Matcha—an ancient drink whose real flavor is shrouded in mystery. We see it everywhere—from blended drinks to Pocky Sticks to fluffy cakes—and we still can’t figure out what it is. Is it tea? Spice? A type of sweetener?
Matcha is a fine ground powder made from whole green tea leaves. Matcha tea is vibrant in color, stronger in taste, and highest in caffeine compared to other varieties of green tea. Matcha tea is traditionally prepared from the powder using a special scoop, whisk, and bowl.
Let’s demystify this unique drink. Keep reading if you want to learn about the origins, health benefits, and uses for matcha tea.
We’ll even teach you how to make it at home!
How is Matcha Made?
The secret to matcha’s signature color and flavor comes from the type of leaves used and its unique harvesting process.
While all green tea comes from the tea plant, camellia sinensis, matcha is only made from the newly sprouted leaves.
Using Shade in the Growing Process
Growers use straw or screens to shade the plants after their leaves sprout in April.
Over the next 4 – 8 weeks, the tea farmers gradually increase the level of shade to withhold 90% of the plant’s sunlight. The shade causes the plant to stretch its new leaves, making them thin and tender.
The shade also triggers the leaves to intensify their concentration of chlorophyll and amino acids.
The decrease in sunlight forces the plant to increase its production of chlorophyll to aid photosynthesis. This effect gives matcha its spunky green color.
The decrease in sunlight also contributes to a high amino acid content.
The amino acids are unable to break down in the leaves due to the slowed process of photosynthesis. These amino acids give matcha its unique rich flavor and grassy scent.
One amino acid in particular—theanine—is responsible for the popular, acclaimed health benefits of matcha. We’ll explore the health benefits of matcha soon.
When the shading is complete, the new leaves are hand-plucked and dried within 24 hours.
What makes matcha vastly different from other teas is the use of steaming during production.
The growers briefly steam the leaves after picking them, to stop fermentation. After completing the steaming process, the leaves are dried, deveined, and stone ground.
(source1, source2, source3, source4)
The History of Matcha Tea in Asia
Although only recently popular in western culture, matcha has been an integral part of northeastern Asian culture for nearly 900 years.
Preparing tea from powder by whisking it with hot water and salt began in China sometime in the 12th century.
A Japanese monk named Eisai, who studied in China, introduced this method of preparation to Japan, alongside Zen Buddhism, towards the end of the century.
Eisai advocated the regular consumption of powdered green tea for health, so the Japanese monks in his precinct began cultivating tea. They soon discovered the fertile, forested mountain regions northwest of Kyoto produced the most flavorful tea leaves.
As a result, powdered tea became an expensive, staple drink among the Japanese elite.
Since then, matcha tea has become an active and vital part of everyday life in Japan. You can find it prepared for use in daily enjoyment, social gatherings, and tea ceremonies. (source)
The History of Matcha Tea in the West
Matcha’s influence in western culture is relatively new.
It was commercially popularized in 1996 when Haagen-Dazs introduced it as an ice cream flavor. It was an instant hit, propelling matcha-flavored food and drinks onto a trendy path.
Matcha’s growing popularity in western markets can also be attributed to consumer concern for chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and cancer. Matcha’s commercial success as a marketed health food is recent. The earliest documentation only goes back to 2011.
In 2011, celebrity doctor persona, Dr. Oz, touted matcha as a secret weight-loss ingredient. Since then, he has published numerous articles and episodes promoting matcha as a superfood that:
- Burns fat
- Relieves stress
- Fights cancer
The increasing availability and variety of matcha powders, drinks, and foods in retail and online stores have helped continue its growth in sales. According to MarketWatch.com:
The global matcha tea market is expected to grow at a rate of 4.5% and reach a value of $1.97 billion between 2019 and 2025.
Because matcha comes with claims for weight loss and disease prevention, it has become the fastest-growing segment of the global tea market.
Matcha retail giants like Aiya America have branded their entire businesses around the purported healing benefits of matcha.
Additionally, mega coffee and tea retailers like Starbucks have expanded their menus to include matcha-flavored products to capitalize on consumer’s health-conscious trends. (source1, source2, source3, source4)
Is Matcha Tea Healthy for You?
It is no secret that green tea is good for your health. Considering matcha is made from the whole green tea leaf, one might speculate the potentially increased health benefits of the tea.
Retailers will swear their brand of matcha is an amazing superfood that can cure and prevent anything—from aging to irregularity to cancer.
But how can you determine whether these claims are backed by science or marketing? We did some research for you to verify some of these claims.
The Actual Health Benefits of Matcha Tea
If you’re wondering, why drink matcha?, matcha’s vast health benefits derive from the shading cycle before harvest. The gradual decrease in sunlight causes the leaves to produce a high concentration of:
- Antioxidants called catechins
- Amino acids, particularly theanine
Here’s a breakdown of each beneficial component and its clinically verified health advantages:
|Chlorophyll||Promotes anti-aging by repairing the skin. Fights acne and reduces pore size.|
|Caffeine||Helps mental alertness. Increases mental focus and acuity|
|Antioxidants||Inhibits tumor cell growth. Suppresses inflammation of cells.|
|Amino acids||Increases a feeling of calm.|
In short, matcha is clinically proven to improve your mood and focus while providing the added benefit of increasing your vitamin and antioxidant intake.
When applied topically, matcha can soothe and improve the health of your skin.
The Pseudoscience of Matcha Tea
Beware of any claims that advertise matcha as a cure-all or detoxifier. Retailers may advertise that matcha can:
- Cure and prevent cancer
- Help you lose weight
- Prevent heart disease
- Prevent diabetes
- Detoxify and cure irregularity
- Cure auto-immune disorders
While matcha is certainly good for you, it cannot cure or prevent such ailments. Many studies suggest that matcha has such healing properties, but more clinical human studies are needed to confirm their efficacy.
Special Health Considerations When Drinking Matcha Tea
Matcha tea has many proven benefits, but it also lacks studies for proven risks.
Always consult a physician if you ever have concerns about incorporating a new food or supplement into your diet.
Can You Drink Matcha if You’re on a Diet?
If you’re worried about restricting your intake of matcha because you’re on a special diet, don’t worry! Matcha is a calorie-less drink that can accompany a variety of medical and lifestyle diets, including:
- Intermittent fasting
Can You Drink Matcha Tea While Pregnant or Breastfeeding?
The only concern that arises from drinking matcha tea while pregnant or breastfeeding comes from the consumption of caffeine. Too much caffeine during pregnancy has been associated with health problems.
And too much caffeine during breastfeeding is associated with infant restlessness and fussiness.
A cup of homemade matcha tea contains about 70mg of caffeine.
The Center for Disease Control advises no more than 300mg per day while pregnant or breastfeeding. But don’t worry—just one cup of matcha tea will provide you with an ample amount of antioxidants and amino acids. (source1, source2)
Can You Drink Too Much Matcha Tea?
Too much of any one thing is bad for you; this adage also applies to matcha tea.
It is a caffeinated beverage, and there are risks associated with its overconsumption. The FDA recommends no more than 400mg of caffeine per day.
An excess of caffeine could lead to:
- Nausea and upset stomach
- Rapid heartbeat
What Does Matcha Tea Taste Like?
Traditional matcha tea is prepared in two ways—one method creates a thin, foamy cup of tea, while the other creates a thick, more bitter cup.
Now that you know about the production and health considerations of matcha tea let’s dive into what it’s like to drink!
Matcha tea has a savory, umami sort of flavor— it tastes like sweet seaweed or grass. While smooth and frothy in texture, the tea is sometimes slightly bitter.
In Japan, matcha is commonly paired with a sweet rice dessert to contrast the tea’s earthiness and bitterness.
How to Prepare Matcha Tea
With matcha, you drink the whole leaf, unlike with other green teas where you steep the leaves.
You can make matcha at home with a matcha tea kit, or use similar tools you have on hand.
For this recipe, we are going to prepare thin matcha using the traditional tools.
To prepare a cup of matcha tea using traditional methods, gather the following tools and ingredients:
- A bamboo whisk called a chasen
- A bamboo matcha scoop, known as a chashaku
- A bamboo or ceramic bowl, called a chawan
- 1 heaping scoop of matcha powder (1 tsp)
- 3oz (80 mL) of water, heated to 176° F (80 C°)
- A mug
To prepare one cup of matcha tea:
- Using the chashaku, measure one heaping scoop of matcha into the chawan.
- Pour a small amount of water into the chawan.
- Using the chasen, whisk the water and matcha in a Z-shape until fully emulsified.
Note: The tea will be fully emulsified when it appears thick or creamy. There should be no clumps of powder.
- Pour the remaining water into the chawan. Whisk in a Z-shape until foamy, about 2 – 3 minutes.
- Pour the matcha from the chawan into your mug.
- Drink and enjoy.
Iced matcha is just as delicious as hot matcha! If you want to enjoy it on a hot day, simply pour your mug of matcha over a tall glass of ice. Now you can bask in the cooling sensations of this drink!
Tip: Keep a spoon or straw nearby to stir in case the powder settles from the water.
Why Does Matcha Tea Have to Be Whisked?
You might be wondering why you’re using a whisk to make matcha. The reasons come from cultural and practical necessities.
The practical purpose stems from needing to emulsify the fine powder. Even though the tea is a powder, it cannot dissolve in water like other ground ingredients.
Matcha has to be whisked to fully mix the tea. Whisking ensures the powder:
- Breaks down all clumps
- Releases the gentle aromas
- Oxygenates to create foam and froth
The purpose of using bamboo materials—particularly a bamboo whisk—is to prevent any interference of flavor.
Unlike metal tools, bamboo will not add metallic flavors to the tea. Bamboo will bend— not scratch— upon contacting the bowl’s sides during whisking, further preventing any unnatural integration of flavors.
This method of preparing matcha became an integral part of Japanese culture through tea ceremonies.
The ceremonial preparation of tea is a meditative, religious process that requires time and mindfulness.
The Importance of Water Quality and Temperature When Preparing Matcha
Preparing the water for matcha is more involved than it is for other types of teas. You simply cannot boil water and mix it with the powder like you would when steeping tea leaves.
Matcha is a delicate tea; it is:
- Made from the youngest leaves of the plant
- Hand-plucked at time of harvest
- Meticulously steamed, dried, and ground
It only makes sense; it requires a delicate method of preparation. When it comes to preparing the water temperature, our rule of thumb is:
The higher the quality of tea, the lower the temperature of the water.
Using water that is boiling or too hot will burn the leaves and compromise the unique flavor of the tea leaves.
As for the quality of the water, use fresh, filtered water whenever possible. Tap water may be hard and have an overabundance of minerals, thereby contributing a metallic or bitter taste to the tea.
So please, respect these special young leaves and the farmers that took care to grow them; prepare them with fresh, warm water.
Troubleshooting Your Matcha-Making Process
If you’ve already made matcha a few times and are still disappointed with the results, follow this guide to troubleshoot the problems in your process.
Problem 1: The matcha was too bitter.
The most common reasons matcha tastes unbearably bitter is because of water quality and powder quality. To remedy:
- Heat your water to 176° F (80 C°). Water that is too hot scalds the powder and destroys its flavor.
- Use fresh, filtered water for your tea. Hard water may make your tea taste bitter due to an abundance of minerals.
- Use ceremonial-grade tea that is vibrant in color, sweet in scent, and made of pure matcha powder. Any powder that has a dull color or fishy odor is low-quality.
Problem 2: The matcha did not froth.
Your matcha could not be frothing because either you’re not using enough powder or not whisking long enough.
- For a 3.5-oz (80mL) cup of tea, use 1 tsp (1 heaping chashaku scoop) of matcha powder. It’s ok to add a little more to perfect your cup.
- Make quick, steady M, W, or Z-shapes while whisking. You must whisk for 2 – 3 minutes.
Problem 3:The matcha was clumpy.
Not all matcha needs to be sifted. Your clumping could be the result of improper storage or the brand of matcha.
- If you’re regularly drinking clumpy matcha, you will need to strain your powder through a sieve before whisking it.
- Clumping is not necessarily an indicator of low-quality tea.
How to Prepare Matcha Tea Quickly
You can still enjoy the smooth flavor and pleasant aromas of matcha if you’re pressed for time. Just note, these pre-packaged teas are often mixed with ground sencha to deliver an affordable and fast matcha option.
There are several quick options for preparing matcha tea. You can use:
While these options are convenient, they do not rival matcha that’s been thoughtfully prepared and hand-whisked.
We recommend using the frother with quality matcha powder to get the most delicious experience in the least amount of time.
Contemporary Matcha Recipes
Because of its vegetal flavors and slight bitterness, many people who try matcha for the first time do not like it. While we love the unsweetened, earthy flavors, we can’t deny matcha is an acquired taste.
Nowadays, in modern coffee and tea shops, matcha is prepared with a variety of ingredients. Instead of consuming it in its pure form, many people try sweet or milky matcha-flavored drinks, snacks, and matcha desserts.
These recipes create a delightful introduction to matcha for first-timers who want to try the flavor without compromising the experience.
Some popular matcha-flavored foods and drinks to try are:
- Ice cream
- Pocky Sticks
- Kit Kat Bars
If you’re on-the-go and want to try some matcha drinks, you can try these matcha creations from these popular retailers:
- Green Tea Latte at Peet’s Coffee
- Iced Matcha Latte at Dunkin Donuts
- Iced Pineapple Matcha Drink at Starbucks
- Matcha Lemonade at Starbucks
- Matcha Green Tea Crѐme Frappuccino at Starbucks
Be warned—these drinks are sweet and/or milky; they won’t give you the health benefits or authentic taste of freshly-whisked matcha. However, they can be a good introduction to the flavor if you are curious.
Where Can You Buy Matcha?
Matcha is a delicious and nutritious drink that is so easy to make—you’ll have to try it for yourself at home! Next, let’s look at how to find quality matcha powder and where to buy it.
How to Buy Quality Matcha Tea
If you want to buy matcha for the sole purpose of drinking it, you’ll want to invest a little effort into the process. Because there is no regulation of quality for matcha in western markets, it takes a bit of a journey to source a trusted matcha vendor.
There are two grades of matcha available for purchase in the market: ceremonial and culinary. Ceremonial-grade matcha is used solely for drinking and is the quality you would find in a Japanese tea ceremony. You would use culinary-grade matcha for mixing in drinks and foods.
Each grade differs from the other in:
Let’s explore the differences between ceremonial and culinary-grade matcha. This way, you can be sure you are buying the right type of matcha for your intended application.
What is Ceremonial-Grade Matcha?
Ceremonial-grade matcha is made from the youngest, most tender leaves on the tea plant. Authentic ceremonial-grade matcha is costly because its production requires special tools, time-sensitive techniques, and precise human labor.
The signs of authentic ceremonial-grade matcha are:
- A vibrant green powder
- A light, grassy scent
- A smooth, sweet, flavor
Chances are you’ve purchased a falsely-advertised ceremonial-grade matcha if you notice any of the following in your powder:
- A burnt, grassy scent
- Fishy scent
- Coconut scent
- Dull color
- Cakey texture
- Bitter taste
In this instance, your best move is to take it as a learning experience and not purchase from that vendor again.
What is Culinary-Grade Matcha?
The majority of matcha powders you will find in retail are culinary-grade.
While it still undergoes the same shading and production process, culinary-grade matcha is made from the mature leaves on the tea plant. It will be less pricey and more accessible than ceremonial-grade matcha.
If you want pure matcha-flavored powder, be sure to read the label before purchase: some culinary powders come premixed with sweeteners, milk solids, or flavors.
Are you excited to incorporate matcha into your favorite foods? Try some of these creative recipes at home and see how you like them!
Where to Buy Quality Matcha Tea
By the very nature of its production, most of the guesswork of sourcing quality matcha is already done for you.
Authentic matcha tea leaves are grown exclusively in two cities in Japan: Kyoto and Nishio. If you can find a local or online vendor who sources their tea from these regions, you are one step closer to investing in quality tea.
You can also find comfort knowing the leading retailers in the global matcha tea markets all sell high-end ceremonial powders. You can find exquisite but expensive matcha powders from:
- Aiya America
- ShaoXing Royal Tea
If you’re interested in sourcing your tea powder from a local shop, look for a traditional Japanese tea-house.
These shops are invested in maintaining and observing the culture of tea ceremonies. They will most often have delicious teas for you to try in-store and have powders available for you to purchase and take home.
If you’re on a budget but still want quality ceremonial-grade matcha, we recommend trying Encha Ceremonial Organic Matcha. It is an inexpensive, beginner-friendly matcha with great taste.
How to Store Matcha
Matcha can spoil and expire.
It is essential that you store your matcha correctly, so it does not go bad before you’re finished drinking it. Plus, quality matcha is expensive—you won’t want to waste it.
From the moment it’s ground, matcha will keep for about one year. Store your matcha powder in a cool, dry, and dark place, preferably in a resealable bag. Alternatively, you can store opened matcha in a dark container in the fridge.
If you bought your matcha in bulk, store any unopened packages in the freezer until you are ready to open them.
When storing your matcha, you should avoid excessive:
Exposure to any of the above will degrade the color and flavor of your matcha or turn it into a habitat for growing mold.
Non-Food or Drink Uses for Matcha
The use of matcha is no longer restricted to food and beverages. Remember when we said earlier the chlorophyll in matcha has anti-aging properties? You may be surprised to find matcha has found its way into topical and external products.
Matcha has become a chic ingredient and selling point for products in the beauty and fragrance industries.
Matcha’s popular application in the beauty industry comes from its proven anti-aging effects.
The chlorophyll from matcha extracts works restoratively on the skin when applied topically. You can find a multitude of products with matcha extracts, such as:
- Facial cleansers
As for the fragrance industry, matcha is mostly used for aromatherapy.
Sellers advertise that the application and vaporization of the concentrated oils promote the same calming and concentrative effects one experiences from drinking a cup of matcha.
You can also find fancy matcha-scented candles and perfumes for special occasions.
Even when you aren’t seeking its anti-aging or calming properties, you can still find matcha in products you wouldn’t expect, like:
- Hand soap
- Shampoos and Conditioners
- Nail polish
With its vibrant color, fresh scent, and smooth taste, it’s no wonder people are crazy for matcha!
Now That You’ve Got Matcha on Your Mind
Matcha is a wonderful tea with a fascinating history, tradition, and modern adaptation. It is truly a drink that has withstood the trials of time.
There’s so much to try when it comes to matcha—tea, snacks, desserts, lotions, candles—where will matcha tea take you? The only way to find out is to try some today!
Quick—try it while the matcha’s still gotcha!