How to choose high quality matcha

Updated: May 9, 2019

With so many options of matcha now available on the market the question becomes how to choose high quality matcha which is really the only matcha worth drinking, especially if you're a connoisseur of this highly prized tea. Growing conditions, time of harvest and processing techniques have a direct effect on the grade and final flavour of the matcha. So what are the essential characteristics of the finest matcha teas?

Green powdered tea matcha by Shibumi New Zealand

First, look for organic matcha cultivated in Japan either in Uji or Nishio. These places have come to have the best varieties of Camelia Sinensis tea bushes and the climate is highly favourable for growing tea. Many tea plantations rely on heavy use of agricultural pesticides, not only harming the quality of the tea but also polluting the soil and waterways, so it is always best to choose certified organic matcha.

Second, superior matcha is shade-grown for six weeks before harvesting to increase the amount of chlorophyll and amino acids; and comes from the first picking, which happens once a year typically in May. Only the smallest, youngest and greenest leaves are hand-picked, steamed and dried before milling. Many tea plantations do second or even third pickings, however this is not considered good practice. These teas might be cheaper to buy but as the quality is compromised so is the experience.

Thirdly, the dried leaves are sorted for grade. Only the finest picks enter a highly time-consuming and laborious process of destemming and deveinining becoming a base for matcha called Tencha. The tencha is kept cold until being slowly and gently ground into a fine powder by large stone mortars. Historically matcha was ground by hand but even today using mechanised stone mills it still takes up to one hour to produce 30g of matcha powder. After milling, matcha is vacuum packed and chilled before shipping.

The whole process from growing to milling is crucial for creating matcha that has vibrant colour, rich texture, fresh scent, umami taste with sweet undertones and creamy frothability. By comparison, cheap mass-produced matcha has a dull colour and brutally bitter taste with little or no creamy froth. The more superior the matcha, the more it is packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and chlorophyll, which is what makes matcha highly adored superfood.

Clearspring ceremonial matcha by Shibumi New Zealand

Clearspring offers two grades of matcha – ceremonial and premium – both organically cultivated in Uji, Japan. They're both full of nutrients, come from the same plantation, the same picking and are processed in the same way. Ceremonial matcha has a subtle taste and more powerful effect on your brain, while premium matcha is more versatile and can be used in cooking as well as drinking.

Ceremonial grade

- Highest quality tea having subtle yet rich taste with sweet undertones.

- Best on its own as it could be overpowered if mixed with too many flavours.

- Highly nutritionally dense with more amino acids and caffeine compared to premium grade.

Premium grade

- Stronger and more robust taste which retains its flavour when mixed with other ingredients.

- Good for both drinking and cooking.

- As nutritionally dense as ceremonial grade, but has less caffeine and amino acids.

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