If you’re a tea lover, you are probably already acquainted with that delicious green powder called matcha. It goes into so many delicious drink concoctions and dessert recipes that we tea lovers have grown so fond of.
But did you know that there are two different grades of matcha tea: culinary vs. ceremonial?
In a nutshell, the main difference between the two grades of matcha has to do with how early the tea leaves are harvested. This seemingly small difference results in a big difference in price as well as different flavor profiles, and colors.
Here’s what you need to know about the different matcha grades when you go shopping for the best matcha for your next matcha recipe.
Ceremonial Grade Matcha vs. Culinary Grade Matcha
There are two types of matcha readily available: ceremonial and culinary.
Ceremonial grade matcha is used only for drinking. It’s expensive and of high quality. It’s the kind that’s used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. It is a more vibrant shade of green due to the higher concentrations of chlorophyll in the youngest tea leaves.
Culinary-grade matcha is less expensive, but just as delicious when it’s used in drinks and foods. If you’re looking for matcha to put in matcha snicker-doodles, matcha ice cream, or delicious matcha lattes, you’ll want to go with the culinary grade.
The culinary grade is a less vibrant green due to the extra sunlight the slightly older tea leaves in this grade received.
Why is Ceremonial Grade Matcha Powder More Expensive?
Ceremonial matcha powder is made from the youngest, tenderest leaves of the tea plant, usually harvested in late April. This expensive matcha is costly because of the special tools, precise timing for harvesting and processing, as well as the extra labor required for these processes.
These first harvest tea leaves result in the highest grade of matcha.
Ceremonial-grade matcha should always have a natural sweetness, light grassy scent, a smooth slightly bitter flavor, and a vibrant green color.
Higher quality authentic ceremonial grade matcha tea leaves are only grown in two Japanese cities: Kyoto and Nishio. These cities are located in fertile mountain regions that have proven to produce the highest quality matcha.
You most likely won’t ever need to purchase ceremonial grade matcha unless you’re going to be participating in a tea ceremony, or plan to drink it on its own.
Is Culinary Matcha Powder Still Good?
If you’re looking for matcha to blend into any food to drink, culinary grade matcha powder is an excellent choice. Most matcha you find in stores will be the culinary variety because it’s more affordable but still delicious. This quality of matcha is perfect for any culinary purposes, whether it be for baking or beverages.
Culinary grade matcha is less expensive because while it still undergoes the same shading and processing, the young tea leaves in later harvests (usually by the end of July) are a bit more mature than the youngest tea leaves plucked for the ceremonial variety.
Culinary grade matcha isn’t low quality, it’s just lower quality than the fancier ceremonial grade. Culinary grade is still considered a premium grade matcha, and will still give you the sweet taste, delicate flavor, and vibrant green hue you’re looking for in this gorgeous green drink.
The green shade of culinary matcha is usually a bit more muted than that of the ceremonial grade due to the aging of the tea leaves.
What is Matcha?
That bright green matcha is a fine powder made from whole green tea leaves. It’s used in many ways, from traditional tea ceremonies to recipes ranging from cookies and cakes to lattes. With any premium matcha, you’re drinking the entire tea leaf, ground into a fine texture powder, not just steeping and then removing the leaves like you are with traditional green tea leaves.
While matcha is made from green tea leaves which come from the camellia Sinensis plant just like regular green tea, the similarities end there.
The special qualities of matcha come from the type of tea leaves used as well as its unique harvesting and curing processes.
How is Matcha Made?
Matcha is made from only the smallest, tenderest newly sprouted leaves of special pampered tea plants that are grown in the shade under screens or awnings.
Why is matcha such a vibrant green?
The whole process of shade growing results in the amazing green color and grassy aroma that matcha powder is famous for. Because the plants are grown in the shade, the new leaves grow to be thin and tender as they stretch toward any available sunlight.
The shade also causes the plants to up their concentration of chlorophyll and amino acids which result in the vibrant matcha green and delicious scent.
When the shaded leaves are mature enough to pick, they are plucked by hand and dried within 24 hour hours to maintain the matcha freshness.
Matcha leaves are also briefly steamed after harvesting to stop any fermentation. After this steaming, the leaves are dried, deveined, and ground into a fine powder.
What does matcha taste like?
People describe matcha as having a taste that’s a bit sweet, like seaweed or grass. It can have a slightly bitter taste.
Health benefits of matcha
Because the tea plants are grown in shade, the amino acid, theanine is produced. This amino acid is responsible for many of the health benefits of matcha. If you want to know more about the health benefits of matcha, check out 8 reasons you should drink matcha every day.
This post may contain affiliate links. My full disclosure policy is sort of boring, but you can find it here.
Best Matcha Powders for Beginners
When you’re buying matcha powder, make sure that you’re getting the pure form, not a mix of matcha power and other ingredients like sweeteners.
If you’re a tea ceremony expert, you may want to pay more for your matcha, but for most people, these are two great choices for all-around good matcha.
Harney & Sons Jobetsugi: This finely milled matcha grown in Japan is a bit pricey but of excellent quality. If you’re buying matcha to drink as tea, this is an excellent choice.
Aiya Culinary Grade Organic Matcha: This culinary grade matcha is also grown in Japan and is 100% organic. It’s my choice for adding to all my tea drinks and recipes. It’s definitely more affordable than the Harney & Sons product.
How to prepare matcha for drinking
Because matcha is finely ground green tea powder and not tea leaves, you’ll have to prepare it differently. Because the powder can clump, both the best way and the traditional way is to use a bamboo whisk to make blending the powder into hot water a breeze. A whisk of this type is used in the preparation of matcha in the Japanese tea ceremony.
How to prepare matcha for cooking
The easiest way to make sure the clumps are out of your matcha is to add it to a bit of hot water and shake it up in a cocktail shaker or shaker cup.
Using a small milk frother is also an excellent way to make sure your matcha powder is well blended into your recipe. I love my milk frother! It can pull double duty by both frothing milk for my hot milk tea drinks and breaking up clumps in my matcha.
What kind of recipes can I make with culinary-grade matcha?
I love cooking with matcha. Here are some of my favorite recipes:
- Matcha smoothie bowls
- Matcha chia pudding
- Copycat Starbucks matcha green tea frappuccino
- Matcha milkshakes
- Matcha ice cream
- Matcha energy balls
- Iced matcha green tea latte
- Matcha snickerdoodles
What’s the best way to store my matcha?
It doesn’t matter if you choose the culinary or ceremonial grade, it’s very important how you store your matcha. Whichever you choose, make sure to store your matcha in an airtight container, bag, or pouch, away from light.
It’s best stored at cool temperatures in the refrigerator. This way, the flavor and quality will last as long as possible.
The Takeaway: Which type of matcha should I buy?
For the most part, it’s really up to you and your budget. If you buy quality culinary grade matcha, you can drink it as tea as well as cook with it. If you want to be a bit more spendy, ceremonial matcha can be used both in tea as well as in recipes. I buy a good quality culinary matcha and use it for everything.