Matcha powder is a stone ground form of green tea. When you drink matcha you actually consume the entire tea leaf, so you ingest more of the antioxidants found in green tea and get 100% of the benefits. Traditionally it is used during the Japanese tea ceremony.
But matcha green tea is no longer just for traditional Japanese tea ceremonies - it's now consumed in many matcha recipes and in matcha latte's, matcha shots, as an alternative to coffee and even found at Starbucks.
But what is matcha tea powder, exactly?
Authentic matcha is a finely stone-ground powder made from green tea leaves that are shaded for 3-4 weeks prior to harvest. This unique process boosts the plant’s chlorophyll levels, which turns the leaves a brighter, vibrant shade of green. It also increases the production of L-Theanine, an amino acid with the incredible ability to simultaneously calm and energise us.
For this reason, matcha is sometimes referred to as ‘liquid meditation’ and has been used by Zen Buddhist monks to help concentration during long meditation sessions.
How is matcha different to regular green tea?
Green tea and matcha powder both come from the same plant, called Camellia Sinensis. The difference between them is how the tea leaves are grown and prepared. Matcha production requires the tea bushes to be shaded from the sun for 3-4 weeks before harvest. This shading process is one of the main differences between traditional green tea and matcha. It is also the reason why matcha has high levels of L-Theanine and chlorophyll.
As opposed to steeping and discarding your tea leaves, matcha is traditionally made by blending finely ground whole tea leaves into hot water with a bamboo whisk. Although, you can also stir the powder into a wide variety of cooking and baking recipes too (see below for ideas!). Because matcha is actually ground up tea leaves, you benefit from dietary fibre and an impressive antioxidant and nutrient profile that ordinary green tea doesn’t have.
Matcha puts you in a calm, alert, happy state-of-mind within 15-30 minutes, thanks to the amino acid L-Theanine.
How is our matcha produced?
- Unlike loose-leaf green tea, matcha tea leaves are grown in the shade. This process boosts the chlorophyll levels, giving the vibrant green colour and boosting the antioxidant count. It also boosts L-theanine levels, giving a naturally sweet flavour as well as producing a natural calming effect.
- Our field workers are trained to select only the youngest, greenest leaves for Kenko Tea matcha powder.
- The lucky leaves to make it this far are then steamed to prevent oxidation (oxidised tea leaves can be stale and dull) and naturally air dried.
- The dried leaves are then graded according to colour, texture, taste, and aroma. The leaves that score highest make it into the Kenko Matcha powder (the rest is used by other brands).
- We then move into the process of tencha: removing stems and veins in order to reduce bitterness and then blending the leaves to produce consistency. Tencha ensures that your next cup of Kenko Matcha always tastes as delicious as the last.
- The final step in the process is literally ground in centuries of tradition. We make the final powder using the same technique as the original matcha artisans of circa 1,000 AD. Using granite grinding blocks, we carefully grind the leaves into a fine powder whilst maintaining the unique colour, flavour, and aromas that no other process can replicate.
Which matcha grade should you choose?:
Ceremonial grade matcha is produced from the youngest tea leaves at the top of the plant. All stems and veins are removed from the leaves for the smoothest and finest quality tea. Because of its silky texture, natural sweetness and careful processing, ceremonial-grade tea is best used for traditional tea ceremonies or served straight with hot water. It has a fresh, delicate flavour, which means it can be enjoyed by itself without being sweetened or added to anything.
Culinary-grade matcha, or ‘cooking matcha’ is also made from young tea leaves, but these are comparatively older to those used for the ceremonial-grade, making for a different texture and flavour. Culinary-grade matcha is more bitter and astringent than ceremonial-grade matcha, and is also typically less expensive. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less flavourful! Culinary-grade matcha works wonderfully in both sweet and savoury recipes. From baked goods to iced beverages, frozen treats and even beer.
Important: green tea powder is not always matcha!
You might find all sorts of ground tea powders online being sold as matcha, but they're often not real matcha at all. Lower quality green tea powders are usually made from tea plants that weren't shaded. The veins and stems may be left in, producing a gritty texture. They may be processed in industrial blenders instead of traditional stone grinding methods. Low quality matcha can be distinguished from it's dull green color, a muddy or overly bitter flavor, and lack of fresh, grassy aroma.
On the other hand, authentic matcha green tea powder comes from high-quality tencha leaves, is shaded for 3-4 weeks, and undergoes a very strict growing process. It should smell and look fresh with a bright green color.
What determines matcha tea quality?
Not all matcha tea is created equally. Just like how some coffee beans taste and smell better than others, so too do some brands of matcha.
There’s a misconception that ceremonial-grade matcha is always better quality than culinary grade matcha. However, this isn’t true at all! The quality of your matcha tea has less to do with the grade and more to do with the integrity of your supplier.
For example, you might find ceremonial-grade matcha that’s dull and super bitter or culinary-grade matcha that’s higher quality. It all depends on where you decide to purchase your matcha from and how fresh it is!
How to choose the right matcha:
First, check what country or region of origin your matcha is from. If you’re looking for sweet, authentic, high-quality matcha tea, look no further than Japan. The good stuff is grown in the Nishio and Kyoto regions. Nishio is known as the ‘matcha capital of Japan’, producing nearly 60% of all matcha sold in the country, including Kenko Tea! While matcha originated in China, Japanese matcha is considered superior to Chinese grown matcha.
2. Growing conditions
Is your matcha grown in the shade? True matcha is made with ‘tencha’ leaves, not ‘sencha’. Tencha can only be grown in the shade, so if your matcha was shade-grown, you know it's the real deal.
In their final growth phase, the matcha tea plants are actually covered with a black burlap-like material to block out 90% of direct sunlight, creating a greener color, and boosting chlorophyll.
The best authentic matcha is stone-ground on granite mills, not mechanically. When you rub it between your fingers, it should feel fine and silky, like baby powder or eye shadow. An excellent way to test the quality of your matcha is by sprinkling a small amount onto a piece of plain white paper and smearing it with your fingers. If it leaves a long, clean line with little to no breaks, you’re onto a winner!
This is the quickest way to tell if your matcha is high-quality. Premium matcha is a bright and vibrant jade green. It’s lighter than Spirulina or Chlorella powder, but not a dull yellow-green or olive colour. If your matcha looks pale or brownish, it’s more than likely poor quality, often made from leaves that haven’t been shade-grown or properly harvested. What you’re looking for is an electric green with a fresh, sweet, grassy aroma.
Matcha loses its freshness very quickly after being ground into a fine powder, so it’s crucial to find a brand with transparent information about how long your matcha has been sitting in their warehouse. The quality of your matcha will start to decline in just 2-3 months, so look for a brand that orders in small, high-quality batches, like Kenko Tea.
Exposure to air and light can also make your tea dull, lifeless and colourless — the opposite of what it should be — so look for matcha with durable, airtight packaging.
Interested in giving matcha a whirl in your kitchen?
You can check out our full collection of matcha recipes or shop our online store for the highest-quality matcha green tea powders.