Do you dream about your morning matcha before you hit the lights? Does matcha bring a relaxing zen to your day and help you focus better? If the answer is yes to at least one of those questions, we know you value great-tasting and high-quality matcha!
According to our 2022 annual customer survey, most of our customers buy matcha from Domatcha because of its taste and quality. Now, matcha can be tricky to differentiate just by looking at the label. In fact, most matcha these days are packaged similarly, with a triple seal technology to ensure oxidation doesn't occur. Less expensive brands will opt for a vacuum-sealed plastic or paper bag.
Even looking at the visual appearance of the matcha powder, it can be hard to infer how it will taste when prepared traditionally.
If you love matcha tea like a wine connoisseur likes their wine, we encourage you to try your own matcha tasting at home someday. Invite some friends, and you might surprise yourself with the variance of matcha. You'll notice that different brands carry their own unique flavour and aroma, as different tea masters will have different techniques. For example, our 16th-generation tea master, Kazunori Handa-san, was the first to help us adapt our ceremonial matcha and summer harvest matcha for the North American palette. You'll find that Domatcha products have a clean, balanced and unique flavor profile.
In this article, we'll walk you through a step-by-step process for ceremonial matcha tasting. You're one step closer to becoming an official matcha aficionado.
Step 1: Choose Your Matcha
The easiest way to research matcha is to go on the internet. You can look through several brands to find out what they're all about. Some helpful pages to look through are:
First, you want to find out where the matcha is grown. Japan is the undisputable champion of high-quality matcha. Uji is among a few regions in Japan that have the ideal terroir for cultivating ceremonial matcha. The result is a product that is superior in appearance and flavour. For a comprehensive look at how ceremonial matcha is made, please check out this article. Some other reputable regions include Kagoshima, Nishio, and Fukuoka.
Next, you want to evaluate the price. A quick skim through the different matcha brands and prices will give you a pretty good average. Matcha that is less expensive than the average is generally of poorer quality. This is because matcha is not a cheap product. Not only does it need to be imported from Japan, but it is also quite labour-intensive to produce. Ceremonial matcha can be harvested only once a year, at peak timing. In addition, coming to the ideal flavour profile requires a tea master with tremendous tea blending expertise. Matcha also must be packaged well to preserve its freshness as it's very prone to discoloration and mold if exposed to the slightest bit of oxygen. Domatcha was the first to implement the triple freshness safety protocol on all our tins. Yet, this is not a cheap endeavour. We are also one of the few, if not only, matcha brands in North America that airships our matcha from Japan because we want your matcha to arrive from the production site to your door in as few days as possible. This also adds to the shipping cost.
Suspicously inexpensive matcha is something to be cautious of; but overly expensive matcha doesn't necessarily mean it's better quality. Some brands will mark up their products based on marketing costs, not quality.
Pay attention to the reviews.
Reviews are a great way to gage the market's perception of a product.
Some warning signs could be "bitterness," "brownish colour.", "bad aftertaste," "sawdust texture," you get the gist. Sometimes reviewers post a picture of the matcha powder to give a rough indication of its appearance. Suppose it's brownish, dark army green, or yellow in color. This usually means the matcha producers didn't go through the additional step of deveining and removing the tea leaf stems, resulting in a matcha powder mixed with those bitter elements. Also, be wary of paid or sponsored blog posts. Sometimes these are genuine reviews, but monetary reviews are more prone to bias.
Peruse the ingredient list and only buy matcha made with 100% Japanese green tea leaves. This will help you avoid fillers and sugar, which you don't need in your matcha if it's high quality!
Once you've run through a few of those steps, grab a couple of different tins of matcha from different brands. We recommend getting at least one at a lower price point (just to compare - you can always toss it in a smoothie if it doesn't work out), and for the others, you can stick with matcha that meets the quality prerequisites. For a tasting, three to five tins should be sufficient. But some reviewers will go through the 10 to 20 range. Because matcha is not exactly a mild-tasting product, having too much at once can lead to sensory deprivation, making it more difficult to tell the difference between them.
Step 2: Analyze the Packaging
Matcha comes in all shapes, forms, and colours, but the first thing we analyze is what contains the matcha. Given how sensitive matcha is to oxygen and moisture, it's paramount to ensure that matcha is not exposed to any of those elements. Many years ago, the Domatcha team spent countless hours in R&D trying to figure out a package design that would safely transport our matcha while preserving its freshness.
Matcha should be packaged in a vacuum-sealed container that is anti-microbial, non-porous, and non-absorbent. Generally, steel tins are superior to paper packaging because of their longer shelf life and less penetrability from water and light. Steel tins, which are used to package Domatcha, are recyclable and reusable (spice tins, anyone)? Having an oxygen absorber bag with the matcha product is an extra step to guarantee the product is 100% oxygen free. If you want to learn more about how we package our matcha, make sure you don't miss out on this article that explains how to pack and store matcha.
Step 3: Visual Presentation
The best way to compare the visual aesthetic of matcha is to place half a teaspoon of the product side by side on a white plate, white paper, or cutting board. Make sure you are in a well-lit room, so you can easily tell the difference between matcha.
The colour of matcha can tell you a lot about its quality. Look for a bright green tint. In terms of texture, there shouldn't be any noticeable clumps. Matcha should be powder soft and smooth.
Step 4: Olfaction - Aroma of Matcha
The ideal way to prepare the matcha is to have each person in your tasting group have a different brand of matcha and their own ceremonial bowls. If you have a temperature control kettle, set it to 80C/175F and bring it to a gentle boil. If not, you can use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the water. Add exactly one teaspoon or about 1.5 grams of each brand's ceremonial matcha powder to the bowls. Add around 2 tbsp (30ml) of water to just cover the matcha slightly. It's important to use the same measurements across all the matchas. Vigorously whisk until smooth. Line the bowls against each other to compare the colour and the foam. The foam should be vivid green, and airy.
Alternatively: Use one ceremonial bowl, pour into labeled cups, and rinse for the next matcha.
With your hands, make an "O" shape by touching your fingertips and cup around the circumference of the ceremonial bowl. Bring your face gently down to your hands and take a sniff to smell the aroma.
Some notes you might pick up: Grassiness, jasmine, floral, honey, green tea, roasted nuts..etc
Repeat for the other matcha brands.
How vital is aroma in matcha?
You might think a more potent aroma will result in better-tasting matcha. However, some might be surprised to learn this is not always true. There are instances where the aroma of the matcha will appear very robust or aromatic, but the actual taste will fall short of the expectation.
Step 5: Tasting the Matcha
That's right, the actual matcha tasting is the fifth step of this rigorous matcha evaluation. You want to ensure everyone has a glass of water to cleanse their palette between brands. You may even want to place a small cup of coffee beans in the center of the table to reset your olfactory system. Pour the prepared matcha into smaller tasting cups and continue going around until you've tasted all the brands. Pay attention to the following.
Texture: Smooth, velvety, creamy, chalky, clumpy, runny…etc
Flavour: Umami, vegetal, seaweed, jasmine, honey, nuttiness, astringency, earthy, grainy, roasted/toasted...etc
Aftertaste: Sour, astringent, bitter, sweet, vegetal, none...etc
Two types of matcha preparation for tasting
There are two traditional ways of preparing matcha: koicha and usucha. Usucha is a thin, frothy style of matcha suitable for daily consumption. Koicha is a thick style of matcha which involves double the amount of matcha and half the amount of water, resulting in a more intense flavour. Koicha is the best way to draw out the good, bad, and ugly of different matcha. The more water involved, the more diluted the final matcha tea is. That means bitter matcha will taste slightly less bitter with more water added.
Make sure those involved in the matcha tasting have a sheet of paper to record the results. Many online reviewers like using a rating system out of 5.
Creating matcha is a delicate marriage between science and art. During harvest, matcha growers rely on years of generational knowledge and other signs from nature to know when to pick the tea leaves. Picking at the wrong moment can produce a batch of matcha that is inferior in quality and even unusable. Other factors that will affect the final product are the length of shading, soil health, terroir, blending style, and grinding method. Matcha tasting can be done at home by anyone, and we hope it can increase the appreciation for the dedication and passion that goes into cultivating this unique product. A product that has quickly become a worldwide sensation.