Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Matcha Madness - The Final Chapter Part 1

Yeah, yeah, the final chapter unless I receive more samples. It is kind of like the Eagles farewell tours. Probably no real end in sight (which I find kind of awesome). Because of the large amount of samples in this set, I am breaking it down into two posts. Part 2 will be added hopefully in a few days.

In the first Matcha Madness, we looked at a collection of 12 different culinary grade teas. My results were consistent with the more experienced matcha drinkers. In the next couple rounds I felt like I faltered. The Return of Matcha Madness Set 1 was better grades of culinary tea. My scoring was kind of erratic. I believe with The Return of Matcha Madness Set 2, of mid grade matcha, I hopefully faired maybe a little better.

My prior experience with matcha was limited to culinary grade where I used it exclusively for cold lattes. Yep, I like the cheap stuff, sweetened, and with milk. When it comes to the pricier stuff, I can tell you what I like. I just may not be able to express why.

Going into this final round of high quality matcha, it will be a learning experience for me. Not really understanding what constitutes the 'good stuff', my reviews and opinions are definitely from a newb position. I will attempt to be fair and handle each tea with equal care.

Our Sponsor:

All matcha samples were provided by Red Leaf Tea. They wanted their teas compared to the competition in a blind test to see how they stack up. A big thank you to Red Leaf Tea for this opportunity, but rest assured having a sponsor in no way influenced my reviews as I was not aware of what, or who's, each tea was until after completing the tastings. Once received the information was added to my post.


There are twenty-four samples in this final round. I am going to change the way I have been preparing the tea. I will use 4 ounces of water heated to 160 F. This is double the previous amount. 1 tsp of matcha will be whisked into the water. This is 4 times the previous amount.  The whisk I am using is not a proper bamboo whisk. Instead I am using a small plastic kitchen whisk.

I will be using basically the same rating system as I used previously. The notable difference is I am dividing sweet and bitter. I think this is a better representation of the overall taste. A score of 1 is bad. A score of 10 is excellent.

 On To The Tasting:

Sample 10

The dry powder is a little yellowish green. The dry taste of this one was nutty with no bitterness. After adding the water, I whisked until a good foamy head appeared. The foam held throughout the tasting of the cup. The color of the cup is a deep algae green with leanings toward jade. The foam was a minty green. It mixed easily with no grit. It smells really leafy and green. I am picturing fresh spinach leaves. The taste is similar with a sweet lingering aftertaste. It is sweet and creamy. I don't know if a tsp is too much for matcha. This one has a healthy amount of bitterness. It is also quite drying. Despite the last comments, I enjoyed the intensity of this one.
Aroma: 6  Color: 4  Taste: 5 Sweet/Bitter: 5/4

Price/oz: $13.99 ($6.99 in bulk) 
Size: 1 oz
Price: $13.99

OK, I see this is one I've tried before. Most of my notes stack up to what I stated previously with two exceptions. The aroma with more powder is much more defined and pleasing. It has a heavier bitterness than I recall. Of course per ounce, I have double the powder.

Sample 11

This one is also yellowish green. I recognize the aroma as I know I have had this before. It kind of reminds me of a latex paint smell but then it turns vegetal and even fruity upon lingering inspection. The dry tea tastes like buttery popcorn followed with a leafy note. I catch no bitterness and the powder tastes very dry. I stirred my guts out with this one and it simply would not foam up or hold what little I could work up. The color is a dull dark algae. Strangely, I like the taste of this one. There is little to no bitterness. It is green and leafy and reminds me of tender fresh uncooked spinach leaves. Sweet with a pleasant aftertaste.
Aroma: 4  Color: 4  Taste: 5  Sweet/Bitter: 5/6

Price/oz: $14.99 ($7.49 in bulk) 
Size: 1 oz
Price: $14.99

I was correct about what tea I was drinking. My numbers agree pretty well with my previous review. I will add here, that I have used this in a cold milk latte with sweetener. I thought it was really good this way as the taste stood up against the milk.

Sample 12

The powder color is brown tinted.  The aroma is latex paint. The dry taste is bitter but vegetal. I found this mixed easily but would not foam. What few bubbles it mustered quickly dissolved. The color is algae filled pond water (greenish brown). The sip makes me pucker a bit. It is kind of sweet but astringent. It is like biting in to a stalk of a raw bitter green vegetable.
Aroma: 3  Color: 3  Taste: 3  Sweet/Bitter: 5/3

Price/oz: $14.99 ($7.49 in bulk) 
Size: 1 oz
Price: $14.99

Well, I see this is also a repeat. Last time I liked the taste of this one. Not so much this go around. The difference being I used twice as much powder here.

Sample 13

Now this is more like it. The powder is vibrant green. The aroma is nutty and buttery. It also has a bread scent with hints of malt. The dry taste is smooth buttery popcorn with malt. No bitterness. This mixed easily and developed a solid foam that stayed with the cup. The color is jade green. The taste is kale and green leafy tea with malt in the background. It has just a touch of earthiness to it. The smooth creaminess is offset by a good type bitterness (not the puckery kind). The aftertaste lingers and lingers with a fresh green leafiness. You might notice, I like this one.
Aroma: 7  Color:  7  Taste: 7  Sweet/Bitter: 7/7

Price/oz: $15.99 ($7.99 in bulk) 
Size: 1 oz
Price: $15.99

This was one of my top picks from the last match up. This time I could catch the aroma so that upped its rating. Everything else pretty well matches. I don't know what is yet to come, but as a matcha newb, I find this to be a very tasty choice.

Sample 14

Based on the inclusion of the previous 3 samples from set two, I am certain this is the same as the last sample from set two. It is nicely green. The scent is similar. I am noting hay and malt. Along with the nutty and buttery popcorn notes. The dry taste is again much like the last, malt and popcorn with just a hint of bitterness. Mixed easily. Foamed well and the foam really lasts. Pretty jade green color. Doubling the amount of powder has really increased the astringency from my experience with it in the last set. It is creamy and a little sweet. In the aftertaste I am noting a vine note.
Aroma: 7  Color: 7  Taste: 4  Sweet/Bitter: 5/4 

Price/oz: $16.99 ($8.49 in bulk) 
Size: 1 oz
Price: $16.99

For me this is just too savory. It is very highly rated by others.  That my friends is why there are so many different matcha out there. We all have different tastes.

Sample 15

Deep green powder. The aroma and dry taste is nutty, buttered popcorn and hay. When the water hit the tea, I immediately noticed a umami or meat scent. That's new. Mixed easily and made a lasting foam. Feels thick. The taste is a combination of seaweed, kale, and nuts. The bitterness is minimal. The aftertaste is vines.
Aroma: 8  Color: 8  Taste: 7  Sweet/Bitter: 5/7

Price/oz: $17.14 
Size: 0.7 oz
Price: $12.00

I thought this one was different. That makes it more appealing to my tastes.

Sample 16

Another deep green powder. The scent gets bonus points for its white tea notes. It has hints of fruit and malt with lots of hay. The dry taste is typical of the last few. Once again, as the water hits the powder I catch umami notes of meat. As expected now, it mixes easily and holds a foam. This makes the darkest green cup I have ever seen - remember I am a matcha newb. This is thick and creamy without bitterness. It maintains a umami and savory taste followed by a deep earthy wood and green leaf taste. Sweet enough to be pleasant but not overly so.
Aroma: 8  Color: 8  Taste: 8  Sweet/Bitter: 6/8

Price/oz: $17.14 
Size: 0.7 oz
Price: $12.00

I found myself really taking my time with the cup as I really enjoyed this one.

Sample 17

Ok kids, here is the truth about matcha... Matcha is messy! This sample kind of exploded when I opened it. They all do. This one happened to do so with enthusiasm. If you think my plate is a mess, you should see my desk. So anyway, this one is a lighter green than the previous 4 have been. It is more spring green than deep summer green. The aroma and dry taste are more or less typical - nutty, buttery popcorn.  Mixed easily with lasting foam. The cup is a deep jade which surprised me based on the lighter dry color. It is creamy. The taste is surprisingly darker than expected. Its more of an earthy forest leaves and vines. Its smooth up front yet savory at the back of the mouth and cheeks. Maybe this is from some astringency as it isn't really bitter, just dry.
Aroma: 7  Color: 7  Taste: 7  Sweet/Bitter: 6/7

Price/oz: $17.99 (8.99) 
Size: 1 oz
Price: $17.99

This was easy to drink. I just enjoyed the previous two a little more.

Sample 18

This is the lightest green of the bunch so far. It is still green just a lighter shade of spring. The scent of the dry powder is at first latex but turns to strawberries. Mixed well. Held the foam. The tea is a dark jade green. The taste is much lighter than the last. I mean in weight not intensity. I am not sure how to describe it other than the sensation of sipping is like s swirl around my mouth. It is a good type bite that moves all around the edges then drops in for a landing with a solid jolt of vegetable. It is like spinach, kale and broccoli. Has grassy aftertaste. Very green and fresh.
Aroma: 6  Color: 6  Taste: 7  Sweet/Bitter: 6/7

Price/oz: $17.99 (12.99) 
Size: 1 oz
Price: $17.99

This one appeals to my tastes because of the sudden shift in the sip. Refreshing and green.

Sample 19

Looks vibrant - like spring. The dry powder has a fresh, sweet, cut field grass scent. The dry taste is malty and nuts or buttered popcorn. Mixed well and held a foam. The tea is dark jade green. Tasting, the first thing I notice is this is not bitter, except slightly and pleasantly. The taste is celery, spinach, and melon. It leaves a melon and grass aftertaste.
Aroma: 8  Color: 8  Taste: 8  Sweet/Bitter: 8/8

Price/oz: $19.99 (13.99) 
Size: 1 oz
Price: $19.99

I sipped this cup very slowly and enjoyed every drop.

Sample 20

Another that looks vibrant and spring. This is just a tick darker. The dry scent is sweet cut field grass with hints of malt.  The powder taste is malty buttered popcorn. Mixed easily and held the foam. The tea is a little brighter than the last couple. Its maybe an emerald green. This is practically devoid of bitterness. It has an umami vegetive taste. Fresh and crisp. To my tastes it doesn't have as much depth as the previous sample.
Aroma: 8  Color: 8  Taste: 7  Sweet/Bitter: 6/9

Price/oz: $19.99 
Size: 1 oz
Price: $19.99

I'm on the fence about this one. While I can tell it is high quality, it is a little too savory for my tastes.

Sample 21

Darker than the last few samples. The dry scent is cut field grass. It is pretty light. Maybe I'm suffering from matcha overload. The dry taste is buttery sweet corn (not the popcorn I have been noting). Mixed well, held the foam. The tea is very green. Just a hint of bitter - but not bitter. Tastes like greens and spinach leaves. Honestly it tastes a lot like the Matsuri matcha. I'm definitely suffering overload.
Aroma: 7  Color: 8  Taste: 7  Sweet/Bitter: 6/9

Price/oz: $20.75 
Size: 1.06 oz
Price: $21.99

While this is good, there is nothing that stands out to separate it from the rest of the higher quality crowd.

Conclusions from Part 1

In the first half of this round there were two that stood out a little above the others for me - Manju Matcha from Red Leaf Tea and Matcha LOVE™ Usucha from Ito En. I'll also give an honorable mention to Connoisseur Matcha from Red Leaf Tea as a best buy for those like me that are new to matcha.

One conclusion I have already reached is price and quality really do seem to run hand in hand, at least up to a point. I personally hit my saturation point at around $17/oz. At this point and beyond the difference from one to the next was really difficult for me to note.

Will the second half of Set 3 continue the trend, or will I be able to note a taste difference as the quality increases? You'll just have to stick around and find out.

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