Within just two years, matcha has embedded itself into American food culture. Some embrace the high-grade powdered green tea as part of a lifestyle movement; others see it as the new super drink—a near-magical health aid. But no matter how they come to the trend, or whether they enjoy it infused straight into water or in some wilder latte or cocktail form, every matcha nut will be horrified to learn that much of what’s on the market today isn’t actually proper matcha.
Real matcha is difficult and expensive to make, using only the top leaves from shade-grown plants, which are then dried flat, unlike most green teas. Their veins and stems are removed, then they’re ground between grooved granite stones. Even during a mechanized process, it can take an hour to powder just a dozen grams. But the term matcha is largely unregulated, allowing unscrupulous parties to grind lesser green teas, many not even shade grown and with stems and veins attached, and label and sell them as matcha. Eager but often uninformed buyers can end up with powder that tastes anywhere from disappointing to putrid.
America’s early matcha companies, like MatchaBar and Panatea, offer legitimate matchas. But not everyone has ready access to those brands or wants to buy their matcha online. So average matcha lovers shopping around ought to utilize these five tricks to track down the good stuff:
① Check the Label
If it’s called just “powdered green tea,” it’s probably low grade. If you see “Chinese matcha,” run. China birthed matcha centuries ago, but now it’s a hotbed of junk. Look for a provenance from southern Japan, the heartland of modern matcha, instead.
② Check the Price
A mid-range matcha (reliably delicious but not top shelf) should cost between $1 and $3 a gram. Less than that, and something’s likely amiss.
③ Check the Color
Shade growth and proper manufacturing give real matcha an almost electric frog-green hue. Duller yellow- or brown-green tones tell you something’s not right.
④ Check the Texture
Real matcha is fine grained and smooth. If you can see clumpy granules, even if the powder has the right color, it won’t infuse in water as well and is not worth buying.
⑤ Check the Taste
Small shops should let you sample the product before buying. Larger shops are probably peddling something you can try at a café or bum off a friend before putting cash down—which is worth doing, as this is the vital test. You want a rich, almost grassy yet sweet flavor. You don’t want to be saddled with something bitter or even metallic. That’s not matcha.
If you already have lower-grade powder, don’t fret. It can be used to bake green tea treats; sugar cuts down on any bitterness, and baking grains negate excess tea powder graininess. Bake through the old stuff, then grab a proper tin of matcha—and maybe a bowl and whisk to make it in the traditional Japanese fashion. The extra time and money may seem like a hassle, but it will be worth it, and it’s all in the matcha spirit.