A question we get asked a lot is; ‘what’s the difference in organic green tea and what do the different shades of green mean?’ Consumers are learning more and more about speciality teas and being more discerning, they are seeking better beverage experiences.
Green matcha powder can be confusing for the first-time drinker, there is a vast array of quality grades at various prices. There is matcha from different countries, organic green tea powders and also standard conventional matcha powder.
We have put this guide together to talk you through the different options available. We will explain the differences in green shades and give you our top tips to choosing the best matcha!
Matcha is made from the same tea plant as most other teas including black, green and white. This tea plant is called camellia sinensis and it is the leaves from this plant which are hand-picked, steam dried and then ground into fine green powder.
For weeks leading up to harvesting, the tea plants are covered to shade them from direct sunlight. This shading process is what stimulates chlorophyll production. In addition; it darkens the tea leaves and develops the L-theanine content, as well as other amino acids. It is through this process the matcha tea health benefits are enhanced.
The highest quality organic green tea is produced from the leaves picked during the first harvest of the season. This is because tea plantations have been in hibernation throughout winter and they grow slower than leaves picked later in the season. This means the first harvest matcha contains increased levels of chlorophyll and amino acids. Therefore; resulting in a more nutrient rich tea with a fuller flavour.
The green shade of matcha is impacted primarily by the chlorophyll levels. The more vibrant green the powder, the more chlorophyll the matcha contains. The taste also varies from sweet to bitter. In short; the higher amino acid content of the tea powder the sweeter the taste.
The tea leaves which are picked after the first harvest will contain less nutrients, resulting in lower quality grades. These matcha teas usually have a more vegetal taste profile. In terms of shade; they will often be a lighter green and sometimes yellow or brown in appearance.
Matcha grades & shades
When tea farms asses the quality and grade of their matcha smell, taste, texture are all important qualities to review. However, the shade of matcha easily identifies the quality level. Below is an overview of each colour and it will help you to check the quality of the matcha powder you are buying.
Yellow or Brown
Yellow or brown in appearance usually indicates mature leaves were made to produce the matcha. This matcha will taste more bitter and astringent than higher grades of matcha. This grade of matcha will have less nutrients than other grades, in particular there will be reduced levels of L-theanine.
*Top tip – this grade of matcha should be at the lower price of the spectrum. This is not suitable for drinking, however, it could be used for cooking or baking. Mixing this powder with something that will over power the bitter taste is best.
Yellow or Green
Green matcha, sometimes with a yellow tint usually indicates most of the leaves came from the second harvest. Most likely, there will be a mix of leaves that make up the powder. Some leaves will be nutrient rich and some will be less so; more mature leaves. This grade of matcha will still be bitter, although not as harsh as the yellow/brown matcha.
*Top tip – this grade of matcha should be priced slightly higher than the yellow/brown grade, however, it is not a premium matcha product. This will often be sold as cooking or culinary matcha. Some companies will sell this as drinking matcha, we would not recommend drinking it alone as a green tea. It could be made as a blended drink or a matcha latte.
Matcha with a bright green shade is a sign of premium green tea. This highlights that tea leaves were picked during the first harvest, are younger and contain a higher content of both chloryphyll and L-theanine. This tea will be nutrient rich and have the maximum health benefits. The more vibrant the green, the more premium the matcha. The most premium matcha tea is ceremonial grade and even at this level there are varying shades of green, resulting in super premium ceremonial matcha. This bright green matcha will be smoother and slightly sweet in taste with no bitterness.
*Top tip – this grade of matcha should be at the higher price point in the range. This is suitable for drinking matcha the traditional way or for everyday drinking. It is not necessary to use this grade matcha for cooking or baking.
Country of origin
The history of matcha goes a long way back, it’s heritage and advanced development originates in Japan. Today there are many other countries producing matcha, China is a huge exporter of this green powder.
The key differences between Japanese and Chinese matcha are evident. Quality Japanese matcha has a vibrant green colour, this is because of the shading techniques and advanced farming methods passed down throughout generations. The Japanese are obsessive with every small detail of the matcha production process.
In China generally they are not following the same standards, higher grades of matcha powder is often in the yellow / brown shade of matcha described above. This lower quality results in less health benefits from the low nutritional content. The taste profile is also considerably different; Chinese matcha can be very bitter and when whisked it is unlikely to froth. Japanese premium matcha is rich, creamy and has a wonderful texture when whisked.
China’s organic standards are different too; illegal pesticides have been found in many of their matcha products. When choosing your matcha it is really worth considering organic, all of our matcha tea products are certified organic green tea by Japanese and UK standards.
Which organic green tea should I buy?
It is important to consider where your matcha comes from, not only from which country but which region and also from which tea farm. You can find out more about our tea farm and learn why our matcha is unique.
You really do pay for what you get with matcha. If it is great taste and health benefits you are looking for, it is really worth buying premium or ceremonial matcha. If you want to buy matcha to make a cake or mix in a favourite recipe, then a lower grade of cooking or culinary is best.
I hope this helps you choose the right tea, if you have any questions please ask us anything about matcha!