As an ingredient, matcha is quite a finicky ingredient. Expose it to light and the atmosphere too long, it will oxidize and lose flavor. Use the wrong temperature water to mix it up, it may become unpleasant and bitter. Try to stir it using only a spoon? You are likely to end up with a clumpy mess. Here are 5 common mistakes and how to avoid them.
How you make matcha greatly affects its taste. It may sound intimidating, but all these issues are actually quite easy to resolve. In our experience, most problems are caused by one of the 5 issues below.
1. Using the wrong water temperature
Most people are accustomed to use boiling water to make tea. But this is precisely what you should avoid for matcha. Boiling water causes matcha to become bitter. As you may imagine, this makes for a less than pleasant experience most of the time.
The best temperature is usually specific to the blend of matcha, but a good rule of thumb is to use 176F (80C) water. For example, we would say that 140F (60C) water is the best temperature to enjoy our Fragrant Yame Blend, but it also tastes good using 176F (80C) water. Trust us, the extra effort is worth it.
The best way to get water at precise temperatures is to get a variable temperature water kettle. But if you don’t have one, just bring water to a boil and let it cool at room temperature for 5 minutes. In Japan, there are special open top bowls with spouts and handles which function as water coolers. The large exposed top lets boiling water cool quickly so the water in these vessels (known as yuzamashi) can be used for making tea. You can add boiling water to a large bowl to achieve a similar effect.
On the other hand, there is no lower limit for water temperature when preparing matcha. If you want to make cold brew matcha, go ahead and use cold water. What if you’re making a matcha latte? The same rules apply, the only difference being that you use 176F (80C) water if you’re trying to make a hot matcha latte and room temperature / cold water if you’re making an iced matcha latte.
2. Using too much or too little matcha
In Japan, matcha is traditionally measured out using a curved bamboo device (chashuku). 1 chashuku is roughly equivalent to half a teaspoon. A standard serving is 2 chashuku which corresponds to 1 teaspoon. For reasons of simplicity, we find it more convenient to refer to the teaspoon measurement. We use measuring spoons when preparing matcha recipes because we prefer the precision.
Matcha is made of the whole leaf. Therefore, a little matcha goes a long way. 1 teaspoon or 2 grams of matcha is actually a lot of matcha. If you mix this into less than 6 oz of water, it will taste quite strong. If you are a beginner, we recommend you drink matcha in progressive steps as you grow to appreciate the flavors. Stick to the suggested ratios in the recipes and you should not go wrong.
Start with thinner and more diluted matcha-based beverages, or even add sugar and milk if you think that helps. Do these things first and gain an understanding of the complex flavors at work. If you enjoy them, explore thicker matcha teas and experiment as you go along.
3. Using the wrong kind of matcha
Most people are familiar with classifying matcha as “ceremonial” or “culinary” grades outside of Japan. The idea is that ceremonial grades are for drinking while culinary grades are for ingredient use. For convenience, we do this as well. However, these terms are actually quite meaningless. Within Japan, grading matcha is much more nuanced, and individual blends are evaluated based on various characteristics like colour, flavor, aroma. This is because using matcha as a flavor or ingredient in Japan is a relatively recent phenomenon compared to its use as a tea beverage at tea ceremonies.
We recommend sticking to matcha made in Japan, but you should also pay attention to things like where in Japan it was produced, when it was harvested and what cultivar it was made from. For our matcha products, we recommend that you use our “culinary” grades when making a matcha based dessert where there are more than 4 ingredients. For everything else, you should use one of our “ceremonial” matcha. If in doubt, simply contact us over email or any of our social media channels. We are more than happy to provide guidance on which blend is most appropriate for your needs.
Producing matcha involves extra costs because of the shading process before harvest. Naturally, these costs are normally reflected in the final retail price. If you like lattes, most reputable companies will sell entry-level ceremonial grades appropriate for lattes at about $18 to $25 an ounce. A good daily matcha will be slightly more expensive at the $20 to $27 dollar range for an ounce. The best matcha will range from $40 to $60 an ounce.
Buy something appropriate to your needs. If you only like matcha lattes, we suggest that you do not pay more than $30 an ounce for matcha. Please note that these estimates only apply to the United States. Because matcha is usually transported in small batches, transport and storage costs tend to be high and it may be more expensive depending on where you are.
For beginners, it is important to understand what you want to create with matcha before deciding what matcha to buy. If in doubt, start with a versatile blend that gives you more options.
4. Mixing matcha the wrong way
Matcha is a suspension, that means it cannot “dissolve” in water. It can only be mixed evenly. Matcha is traditionally mixed with water using a multi-pronged bamboo whisk. This whisk is very proficient at mixing water and matcha particles and also creating good froth for usucha. The whisk may look quite unconventional, but its design has been tried and tested over the centuries. We still believe that using a bamboo whisk is the best way to mix water and matcha.
If you do not own a bamboo whisk or find it inconvenient to use, there are still other workarounds to easily mix matcha and water. Our favourite workaround is to add water and matcha to a water bottle. All you need to do to mix them up is to close the bottle and shake it vigorously for a minute.
There are other workarounds such as battery operated electric frothers, but we still view the “shaking” method using a water bottle is the fastest and easiest way to evenly mix matcha.
5. Storing matcha the wrong way
Matcha is quite fragile and will quickly oxidize if left out in the open. What happen if matcha is left to oxidize? It will lose its color, flavor and aroma. To preserve its delicate flavors, please keep your matcha away from heat, air, moisture and light.
After opening a can of matcha, we usually store it in the fridge. This keeps it fresh for up to 6 months. We try to finish matcha within 2 months after opening a can. If you are like us and have many open cans of matcha in your fridge at any one time, one good hack is to write down the date you first opened the bag of matcha.
Need more detailed guidance? Talk to us!
Understanding and addressing the 5 points above will solve 99% of any issues you encounter in making tasty matcha. But if you need more guidance, please email us! We respond to every email.
Next in this series
If we were to be completely honest, we would say there’s no difference because “ceremonial grade” and “culinary grade” matcha are really meaningless terms. In this article, we explain why