Saturday, April 25, 2015

Matcha Madness

Matcha! Let The Madness Begin
So this should be really cool. A group of about 10 bloggers agreed to a side by side blind taste testing of 12 different "matcha" samples. Yours truly volunteered for this event.

My experience with matcha is very limited. My first exposure was through the Starbucks Green Tea Frappuccino. This is made with milk, matcha, sweetened syrup, and shaved ice. They are addictive, high in calories, and pricy. I have tried to duplicate them at home without most of the calories and cost. I have tried three different powdered teas. One of those is culinary grade matcha from Japan. The other two are powdered green teas. One is from China, the other is from Thailand. None of them taste like the Starbucks matcha.

With this background you can see I am entering this testing as a matcha newbie. It gets worse. I do not have any of the proper equipment that the experts say are must haves. The most important being a bamboo whisk (chasen). The way I prepare my green tea powder is by stirring with a spoon. I also add sweetener and milk. Rest assured, I will not be adding anything during the testing.

The Sponsor:
This testing is sponsored by Red Leaf Tea. They supplied all the matcha samples to the testers. At least one of the samples is theirs. The rest were bought on Amazon by Red Leaf Tea. The matcha was divided and packaged in individual aluminum sample bags. A label was affixed to each saying simply "Sample 1" to "Sample 12". After the test, we submit our results and then we will receive the actual product information to match the appropriate sample. Red Leaf Tea is confident their matcha will blow the competition away in color, taste, and price. We'll see.

Unknown to me at the beginning of the testing, all of the samples are culinary grade. Also, unknown to me, it appears all but two samples, or possibly four, are of Chinese origin. Two samples are from Taiwan based companies. Where the tea is sourced is unclear. Two samples are of Japanese origin. Matcha here then implies a green tea powder and not strictly Japanese tea powder made from tencha.

Each of us is allowed to prepare our matcha as we see fit. I want to make sure I treat each in an identical manner. My methodology will be to measure out 1/4 tsp of matcha into my cup. I will then add 2 ounces of filtered water heated to 160 F. Next, I will stir the water until well mixed. I will not likely be able to produce a foamy mixture as this is made when traditionally prepared with the proper tools.

Note that my research indicates a full tsp is normally used with approximately 2 ounces of water. My experience, with my daily green tea powder, advises me this is way too much tea for a beginner. If after the first cup I find it too weak, I will adjust upwards and repeat the process. I have enough of each sample to make changes as prudent to extract the best, yet equal, results in my comparison. This method is by no means perfect, but it is consistent and fair.

I am including a green Crayola Crayon in each picture I take of the samples (when I remember) as a reference tool in judging actual color.

Testing process:
Each dry sample will be examined for color. Traditionally, the deeper green the powder, the better. Next, I will taste the dry powder - why? Because I like to play with my food. Finally, the matcha will be prepared and tasted.

This is a completely personal opinion. I will give two ratings, one for color, and one for taste, with 1 being low and 10 the highest. A third rating is for sweetness, or more precisely bitterness. A rating of 1 is extreme bitterness, and a 10 is sweeter with no bitterness.

Now On To The Sampling:
Remember, this was a blind testing. I did not know the name or price of the matcha teas until after the test was completed and results submitted. 

Day 1, Samples 1-4
Sample 1 

The dry color matches the crayon label not the green crayon itself. This looks very similar to the kitchen grade green tea powders from Taiwan I use daily but it is from China. The dry taste is bitter and leafy. The cup color is muddy light jade and tastes bitter. With sweetener and milk this would be OK but on its own it is lacking.

Color: 5  Taste: 5  Sweetness: 4
Price per bag: $24.95
Price per oz: $6.24

Sample 2

Just looking at it, I can't tell the difference between it and the first sample. The dry taste is also nearly the same. The cup taste though, is completely different. This is much richer and darker tasting. A little bitter but not bad. To me this tasted a lot like the Taiwanese green tea powder I use everyday - turns out it is my daily cup.
Color: 5  Taste: 6  Sweetness: 6
Price per bag: $10.75
Price per oz: $1.22

Sample 3

Again, this is not as dark as I expected from matcha. Maybe my expectations need adjusting? The dry taste is not bitter. It is mellow and smooth. Cup color is light. The cup taste is very much like drinking fresh gyokuro. The aftertaste lingers long and pleasant. Nine more samples to go but I like this one the best so far. This is one of only two sample reviewed that is from Japan. Later on, I used this with milk as my day two morning cup. I did not care that much for it with milk and sweetener.
Color: 4  Taste: 8  Sweetness: 8
Price per bag: $24.00
Price per oz: $6.00

Sample 4

Dry this is a little darker than the crayon label. The dry powder was not bitter, though a little stronger than sample 3. The cup was bitter and dark. It tasted more vegetal but I was not moved. From China.
Color: 6  Taste: 5  Sweetness: 5
Price per bag: $19.99
Price per oz: $2.27

Morning Day 2, Samples 5-8
Sample 5

Dry powder is darker than the crayon label. Dry it is kind of bitter but I don't seem to mind. The cup looks darkest of any so far from memory but I'll have to check the pictures. The taste is strong kind of bitter but clean and vegetal. This is an excellent candidate for a sweetened milk frap. This is from a Thailand based company but may be sourced from China.
Color: 6  Taste: 7  Sweetness: 6
Price per bag: $21.99
Price per oz: $5.50

Sample 6

This looks like how I think matcha should look. The darkest so far. Dry it is only slightly bitter but it is a bitter I like. The prepared cup is definitely the darkest so far. It tastes enough bitter that I notice. It has a flavor I like and a lingering aftertaste. From the Nishio region in Japan.

Color: 7  Taste: 7  Sweetness: 6
Price per bag: $29.99
Price per oz: $8.52

Sample 7
Powder is back to like the first in color. The powder is bitter. I had more trouble getting this to mix than any other so far. The cup is light and tastes OK but bitter and nothing stands out. The aftertaste is nice and leafy.
Color: 5   Taste: 5  Sweetness: 5
Price per bag: $16.99
Price per oz: $1.93

Sample 8

Dry color good. Dry taste not bitter, some depth. Mixed easily. Cup color good. Taste a little bitter but a nice deep flavor. I probably still prefer 3 but this is good.
Color: 6  Taste: 8  Sweetness: 7
Price per bag: $24.71
Price per oz: $2.47
Afternoon Day 2, Samples 9-12
Sample 9

Dry color dark and fresh. Dry taste is not bitter and has a sort of hay taste with the feel of cotton candy. Cup color is excellent. Cup taste is mostly smooth. Slight bitter. Good flavor. Short lived aftertaste.
Color: 9 Taste: 8  Sweetness: 7
Price per bag: $25.00
Price per oz: $6.25

Sample 10

Dry color is average. Dry taste slight bitter but OK. Cup color OK. Mixed easy. Cup taste is a bit puckery but decent grassy flavor with long lasting aftertaste.

Color: 6  Taste: 7  Sweetness: 6
Price per bag: $24.99
Price per oz: $6.25

Sample 11

Dry color is dark. Dry taste is not bitter - it's grassy. Cup color is good. Cup taste is smooth and rich. Nice grassy flavor with a long lasting strong aftertaste. Sourced from China. I could easily see me using this in my morning tea/milk.

Color: 8  Taste: 9  Sweetness: 8
Price per bag: $14.99
Price per oz: $0.94

Sample 12

Dry color is excellent. Dry taste not bitter. The powder tastes like tea and reminds me of a Yunnan. Cup color is excellent. The cup taste is really good. Tastes like a green tea with a strong floral aftertaste that clearly says peonies to me. On day 3, as I am putting together my notes, I made my morning tea/milk with sweetener with this matcha. It tasted like Alishan Oolong. Truly awesome. I really do think I will switch to this when my current stash is gone. It is only slightly more expensive and has far more depth and flavor. Turns out this is from China so my references make a little more sense.
Color: 9  Taste: 10  Sweetness: 9
Price per bag: $24.99
Price per oz: $1.56

The Japanese ceremonial grade matcha lovers will not likely be influenced by this study as all the samples were culinary grade, intended more for lattes, fraps, and recipe use. For the rest of us who just want a simple everyday matcha powder, this proved interesting.
The green tea powder I use everyday was included in this test (sample 2). I ranked it near the bottom. (d'oh) I have always given it extra points for being so economical. There is a wide price gap between the teas tested here from $0.94/oz to $8.52/oz, yet the taste difference was questionably not so vast as to justify the price difference. In fact, the cheapest was my second highest rated sample. The best rated matcha was third in lowest cost per ounce. The tea I currently use was second most economical.
This blind tasting has seriously prompted me to examine my purchasing decisions. I can be drinking a better tasting tea for less, or drinking one I found to be amazing for only a little more money.  The two highest rated matcha are both from Red Leaf Tea.
The charts were generated from my review data and furnished by Red Leaf Tea after the testing was completed. 


  1. I love drinking tea in the morning, especially Matcha.

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