Matcha Green Tea
Japanese Powder Guide
Types and Grades

How to buy matcha green tea powder. Understanding different grades. What's the difference between koicha and usucha?

It is different from most other types of tea in that the leaves are ground into a fine powder.

Instead of steeping the tea leaves, it is prepared by adding the powder to water, and whisking it to frothy perfection.

Gyokuro, Tencha and Matcha

The most authentic of this tea powder is produced from the most famous of Japanese tea - gyokuro. Gyokuro bushes are kept under 90% shaded conditions from the beginning of May for 20 days.

This slows down growth, and turns the leaves a darker shade of green. More importantly, it encourages the production of theanine that sweetens the tea.

When the harvest begins, the tippy buds are plucked to make the gyokuro tea. The larger leaves are used to make tencha.

The tea leaves are steamed without being rolled. After removing the stalks and veins, the tea leaves become tencha.

Because powdered green tea remains fresh for only a short period of time (4 weeks in winter and 2 weeks in summer), the leaves are stored as tencha until matcha is required.

The highest grade matcha is stone-ground to a fine, vibrant green powder immediately before shipping.

Matcha Green Tea Versus Tea Powder

High quality matcha green tea differs from low quality powder in two ways.

First, it tastes sweet and smooth with just a hint of astringency. This is because it contains higher concentrations of theanine. Green tea powder tends to lack theanine, and so tastes more flat and abrasive.

Second, it is ground into fine powder using slow-turning granite grinding wheels. Friction is minimized and tea leaves are not “burned” in the process, allowing the leaves to retain chlorophyll.

In contrast, regular green tea powder is often pulverized using air pressure. The friction caused by this process “over-cooks” the leaves, rendering them yellow-brown.

Grades Available

It was traditionally used in the elaborate Japanese tea ceremony. However, today it is also used as an everyday beverage and as a flavoring in sweets and ice cream. Countless grades exist to cater to the different uses.

Ceremonial-grade is the highest grade. It is hard to find outside Japan. It is used by the major tea schools and Buddhist temples in Japan specifically for the tea ceremony, where it is blended to be served straight.

Premium grade is more of an everyday beverage. It is still very good, and much easier to find.

Ingredient-grade is cheaper and is added as an ingredient to foods and beverages.

This grade needs a stronger flavor to compete with the other flavors in foods and beverages. It is mixed with older tea leaves, which have stronger flavors.

Examples of matcha flavored products include ice cream, gelato, smoothies, lattes, ready beverages and chocolates.

Although it is meant to be used as an ingredient, if you shop carefully you can find some that will make a tasty cup of tea.

Types Available

In addition to the different grades, there are also two types of matcha: koicha (thick tea) and usucha (thin tea).

Koicha has a mellower, sweeter flavor and is mixed with relatively little water to form a thick emerald brew. It is used exclusively for Japanese tea ceremonies.

Usucha is less sweet, and is whisked vigorously with more water to create a thinner, frothier tea.

How To Buy

However, most of the good matcha never makes it out of Japan, so you need to be careful what you purchase. How do you know if you’re buying good quality?

First, make sure the tea was grown and processed in Japan. Other countries simply don’t have the right environment to make a high-quality product.

Secondly, look at the color. The greener the tea is, the higher the quality.

Third, look for powder that has been stone-ground. Powder produced by other methods loses a lot of antioxidants.

Fourth, try to determine what part of the tea plant was used.

It should be made from the top 3 leaves and the bud only. Some companies will mix in stems and bigger leaves, and this makes it taste harsher than it should.

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