximately 2700 BCE for Buddhist monks. These monks preferred powdered tea over tea that needed to be steeped, and matcha powder became their solution to this.
Eventually, the practice of creating and enjoying this powdered tea made its way across the sea to Japan, where it was popularized. In fact, Japan is where the now-common name originated! In Japanese, “mat” means powdered and “cha” means tea, which is where we get the common name today!
As mentioned earlier, since matcha requires such a strict growing process and is quite labor intensive to produce, it’s typically more expensive–and this is proven by the fact that ceremonial grade matcha was originally reserved for royalty. It was given as an offering by the people to the royals and nobility that would visit in the form of cakes, sweets, and traditional tea.
Matcha did not become popular in the United States until about 2015 when Gwenyth Paltrow posted a picture of her enjoying a cup of it on her Instagram story. Since then, matcha has had a massive cultural impact both in the United States and across the world, both as a delicious drink and an effective coffee replacement.
What Does Matcha Taste Like?
Like a good wine or a specialty dark chocolate, the flavor of matcha varies. Where it was grown, the planting season’s conditions, what grade of matcha you’re drinking, and more can affect the taste of matcha. Even factors like the temperature of the water you use to prepare it can change the flavor profile. Depending on these factors, it can have more of a sweet matcha taste or pack more of a punch of the savory umami flavor.
Typically, matcha has a grassy, vegetable-like flavor. It is slightly sweet, rich, creamy, and frothy if prepared traditionally. Some say that it tastes kind of like spinach, and yet others will compare it to a sweet hay taste. It depends on the variety and the factors that went into its preparation.
Here at Matcha Outlet, our different matcha mixes tend to have different flavor profiles based on the grade. For example, our D25 Ceremonial Grade Matcha has a sweeter chestnut flavor, with notes of green papaya and sweet hay. Once it’s whisked, it has a sweet green grass aroma, finished with cooked rice. However, our A23 Ceremonial Grade Matcha has less of a sweet matcha flavor. The opening flavors are reminiscent of spinach that fade into the sweetness of hay but end with a more vegetable flavor like that of a bell pepper. Both of these variations are ceremonial grade matcha, made of extremely high-quality tea leaves, but still have slightly different flavor profiles.
Many people don’t realize that even the temperature of the water you use to make matcha can affect the flavor. When traditionally making matcha, your water should not be heated to more than 175 degrees Fahrenheit. Using boiling water to prepare your matcha can leave a bitter taste in your mouth–literally!
Are There Any Health Benefits to Drinking Matcha?
While there is no concrete proof that matcha and green tea can truly prevent serious medical conditions, there have been studies that show that matcha can potentially benefit your health.
There have been some animal studies that suggest that drinking matcha on a regular basis can help to prevent Type 2 Diabetes. This occurs because matcha may help your body to produce more insulin, which is the hormone that helps transport blood sugar into cells. Type 2 Diabetics struggle with producing insulin, and as a result, drinking matcha with regularity can possibly help regulate blood sugar.
Some studies have also shown that drinking matcha may be able to help reduce blood pressure. Green tea can relax blood vessels, which can reduce inflammation and improve your blood flow. Some studies have shown that those who have preexisting high blood pressure saw improvement in their blood pressure numbers when they drank green tea.
Matcha may also protect bone health. Some research has shown that those who were drinking green tea one or more times a day were less likely to have reduced bone mass in their spine and thigh. Other studies have shown that drinking matcha and green tea may reduce the risk of osteoporosis, potentially because of the antioxidants and anti-inflammatories found in the tea leaves. Hey, if matcha tastes delicious and it’s potentially good for you too, then there’s nothing to lose!
How Can You Enjoy Matcha?
The ways that you can enjoy matcha are limitless. Of course, there is always the traditional way of drinking matcha: served in a ceramic or porcelain bowl after being whisked until frothy with a bamboo whisk. The water should be hot, but not boiling, and unaltered by sugar or other flavors.
However, there are so many more ways to enjoy matcha and many more ways that you can add it to your diet! One of the easiest (and most delicious) ways to enjoy matcha is by serving it in a matcha latte. Drinking matcha in a latte gives it more of a sweet matcha flavor, adding a creamy richness from the milk and tamping down the almost vegetable-like flavor that matcha can sometimes have. It’s an easy and accessible way to enjoy matcha, as most coffee shops today have some variation of a matcha latte.
Matcha Outlet makes it easy to enjoy matcha in other ways, too. Our recipe page is chock full of ideas, recipes, and more to add matcha into drinks, pastries, savory foods, and more. Matcha makes the perfect addition to smoothie bowls, cream puffs, salads, hot chocolate, and more. The only limit is your imagination and your willingness to experiment.
Matcha Outlet Makes Things Easy
At Matcha Outlet, we are happy to play host to a wide variety of different types of matcha. We are proud to offer matcha from both China and Japan of all different grades, tastes, and more. We even have a premade matcha latte mix to make having a delicious matcha latte easier than ever!
Not sure what kind you might like? We have just the solution for that! Our sample pack comes with a sample of six of our different matcha flavors, plus one of our delicious drink mix flavors. Contained in the pack are both types of ceremonial grade matcha, our premium matcha latte mix, two types of our culinary matcha, a sample of our matcha with honey and lemon, and an extra sample of our dragon fruit pink drink. You’re sure to find one you enjoy.
If you’re interested in ordering our matcha for you or your business, or simply want to give it a try to see what all the hype is about, we’re happy to help! Check out our website to place an order, or contact us today!