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.
The taste of matcha
When matcha lands on your tongue, it tastes “green”. As matcha is made from tea leaves, there is an inevitable comparison to fresh vegetables. Assuming you are using a relatively high quality matcha, there will be a dash of mild bitterness / earthiness. As you gulp the matcha down, you start to feel the full texture and the aftertaste. of the matcha beverage. 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.
Depending on the blend of matcha powder (and how you prepare it), your experience will vary widely. The aftertaste could resemble a sweet nuttiness, an intense savoury 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 make 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.
Altogether, this makes it difficult to describe the taste of matcha. Just like the first time you tried an espresso shot, it may not be immediately enjoyable. Expect to drink matcha a few times before finding it enjoyable and appreciating the complexity of its taste. If you have never tried matcha before, a good introductory version is our Superior Ceremonial Matcha or Organic Ceremonial Matcha Blends.
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 aftertastes.
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.
A “ceremonial grade matcha” is made of the best tea leaves available, so it will import many of the refined, unique fragrance and taste of the tea leaves. When you drink “ceremonial grade matcha” as tea or in a lightly-sweetened latte, all of these unique flavors can be experienced.
A matcha deemed as culinary grade has a stronger bitter taste and is usually duller in color. Its usually also cheaper because it is made with less expensive raw material. This is perfectly fine to use for certain recipes where there is a good amount of fat and sugar because the richness and sweetness will help neutralize the bitter taste in culinary grade matcha. We do not recommend drinking matcha marketed as culinary grade if you want to make matcha tea because it will taste bitter and probably be quite unpleasant.
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.
Next in this series
Matcha is a type of green tea. Both come from the same plant, “camilla sinesis”, but matcha is a specific type of green tea. Because of how it is produced,