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Matcha 101: A Beginner's Guide to Exploring the World of Green Tea

November 22, 2023

Green tea has been consumed for centuries in Asia and is well cited in Western literature for its multi-faceted health benefits, from free radical fighting properties to weight management. Recently, a Japanese Canadian, Shige Mineshiba passed away at 113 years old, making her one of the longest living Canadians. One of her daily habits was drinking matcha tea.

female hands holding a matcha latte

Although green tea is quite common in Asia and other countries, its popularity surged in North America, with the spotlight on matcha, the stone-ground Japanese green tea. It delivers the same fragrant flavor preferred by green tea drinkers, but at the same time, possesses a unique richness and umami, akin to seaweed, but without the same intensity.

Matcha contains ten times the antioxidants of regular steeped green tea.

Matcha vs steep green tea graphic

When comparing green tea to matcha, it can be helpful to use the following analogy. Drinking green tea is like taking a stock of broccoli, steaming it, tossing out the broccoli, and drinking the water. Drinking matcha is like steaming broccoli, consuming it whole, and drinking the water. For those hesitant to get on the matcha train due to the ruckus of information out there, this guide is for you. If you’re intimidated by the whisking process, a great starting place is incorporating matcha into your lattes or smoothies. Our Summer Harvest is a bold matcha that can complement any green smoothie or protein shake, adding a fragrant green tea flavor as well as a boost of catechins.

Different Kinds of Matcha

Matcha by technical terms, should be made from 100% tencha, meaning the green tea leaves are shaded for 2-4 weeks before harvest, then deveined and destemmed before being processed into ground matcha.

Tea planting in Kagoshima in April

Tea planting in Kagoshima in April

Matcha powder that is murky brown or unflatteringly bitter is likely not tencha and contains bitter stems. Some companies may even use fillers like brown rice protein to lower costs, and sugar to enhance the flavor of lackluster matcha. It’s best to avoid these types of matcha by looking at the ingredient list and place of origin.

DōMatcha powder on black Japanese plate with tin and bamboo whisk

High-quality matcha should always be sourced from Japan. Uji matcha is particularly well-known for consistent quality, but besides Uji, other prefectures offer their distinctive matcha.

Matcha should always appear bright green and without clumps. Clumps indicate a packaging flaw, as matcha easily absorbs moisture.

Bright green matcha powder

Generally, matcha is categorized by grade. Ceremonial grade is considered the crème of the crop in matcha. Made with “first flush” young tea leaves, ceremonial grade matcha is ideal for traditional preparation. Because of its unique and balanced flavor profile, there shouldn’t be the need to dilute it with milk or sweetener. It should be consumed as a tea (more on preparation methods later in the blog.)  A great place to start your matcha journey is by getting the Ceremonial Starter Kit, which comes with all the matcha accessories and a tin of ceremonial matcha.

DōMatcha Ceremonial Starter Kit

The next grade is harvest matcha, like Summer Harvest which means the tea leaves are harvested in the summer (In June) as opposed to the spring. The result is a matcha with more catechins, which results in slight astringency. Summer Harvest matcha still abides by the same standards as ceremonial, meaning only tencha is used in the final product. The only difference is the timing and maturity of the leaves.

Domatcha summer harvest with vibrant green accents

Culinary-grade matcha is made from leaves lower down on the stem. The result is a tougher leaf, resulting in a stronger flavor. It can’t be classified as ceremonial because ceremonial uses tender, “first flush” tea leaves closer to the top of the stem. Culinary matcha is ideal for matcha recipes because the strength of the matcha can stand confidently against stronger flavors. Culinary matcha is usually more affordable than ceremonial grade and can come in larger servings.

Make sure you check out the Domatcha Blog for creative matcha recipes.

Single-origin matcha refers to matcha that’s been grown in a single location.  This term has become quite popular amongst tea brands. However, single origin is a broad term with no set boundaries in place (single origin can mean anything from an entire country to a family farm). Traceability is the main advantage of choosing single-origin tea. For example, a consumer may want to ensure that their matcha is 100% grown in a desired region, and not mixed in with matcha, let’s say from China. Check out the blog Single-Origin Matcha vs Blended for a more nuanced understanding of the difference. Domatcha sources its matcha from one of the oldest and most reputable matcha suppliers in Uji, Kyoto, and a family farm in Kagoshima for their organic matcha line.

Tea farm in Kagoshima

Tea farm in Kagoshima

Choosing which type of matcha depends on your personal preference. If you prefer to consume matcha in its tea form - your best bet is ceremonial matcha, for a balanced, smooth, and sweet flavor. If you’re a complete beginner to matcha, ease yourself in with matcha lattes, prepared with Summer Harvest to get a feel for matcha. If you become a superfan and end up wanting to use matcha in everything - from lattes to your morning oatmeal, go with the culinary matcha to save yourself some money. Domatcha culinary matcha is certified organic internationally and holds the prestigious JAS certification from Japan. It is sourced directly from the tea fields of Kagoshima, for a beautifully full-bodied matcha. (note: Culinary Organic Matcha is only available in Canada).

 Different Types of Steeped Green Tea

Pre grinded, dried loose green tea leaves

Most people are familiar with green tea in whole-leaf form. They may consume green tea through tea bags, filters, or steeping the dried leaves. The most popular types of Japanese green tea are listed below.

Sencha, is a type of green tea prepared by infusing young, unshaded whole tea leaves in hot water. Sencha is extremely popular in Japan and represents 80% of the tea produced in the country. Similar to matcha, the “first flush” leaves of the season are considered to be optimal in flavor. When teas are picked later in the season, it is not sencha anymore, it is called bancha.  The tea produced from sencha is cloudy and has a rich golden-green color.

Fun fact: Early on when matcha was first ‘invented’, it was only reserved for the noble class. The common person would drink bancha.

Read Next: The Origins of Ceremonial Matcha

Shincha ‘new tea’, simply refers to the first month’s harvest of sencha. It is known for its sweet flavour and fresh aroma.

Kabusecha is sencha that has undergone shading to increase L-theanine. The result is a more distinctive flavor and milder tea than sencha grown in direct sunlight. Gyokuro is shaded for a long period of about 20 days.

The key difference between steeped green tea and matcha is that matcha is a whole-leaf product (minus the stems) that is ground up into a fine powder. Steep green teas are whole leaves that are infused in hot water, where the liquid is then drunk. As a result, consuming matcha has the equivalent nutritional value of drinking ten cups of steeped green tea, making it a highly desirable food product for health-conscious folks. Plus, matcha complements a variety of baked goods and recipes, making it a versatile ingredient in the kitchen.

How to Prepare and Consume Matcha

There are a few essential matcha accessories that are needed to prepare a great cup of matcha. A bamboo whisk, or chasen is essential because authentic matcha does not mix well with water. Matcha with additives like dextrin, on the other hand, mixes with water easily. Watch out for this.

Domatcha preparation set up

To prepare a cup of matcha, you will need the following things.

Tip: Presoak your bamboo whisk in hot water for 5 minutes to extend the life of the whisk.

You will level out 1 teaspoon (1.5g) of matcha powder (about two heaping scoops if you’re using a bamboo scoop) into the ceremonial bowl. Pour 30mL of hot water (80C/175F) and whisk in semi-circles until you get a smooth paste. Add more hot water so that it fills about 1/3 of the ceremonial bowl. Whisk vigorously in a zigzag motion until you get a light, creamy froth. Transfer to your drinking cup of choice. You can add more water to your preference.

*Note on water temperature

It’s crucial to prepare matcha with hot water that is not boiling. This ensures an ideal froth and flavor. If you do not have a temperature kettle, you can transfer boiling water from the ceremonial bowl to a cup to bring down the temperature.

Different Ways of Matcha Preparation: Koicha vs Usucha

matca on traditional Japanese flooring

The two most common methods of preparing matcha are koicha and usucha.

Koicha refers to a thick style of matcha which involves doubling the amount of matcha and halving the amount of water, resulting in a deep, intense flavor. Koicha is arguably the best way to determine the flaws and advantages of matcha. Koicha is like the espresso of matcha.

Usucha is a thin, frothy type of matcha and is made with the suggested amount of matcha and  hot water. It’s generally more palpable and milder than koicha.

Read Next: DIY Matcha Tea Tasting Idea

Nutrition of Matcha: How Much Caffeine is in Matcha?

Matcha is a powerhouse of antioxidants like catechins and polyphenols. All of which have been proven to reduce inflammation or fight free radical damage. Out of all fruits and vegetables, matcha has the highest ORAC (a measure of antioxidant absorption capacity).

Domatcha graph for top antioxidant foods

On the cellular level, matcha is very good for us. The caffeine content in matcha works in tandem with L-theanine to produce a unique effect of calm focus. Unlike coffee where jitters are common, matcha provides a slower release of caffeine and contains about one-third of the caffeine content (around 30mg/gram) of coffee. This means some people have no problem drinking 1-2 cups a day without the repercussions that usually come with coffee. L-theanine is the amino acid found in matcha that serves as an adaptogen; helping lower stress levels and letting the body achieve a state of calmness.

Read Next: What is L-theanine?

Alternative for Caffeine Sensitive Individuals

 Domatcha master's decaf product photo

In 2016, Domatcha launched the first-ever decaffeinated matcha in the North American market. This was to ease the concerns of many customers who had caffeine sensitivity issues. Master’s Decaf is manufactured by the same premium matcha supplier that makes our Master’s Choice. It’s supreme quality without any caffeine. Our decaf matcha contains around 6mg/g, the same as decaf coffee. Decaf matcha can be safely consumed in the afternoon, evening or whenever desired.

Have More Questions About Matcha?

If you’re new to matcha and you still have pending questions, don’t worry because we’ve compiled a list of the most common questions about matcha here. If that still doesn’t answer your question, feel free to reach out at info@domatcha.com.

That being said, we hope the beginning of your matcha journey is full of excitement and pleasant discoveries. Matcha is the perfect complement to a healthy lifestyle, helping you achieve more energy and calmness throughout life’s busyness and hurdles. As you progress further through your matcha journey, you may find that your taste buds will slowly start to adapt to appreciate the depth, umami, and earthiness of pure matcha powder. Matcha not only exuberates a bright green shade, symbolizing a plant’s good health and vitality, but it acts swiftly within your body to help you FEEL great. Go to SHOP Domatcha to begin your matcha journey today.

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