What's the difference between a ceremonial matcha and a matcha for cooking?

August 19, 2019
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Introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks at the end of the first millennium, Matcha was the country’s introduction to tea. Since the beginning, the dried leaves were cut into small pieces and ground using stone mills. Today, the plants are often covered to produce the best Matcha grades.

Rich and intense, matcha gives us the real impression of nutritious… which makes sense as it is the only type of tea where we consume the whole leaf.

There are actually great differences in the overall quality, aromas, texture and nuances of this bright green powder. Grades in quality vary from the prestigious ceremonial Matcha to the Matcha we use to incorporate into baked goods or latte beverages. A diversity of grades are available on the market ranging from a few dollars for a box of 40 grams to several hundred dollars for the same amount.

What differentiates ceremonial grade matcha from matcha used in cooking?

The subtle sophistication that we pay extra for in high grade of matcha is lost if we add anything other than water.  A little like using a fancy bottle of wine to make a sangria.  In fact a coarser Matcha will often be more present and bold if we are using it for cooking or blending into drinks.

Matcha quality depends on three main factors: the period of coverage, the cultivar and the experience of the producer.

1. The period of shade

The best Matcha come from a plantation that is shaded with synthetic nets that block the light for a three week period before the pluck. A few plantations still use traditional rice straw for the shading, laid out on a frame of metal or bamboo. Some producers will skip this step, which has a direct impact on the flavour quality of matcha. For lower grades, nets are often roughly placed directly on to the tea trees and the shade period reduced to as little as ten days. The most serious producers will not hesitate to leave the tea plants covered for up to twenty days in order to give the leaves time to mature to the desired level.

2. The cultivar

Many Japanese Matcha come from the Yabukita cultivar, which offers excellent sencha. However, the Gokou cultivar, offers a higher quality. There is a common misconception that Matcha coming from a single cultivar will be significantly better. We find that an assembly of several batches of leaves and / or cultivars help guarantee an excellent Matcha from year to year. A handful of specialty producers will use 15 to 20 lots of leaves from several cultivars to avoid too much variation the following year. This being said, it is still nice to taste a single cultivar matcha always makes for a fascinating tasting experience if you want to deepen your knowledge.

3. The producer's experience

Matcha originated in Japan, but is now produced in a few producing countries. All the Matcha at Camellia Sinensis is Japanese and we have a special attachment for Matcha from the Uji region, where we believe the best are still produced.

Developing expertise in tea selection is the key to a good Matcha- it takes many years of experience to detect the right batches that can be blended to provide the desired matcha. Next comes the quality of the transformation itself, including the grinding of tea. Serious producers will do this(automated) process in the dark, so as not to let the light affect the quality of the tea.

Is the difference perceptible to the eye?

In general, lower Matcha grades will have shades that are more grey-green, whereas ceremonial Matcha will have a saturated, deep green colour.

And at the level of taste?

In general, the aromatic notes of all Matcha are found in the same register. Primary notes of marine and fresh grass with secondary more subtle notes of red fruits or cocoa. Hugo likes to explain the harsher side of a low-grade Matcha giving the impression of "drinking a triangle". He clarifies his remarks by adding that good quality Matcha approaches "a perfect circle, silk for the taste buds" ...

Is there an impact on health benefits?

Does a higher grade of matcha contain a higher level of antioxidants? Although we could never test all the World’s Matcha, the laboratory analysis of our entire selection found that, on the contrary, our coarser grades of Matcha had a slightly higher concentration of antioxidants. We suspect that the more mature leaves in the composition would be at the origin of this phenomenon.

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