Culinary grade: Culinary grade matcha has a more robust, astringent flavor that can stand up to other ingredients its paired with. It may include ground leaves that still had some stems and veins attached, it may be a slightly duller green than ceremonial grade, and it may often include a mix of matcha powder from several sources. Culinary grade can still be whisked into tea and sipped; in fact, it’s a great matcha to mix with milk for lattes or spirits for cocktails. It’s also a bit less expensive so it’s more affordable to stock as a cooking ingredient.
The best Matcha Green Tea comes from the first flush, baby green tea leaves that grow during the spring. Only the newest buds of the shade grown tea plants are hand-picked for Premium Matcha production. The window for ideal Matcha Green Tea growth is very limited, which is one of the reasons that Matcha is one of the more expensive teas on the market.
The Japanese tea ceremony, still called The Way of Tea, is a revered practice in Japan and is centered around the art of preparing and presenting matcha in an almost meditative fashion. It was originally developed as a spiritual practice and the principals of the practice—harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility—are still central to tea ceremony today.
We believe that if you’re going to do something, you should do it right. That mentality took us around the world in search of the best Matcha. We eventually landed in Japan, where we found some of the brightest green powder we had ever seen. Japan has warm weather, and receives plenty of sunlight and rain — all of which make it an ideal climate in which to grow leaves.
If you’re not sure if matcha will become a daily ritual, editor at large Christine Muhlke recommends buying a tin within the $14 to $18 range (save the under $10 matcha for baking and the over $30 for when you’re ready to commit). Some of Muhlke’s favorite brands are Chalait, Panatea, Matchaful, Kettl, and CAP Beauty, and Ippodo (seasonal releases are available at their Manhattan storefront on East 39th Street).
Matcha green tea in America is consumed in a more casual way, but it’s good to keep in mind the traditional Japanese tea ceremony from which the mindfulness of Matcha has its roots. The idea that every encounter is unique and can never be reproduced is represented by the Japanese saying “ichi-go-ichi-e” (“One time, One meaning”). In terms of drinking Matcha green tea, it means that each particular occasion and experience can never be replicated and, therefore, should be treasured.
Shade grown: All matcha is made from shade-grown tea leaves—a labor-intensive process where tea bushes are protected from the sun and light is filtered to the bushes in a very controlled manor. Shading boosts the chlorophyll production in the plant, giving the leaves a rich green color. The lack of sun reduces the plant’s photosynthesis of the leaves, which in turn alters the naturally occurring levels of caffeine, flavanols, sugars, antioxidants, and theanine. By controlling the sun exposure, tea producers can significantly alter the chemical make-up and flavor of the final tea leaves.