Matcha is a centuries-old green powder derived from carefully sourced tea leaves and is touted for its incredible health benefits and delicious taste. But how much do you really know about the varieties and grades of matcha?
Let’s go through the different types of matcha you’ll find on the market, and how you can incorporate these types into your everyday life and diet!
Is Matcha Green Tea?
Let’s address the main question first: is matcha the same thing as green tea? Nope! Matcha is technically a form of green tea, but it’s cultivated and produced in a different style that completely changes the flavor, aroma, form, consumption, and nutrients of the tea. Green tea is grown all over the east (and all over the globe). Matcha is still unique to Japan for the most part.
Matcha begins its harvest by growing in the shade. This lack of sunlight helps matcha retain more nutrients, specifically chlorophyll. This chlorophyll is what gives matcha that vibrant, rich green color—and what also fills it with delicious nutrients that leave you feeling energized and vibrant.
In the production process, green tea is pulverized with air pressure. This essentially “pre-cooks” the tea, which is what gives it the more yellowish-brown hue of green. Matcha is ground to a powder using a slow-turning wheel, which only grinds about 40 grams of matcha powder per hour. This slow process minimizes friction, which helps maintain more of the matcha’s natural nutrients.
There’s also a different taste due to the cultivation and production process. Matcha tends to be sweeter and smoother, while green tea has a more flat and level flavor.
What Should You Look For in Matcha?
When comparing the different grades of matcha, you’ll want to keep an eye out for the following qualities and traits:
- The color of the tea (more vibrant green usually means it’s purer)
- Texture and density (the finer the powder, generally the more delicate the flavor)
- Brand and product quality
- Exposure to oxygen
- Grinding process
- Treatments prior to processing
- Added ingredients
We’ll walk you through these qualities more in-depth below when we discuss each grade.
The Different Grades of Matcha
There are two main grades of matcha: ceremonial and culinary grade. Within culinary, there are five additional categories: premium, café, classic, ingredient, and kitchen. Let’s dive into what each of these grades means.
Ceremonial grade is the highest quality matcha powder available. It is created to be used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, so it’s considered more luxury and high-end. It’s made from the youngest matcha tea leaves with the stems and veins removed, leaving only the richest and most nutritious parts of the plant for production. The leaves are stone-ground into an extremely fine texture, which generates a delicate and airy taste.
The flavor is sweet and mild in comparison to other grades, which adds to its high-quality. Ceremonial grade matcha is also usually served on its own. The flavor is lost if you add milk or sugar, so it’s traditionally consumed with only hot water. You also don’t want to cook with ceremonial grade matcha; it would be like cooking with a 100-year old bottle of wine!
Ceremonial matcha creates a thick tea that tastes scrumptious and fresh, with a slightly grassy aroma. You only need about 1/2 teaspoon of matcha powder for every 8oz (1 cup) of hot water. Whisk together the powder and water, preferably with a matcha whisk, for a smooth and velvety consistency.
Ceremonial matcha is high grade, and almost exclusively ingested as a tea—but Matcha Bears actually uses this grade in our gummies! In our bears, you get the best possible matcha at an affordable price for the highest quality treat on the market.
Culinary grade isn’t a lower quality product than the ceremonial grade. It simply has a different flavor profile, and it’s usually more robust and bitter. This means it works better in lattes, smoothies, and baked goods. It still retains that characteristic fresh, holistic taste and bright green color that’s so distinctive to matcha.
There are five types of culinary grade matcha, and each has its own production and harvest.
Premium grade is the kind of matcha you’d throw in your latte or smoothie to get a delicious and nutritious shot of energy. It has a bright green color and a fine texture, so it breaks up easily in water. Premium matcha is good for everyday tea use because it’s high-quality matcha at a lower price point than ceremonial.
Café grade uses less delicate leaves than the premium grade, so the matcha has a slightly strong flavor. It’s often used in cafés (hence the name) for smoothies, lattes, coffee beverages, and other blended drinks. The potent flavor also works well for cooking and baking because it maintains that strong signature matcha green color. You’ll generally find this in high-end coffee shops or for at-home tea or latte use.
The classic grade is a quality tea with a fine texture and bright color, but it’s more economical than premium or café. It has a strong and distinct flavor—slightly bitter but oh-so-creamy—which makes it a perfect option for all you matcha lovers out there.
This matcha is best as an “ingredient” in recipes. It has a slightly thicker consistency than café and classic grades, which makes it a perfect addition to dairy recipes (smoothies, lattes, and more). It’s especially good for sauces and desserts, so it’s best to keep it in your baking cabinet. It can get a little lumpy when incorporated into dishes, so we recommend using a matcha whisk to keep the consistency smooth.
Kitchen grade is similar to ingredient grade in that it’s made with less delicate leaves and it has a thicker consistency than the other forms of matcha. Because of its texture, more of that astringent flavor (that comes from the theanine in matcha) comes out. It works well for large-scale food production, and you’ll find it in most grocery-store matcha goodies. It’s a bit darker in color (which we personally think is more appetizing for baked goods than the bright green).
Beauty’s in the Eye of the Beholder
There’s no “wrong” grade of matcha. They are all delicious, natural, and full of antioxidants and vitamins. The different grades just indicate different flavor profiles and textures for different uses, like sipping straight or putting in baked goods.
Matcha Bears only uses the highest-quality ceremonial matcha (yup, the first and most nutritious type of matcha). It’s strong enough to be crafted into bear form but still delicate enough to get that natural and earthy matcha taste. Learn more about Matcha Bears here.