Matcha is hard to miss. Whether it's in the vibrant glaze of a cake, spiking your afternoon smoothie, or on the menu at your local café, its earthy flavor, vibrant color, and buzzy effects are unmistakeable. “Matcha is a world of its own," says Catherine Jue, founder and sourcer at San Francisco–based Tekuno, a tea company focused on the extensive world of Japanese tea. “It's fascinating, complex, nuanced—there is so much to learn and appreciate.” For people who want to switch up their caffeine habit, hone their taste buds, or just set aside a few minutes for a meditative practice (that, side benefit, produces a delightful drink!), matcha is a flavorful, timeless choice.
Plus, the results can't be beat. Says Jue, "In the tea industry, we have this concept of being tea drunk. It's like when you leave a movie theatre and walk into the bright light: you feel very relaxed, but also very focused and awake. I like coffee, but the reason I love matcha is that very focused energy." To tap into that feeling, scroll on: we're talking technique, shopping tips, and which accessories make or break your home matcha-making experience.
What is matcha?
Matcha is Japanese green tea that's stone ground into a powder rather than kept in larger pieces. As such, instead of infusing water with the flavor of the tea, you consume the whole leaf, whisked into a frothy suspension with a bit of water that's just shy of boiling. It is the backbone of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, an intricate practice with origins among Buddhist monks in the 9th century.
Matcha has a high level of caffeine—about the same as a cup of coffee, but more than steeped green tea—which makes it a popular morning beverage or afternoon pick-me-up, either ceremonial-style (prepared with water), or mixed with milk into a latte. It's an increasing common ingredient in baked goods as well, where its bitterness counteracts the sweetness of a cake or cookie and adds a verdant hue.
How to shop for matcha
How you'll use it
"The first question I always ask anyone that comes into our shop to buy matcha is what they're going to use it for," says Jue. “Are they going to bake with it? Make a latte? Drink it ceremonial-style? This will determine how I recommend what product they buy.” Certain styles of matcha are better suited for specific use cases depending on the flavor profile and price point of the product. More expensive matcha, for instance, which might be the move if you're planning to drink it straight, isn't the best option for milk-based drinks or baking; if those are your primary uses, you can afford to step down in cost.
“Bitterness and earthiness correlate with price point," says Jue; the less bitter or earthy, the more expensive the tea. But for matcha lattes, bitterness is required to stand up to the creamy richness of the milk, so a slightly lower grade product is your better bet. That same flavor profile is prized in matcha baking as well, where the bitterness can shine through as a potent flavor in cheesecake or ice cream. Also, you're usually using a lot more, which can get very expensive very quickly. Jue recommends sticking to culinary-grade matcha here, which imparts the flavor you need at a lower price.
Of course, at the other end of the spectrum, ceremonial-style matcha is unadorned and undiluted. “This is where the nuanced flavor profile comes into play,” she says, “and where you would want the high grade product.” It's not unlike olive oil in that regard: more expensive, "finishing" bottles are great when the flavor is going to be most present, but an everyday, workhorse oil needn't be overly fancy.
Once you know what kind of matcha you need, you can fine-tune your selection even further based on taste. “Some people like savory, umami-rich matcha, while others like light, floral, fresh varieties. Different price points within the grades of matcha have different flavor profiles corresponding to them, so you can always find one you'll like, and that will work where you need it.”
Location, location, location
Matcha is produced primarily in three the regions of Japan: Uji, Nishio, and Fukuoka. Uji, Jue notes, is likely the most well-known in the U.S., as most western imports originate there. At Tekuno, Jue focuses her sourcing on Fukuoka, in southern Japan, which is known for the very high-quality, ceremonial-grade product it produces. “I am particular to the producers there that we have relationships with, but you can find really great matcha in any of those regions,” says Jue. Taking note of where your matcha was produced is simply another way to hone in on your ideal flavor profile and product.
Freshness is key
There are a few ways to ensure that you're purchasing fresh—and therefore flavorful!—matcha. The first is to look into when it was packaged. Like coffee, the countdown on matcha begins the moment it is ground, which happens in Japan in an industrial-grade stone mill; for Jue, this means her team at Tekuno works with producers that grind tea to order rather than in large batches in advance. “We buy matcha in small amounts such that it's as fresh as it can be when it arrives,” she says. Visibility into the producer you're buying from and their practices is key to buying a good matcha.
Next, suggests Jue, if you're buying matcha from a specialty tea store, ask if they keep their product in cold storage. "Storing matcha in the fridge of freezer preserves its freshness. This is an indicator that the company knows what they're doing.” Also, from a visual perspective, fresh matcha is a bright, vibrant green, without any brownness that could indicate oxidation. If you are able to see the product before you buy it, keep an eye our for a brilliant, grassy color.
Finally, buy matcha that comes in an opaque, airtight tin. This will keep out light and oxygen to prolong your tea's life—and ultimately make it easier to scoop.
How to store matcha
Just like at the tea shop, you should keep your matcha in the refrigerator for maximum freshness. “It can last in the fridge for three to six months unopened,” says Jue, “but once you open it, it's a ticking time bomb.” You'll want to use it as soon as possible, ideally within one month.
What happens when matcha “goes bad?” Primarily, it loses its aroma. “That's the first thing that'll go,” says Jue, “which is a large component of matcha and green tea generally. Thats where you're getting all the flavor.” In time, your matcha will taste flat, earthy without any complex floral notes or nuttiness, and only dissipate from there.
Like any caffeine-consumption habit, matcha drinking requires gear. But just because traditionally a litany of tools are involved in the making of one potent cup of green brew doesn't mean you need to outfit your kitchen with the whole lot before you can get started. Jue recommends a few tools to get the full matcha experience, but fully endorses certain work-arounds, as well, to keep your equipment load light.
A bamboo whisk, called a chasen, is perhaps the piece of equipment most commonly associated with preparing the tea, and the first thing many people seek when learning how to make matcha. The delicate tines integrate the powdered tea into the water and aerate the mixture, creating a cohesive suspension that's light and frothy.
While you can use a milk frother (or even rigorously shake your water and matcha together in a sealed jar), Jue thinks if there's one tool you purchase for your home tea practice, it should be a chasen. “Using the traditional tools is what provides that meditative element. Matcha comes from the tea ceremony and Zen Buddhism practices, so a lot of the historical culture around the product is the idea of presence and making something with your full focus—which the whisk requires. It sounds silly but the whisk does a lot to ensure you're setting a little time aside for yourself. You wouldn't use it otherwise and you're forced to pay attention. So from a functional standpoint, it's not strictly necessary, but I think people that do use one enjoy the experience a little more.”
The small, long-handled scoop that's traditionally used to measure matcha is called a chashaku. It's the perfect tool for portioning tea and easing it through the holes in a sifter, but as long as you have a ½ teaspoon measure, you don't need the specific scoop.
A chawan is a small bowl for whisking and drinking matcha. While Japanese potters have perfected the vessel especially for matcha-making, Jue says any small bowl—four to six inches in diameter, with enough room for the whisk to move about but not so large that it's tough to keep everything moving—will do. “The shape and size of your bowl will make a big impact on your ability to produce a frothy ceremonial cup,” she says, noting that something with a "gentle slope" at the bottom with be easier to work with than one that's flat across the base.
“One of the more important factors in making matcha is the sifting,” says Jue. “You can get around it, but having a sieve or sifter will make a huge difference, both in preventing the clumps that you'll sometimes find at the bottom of your cup if you're making a latte at home and in achieving a light, frothy, ceremonial-style beverage.” Use the back of a spoon or chashaku to help the powder through the mesh.
An electric kettle results in a better cup of matcha because it allows you to heat your water to exactly 176°F—about 40 degrees shy of boiling. Says Jue: “Green tea doesn't like boiling water: it brings out a ton of bitterness and all the aromatics get lost. Lowering the temperature allows you, flavor-profile wise, to create something way more refined, elegant, and balanced.” This OXO kettle won our product review by being precise, speedy, and straightforward to use.
Use matcha at home
How to make a ceremonial cup
A ceremonial-style matcha is like espresso: a concentrated, premium product enjoyed in smaller quantities. As such, you only need about ½ teaspoon of powdered tea (two scoops from the chashaku) in order to make a single serving.
Sift your matcha into a small bowl to remove any clumps. Then add two ounces of water at 176°F. Whisk to fully dissolve and incorporate the powder and to give you a creamy, velvety, and foam-topped cup.
How to make a matcha latte
Making a matcha latte comes down to two separate steps. The first is to warm the milk you're using and any additional sweeteners (like honey) over the stove. “I prefer oat milk,” says Jue. “I think it complements the earthiness of matcha really well.”
Next make a very concentrated paste by sifting one teaspoon of matcha into a bowl and whisking in one ounce of 176°F water. "You'll end up with something that looks almost like paint. Pour it on over of your eight ounces of warmed milk, and stir,” she says.
How to bake with matcha
Baking and cooking with matcha is a great way to showcase the powdered tea's flavor and color. Just be sure to sift your matcha before using to ensure there are no clumps, then use it to make mochi cake, thumbprint cookies, salad dressing, ice cream, green-dipped strawberries, sparkling drinks, or even a twist on chocolate chip cookies.
Jue's word of advice when using matcha in this way is simply to watch your dosage. “Matcha has a lot of caffeine, so I've had matcha cupcakes that make me bounce off the walls," she says. Look for recipes that don't use more than a couple tablespoons of the ground tea, unless you're in for an intensely awakening experience.
Matcha brands to buy
Depending on the intended use for your tea and your personal flavor preferences, the best matcha for you will look different than your neighbor's. These are a few varieties that the Epi team loves to drink.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious