With its brilliant green color, matcha just looks healthier even if you have no idea why. But how does it taste? If you have tried matcha before and loved it, then you probably would have met some problems in describing how it tastes to friends and family. This is not uncommon, as good matcha usually tastes complex.
What does matcha taste like?
Matcha’s taste is often compared to the first taste of dark chocolate or red wine – something completely new yet alluring at the same time. If you’re using a high quality matcha, you will first taste a dash of mild bitterness/earthiness on your tongue. As you gulp down the matcha, you will start to feel its full texture, followed by an aftertaste.
Depending on the blend of matcha (and how you prepare it), your experience will vary widely. The aftertaste could resemble a sweet nuttiness, an intense savory flavor, floral or bittersweet notes, perhaps even all of the above! This will linger for awhile and then slowly fade away. The matcha aftertaste is what gets people so obsessed, although it may take some time for most people to get used to the complex flavors of matcha.
The reason for this variety in aftertaste boils down to the farmer’s technique in cultivating the shaded growth phase before harvest. A tea master’s blending technique of different leaves (from different tea plants) also contributes to the creation of unique matcha tastes and blends. The shading process leads to the accumulation of amino acids and chlorophyll in the tea leaves in the final weeks before harvest, and the blending process by the tea master moderates the flavors, creating a highly enjoyable matcha taste for drinkers.
The complex tasting notes of matcha
Matcha is often compared to fresh vegetables. As matcha is made from shaded green tea leaves that are steamed, and then stone ground into fine powder, it is only natural that it has a grassy flavor that almost reminds you of spinach. Compared to regular green teas, matcha has a lovely vegetal fragrance due to the shaded growth process.
Good quality matcha usually have a sweet lingering aftertaste. Matcha may have a slightly bitter taste at first, followed by a smooth umami, and it gradually transitions into a sweet aftertaste that lingers in the mouth. This lingering sweetness helps to balance out the other stronger flavors and bitterness you taste in matcha. This is why sometimes people describe matcha as “bittersweet”.
You might have heard people using the term “umami” when describing the taste of matcha. Umami is a Japanese expression that describes food that are rich and savory – think beef broth or juicy meat. As mentioned earlier, matcha goes through the shading process for about 3-4 weeks which results in the increased production of amino acids. The umami taste in matcha is due to the increased content of L-theanine and other amino acids in the tea leaves.
Matcha has complex flavors which can be sometimes be difficult to fully appreciate. Above all, if you have never tried matcha, the taste of matcha could seem unfamiliar. If you were to immediately start trying out a high grade matcha chock full of savory umami note, there is a good change you may not find it very enjoyable at first. Be patient, and expect to drink matcha a few times before being able to fully appreciate the complexity of its taste.
That’s why we always recommend our Superior Ceremonial Matcha or Organic Ceremonial Matcha blends for people new to matcha. They are beginner friendly blends that will allow someone new to slowly ease into matcha and gain an understanding of the nuanced flavors.
What good matcha should taste like
The matcha taste descriptions above are characteristic of good matcha. A skilled tea master will create matcha blends that are balanced, such that there is no one dominating taste that will overpower everything else. The taste will transition gradually and softly, into a pleasant aftertaste.
In summary, good matcha should always have a smooth mouthfeel. Any initial bitterness should be subtle and blend gently with the taste receptors on your tongue. This should be followed by a slow, lingering after taste that starts with a light sweetness but ends in a nuanced, almost savory note.
What bad matcha will taste like
A bad matcha tends to be unbalanced with a dominant matcha flavor that is so potent that it tastes unpleasant. This usually means that the matcha is too bitter or astringent. The texture could also be unpleasant. However, do note that how you prepare matcha greatly affects its taste. In our experience, roughly a third of “bad” matcha experiences are due to improper preparation or storage.
Something that most are unaware of is that “bitterness” or “astringency” in matcha lexicon does not automatically make a matcha bad. Ultimately, it depends on how the tea master has managed to blend in these bitter / astringent flavors to create something that is altogether pleasing.
While lost to the English language, the Japanese language contains terms that describe the good and bad of each taste. For example, there is “good bitterness” and “bad bitterness”. Whereas in English, a “bitter” taste is almost universally negative and such nuance is lost. One example of “good bitterness” is found in our Superior Ceremonial Matcha. It starts out quite intense but may not be suitable for those who prefer a much milder taste, like the Cold Brew Jade Matcha.
If your matcha tastes bad, how do you make it taste better?
If your matcha tastes bad, the most common reason is that you have bought the wrong “grade” of matcha. . To simplify things, there are two general types of matcha grades loosely referred to as “ceremonial grade matcha” and “culinary grade matcha” outside of Japan. The idea is that ceremonial grade matcha is most suitable for drinking, while culinary grade matcha is usually best used in cooking or baking recipes.
If you are interested in knowing how to differentiate between various grades of matcha and obtain a more nuanced understanding on the difference between “culinary grade” and “ceremonial grade” matcha, we have a full written article here.
Besides choosing good quality matcha, the way you prepare your matcha is equally important as it affects its taste greatly. If you feel underwhelmed by the taste of your matcha, you may want to look into these common issues that may have contributed to the poor experience.
While most people are used to making tea with boiling water, this may not be the case for matcha. Avoid using boiling water when making matcha as it causes the matcha to become bitter. The best temperature is usually specific to the blend of matcha, but a good rule of thumb is to use 176F (80C) water.
Are you using too much matcha with too little water? 2 spoons of chashaku is roughly a teaspoon. If you mix this into less than 6 oz of water, it will taste quite strong. As reference, an usucha calls for just 2.5 oz of water. If you’re a matcha beginner, we recommend that you drink matcha progressively and experiment with different amounts of water. It’s ok to add more water at the start!
Use the right matcha
Unfortunately, the lack of regulation when it comes to matcha means that it is prone to misrepresentation by unscrupulous sellers. Buy matcha from places you trust with good reviews by people who know what they’re talking about. Generally, this also means purchasing matcha made in Japan. Also consider where it was made in Japan, when it was harvested, what cultivar it was made from, and how much it costs. A good daily matcha will cost around $20 to $27 dollar range for an ounce. The best matcha usually ranges from $40 to $60 an ounce. If the pricing is too good to be true, it usually isn’t.
Mix it right
Matcha cannot dissolve in water. It is but a suspension. The matcha particles are distributed throughout the water when you agitate it with a whisk. Using a multi-pronged bamboo whisk is the best way to mix water and matcha. It also creates good froth for usucha. If you do not own a bamboo whisk, the best alternative is to mix the matcha and water into a bottle and shake it vigorously for a minute until the clumps are dissolved. It’s very difficult to get satisfactory results if you try to use a fork or spoon to mix it up.
Matcha can be a finicky ingredient to work with. It loses its flavor in high temperatures, it’s easily overwhelmed by stronger flavors (sweeteners and fat), it doesn’t always pair well with all flavors. If there is a recipe available, try following it completely first! You can always tweak things later. It can help you avoid disappointment. We did the work to come up with recipes so you don’t have to. If you’d like to explore our matcha recipes, click here.
How do we score matcha on taste?
We describe matcha as “blends” because they are combinations of different tea leaves from different growers / cultivars combined by tea masters to create different flavors. We use spider graphs to map out the flavor and textures of such matcha blends. This gives you a quick and easy visual guides to see if a particular matcha blend will be promising and also allows for convenient comparisons.
Superior Ceremonial Matcha
2019 Chiran Harvest Ceremonial Matcha
The Superior Ceremonial Matcha has a balanced vegetal taste that is not as nuanced as it is meant for beginners to start off their matcha journey and is more suitable for use in lattes. On the other hand, the 2019 Chiran Harvest Ceremonial Matcha has a more dynamic flavor profile that would be more suitable for experienced people who have tried different types of matcha.
From a quick look at the spider graphs, it is apparent that the Chiran blend has a distinctive sweet flavor that is also low on bitterness and astringency. If you like to drink matcha straight as tea or usucha, then this chart would look quite exciting to you! As we ourselves grow in our matcha journey, we will map out the spider tasting graphs for each of our blends.