The Different Grades of Matcha and Their Characteristics

January 31st, 2013

Having explained Matcha blending and production in our last two education posts, we would like to move forward and highlight some things about the grades of Matcha we carry and their distinct characteristics.  Since we are around it every single day and constantly discussing it with customers, the subtle differences between each grade is almost second nature to us.  This, understandably, is not the case for the casual Matcha fan and even some Matcha masters.  To help clear any confusion, we have put this post together.

All the Matchas we currently sell for the North American market can be broken down into two main categories – Ceremonial Matchas and Cooking Grade Matchas.  Both types are pure, high quality Matcha.  The way in which they differ is in flavor profile and by extension recommended usages.

Ceremonial Matchas

Aiya Ceremonial Matchas are the finest of all of our Matchas.  They include our Premium Matcha, Ceremonial Matcha, and Organic Ceremonial Matcha.

Intended Purpose and Flavor Profile:

Ceremonial Matchas are blended exclusively for whisking with hot water and drinking straight (just as in traditional Japanese tea ceremony).  These teas are naturally sweet on their own so that they do not need to be mixed with anything else to appreciate their delicate flavor.  The tea sommelier blends this grade of tea so that hot water will help to highlight its flavor.

Ceremonial Matchas’ delicate, sweet green tea flavor is completely masked by other assertive flavors such as sugar, milk, chocolate, soy, etc.  They are not recommended for mixing with any other flavors and ingredients.

Sensory Cues:

When looking at a Ceremonial Matcha, it should have a vibrantly green color (see below) and smell light, fresh, and slightly grassy.  It should also be extremely fine to the touch and feel like eye shadow.  If it smells off, is yellowish (or brownish) in color, and/or feels coarse between your fingers, it is not of high enough quality to classify as a ceremonial grade.  In fact, it may not even be real Matcha at all!

Amount Used Per Serving:

The usual, recommended serving of Ceremonial Matcha is 1/2 teaspoon (approximately 2 grams).  This mean that even though Ceremonial Matchas tend to be more expensive than other teas,  you only have to use small quantities each time.   When you consider the volume you are using per serving, it is a very manageable per serving cost.

Common Misconceptions:

It is a common belief that because Ceremonial Matchas are some of the most expensive Matchas on the market, they are by default the best choice for anything that calls for “Matcha.”  This is most certainly not the case.  If you were to use a Ceremonial Matcha to make a smoothie, you would need to add a full tablespoon or more to even get some green tea flavor in the drink.  A full tablespoon of Ceremonial Matcha can cost anywhere from 10 – 15 dollars at standard pricing. This is a lose-lose situation; you’re using way more Matcha than you need to of a more expensive product.  Making green tea drinks with Ceremonial Grades of Matcha, while technically not impossible, is cost prohibitive and an incorrect use of such a fine grade.

For tips on whisking and making traditional Matcha, please click here.

For most green tea purposes outside of making pure, tea ceremony style Matcha, Cooking Grade Matcha is best.

Cooking Grade Matcha

Cooking grade Matchas are blended specifically to be a jack of all trades.  Aiya offers Cooking Grade Matcha  in conventional and organic varieties.

Intended Purpose and Flavor Profile:

Perfect in green tea drink recipes, Matcha cooking/baking recipes, or even as a boost to workout drinks and meals, Cooking Grade Matchas have more bitter notes than Ceremonial Matchas.  This flavor profile is chosen by the sommelier on purpose.  Their intended purpose is inverse to Ceremonial Matchas – they are not meant to be drank straight with hot water and are intended to be mixed with other ingredients.  The more bitter, astringent notes that come out of a Cooking Grade Matcha are exactly what you are looking for; the more assertive flavor profile allows better synergy with sugar, milk, soy, and other strong flavors.

Sensory Cues:

Cooking Grade Matchas can look less vibrantly green than Ceremonial Matchas but they should still be noticeably green (see below)!  Just like Ceremonial Grade, a quality cooking grade Matcha should smell grassy and fresh.  It may have less of the light, naturally sweet elements to it but that is by design.  When touching a cooking grade Matcha, it should still feel fine and smooth.  If it feels coarse or you can see the individual grains of Matcha easily, it is not good quality.

Amount Used Per Serving:

To make an 8 oz green tea drink, you only need to use 1 to 2 teaspoons of Cooking Grade Matcha depending on how strong you like your tea flavor.  When baking or cooking with it in home recipes, you  should never need to use more than 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time.  As cooking grade Matchas are less expensive that Ceremonial Grades, the increased volume needed for recipes does not make cooking with Matcha cost prohibitive.

Common Misconceptions:

It is very commonly believed that Cooking Grade Matchas are lower grade than Ceremonial Matchas.  While this is true in the strictest sense, it is more accurate to look at them as a different grade that isn’t as expensive.  Using terminology like “lower grade” creates a misconception; although Cooking Grade Matchas are less expensive than Ceremonial Grades and their price is “lower,” their quality should not be.  If you find a cooking grade at rock bottom prices, it is most likely either very very poor quality, expired, or a different type of powdered green tea entirely.

You can find Aiya’s suggested drink and baking recipes here.

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