Japanese matcha tea is world renowned for its taste as well as for its nutritional properties. Consumers, especially those in Western nations to which match tea is a relatively new product, should acquaint themselves with some basic facts about the tea before setting out to purchase it.
Matcha tea tends to be more expensive than even the best coffees, and of course other kinds of tea. The meticulous growing and harvesting process is one of the reasons matcha is so prized by consumers and practitioners of traditional tea ceremony. Here are some tips and suggestions for anyone who intends to buy matcha tea online or at a local retail establishment:
• The most common mixing ratios of water to tea are between 2 and 4 grams of powder per 6 ounces of water.
• There are literally thousands (yes, thousands) of online sources from which to purchase matcha tea.
• Shop for the grade and price you want, being careful to watch out for online sellers that are offering non-authentic matcha or extremely low-grade tea from either China or Kenya. The best varieties will be sourced from Japan.
• Sellers often use the words koicha and usucha. These mean “thick” and “thin” tea, respectively. The thick tea is mixed with about 4 grams of powder per cup. The thin drink uses about 2 grams per cup.
• The so-called “gold standard” for matcha green tea is the Yame variety. Yame is a Japanese farm town whose soil is ideally suited to growing the plant from which the tea comes. Yame is to matcha tea what France is to wine, Russia to caviar and Cuba to cigars. If you buy Yame matcha, you are on the right track.
• Scrutinize the label of the tea you are considering. Make sure the word “tencha” appears somewhere on it. Tencha is the specific type of tea plant from which matcha tea is made. These are the plants that spend the last three weeks of their lives shaded from direct sunlight by bamboo mats. All sorts of chemical changes take place in the plant during that time. For tea-drinking purposes, all those changes are very, very good. The shading gives the tencha plants more amino acids and other nutrients. It also renders their leaves an extremely dark hue of green.
• Sellers can be deceptive at times. That is the nature of the global marketplace, alas. So, to arm yourself against potential improprieties, make certain that any tea you consider purchasing specifically states that it is a product of Japan. If it does not include this statement, or one very similar, then you are possibly looking at a low-grade product that is not authentic matcha tea. Who knows what it might be! In any case, if you don’t see those words on the label, beware.
• Quality matcha teas from Japan contain nothing in them except tea. Read labels and see if you notice any other ingredients. It is common for “fake” matcha teas to contain fillers like rice and other organic substances. So, ingredients besides tea are usually a sure sign that the product is something other than authentic matcha tea.
• Of course, once you purchase the tea and are able to inspect it, the bird has flown, unless you deal with a retailer from whom you can get a refund if a product is defective or bogus. When you open a bag or container of matcha tea, it should be bright green, not brownish green. Brown in the coloring indicates that the tea has been subject to oxidation. That’s not good. So, if the tea looks brownish and smells of freshly-cut hay, you’re off to a bad start. Consider asking for a refund.
• Beware the substitution of “sencha” for “tencha.” Matcha teas are tencha teas, while almost all the other Japanese teas are of the sencha variety. Sencha is good tea, but it is not shade-grown the way tencha matcha is, thus it does not contain all the nutrients that matcha tea does. If your package says “sencha,” then it is definitely not matcha tea.
• Some unscrupulous sellers, actually scammers, will attempt to sell what some tea lovers call “counterfeit matcha.” This is really bad stuff. What it is, in fact, is nothing more than powdered instant tea that has been artificially colored to look like matcha. It is just the tea version of instant coffee and can sometimes fool the uninitiated into thinking they are buying matcha tea. Don’t fall for this scam. Deal only with reputable sellers who have positive, verifiable feedback.
• When the price seems too good to be true, you are probably dealing with a seller who is less than honest. Good quality matcha tea is not cheap. Yes, you’ll find sales and a discount here and there. But is the price appears way out of line with what other sellers are offering, be on your guard.
• Don’t buy from individuals online. Unlike purchasing a used bicycle or a piece of camping equipment, matcha tea is best left to the experts. Or, at least, it is best to buy from reputable retailers or websites. If you deal with resellers (individuals) on any of the big auction sites, you really don’t know what kind of tea you are getting. Consider that someone could merely be using containers that at one time held authentic matcha tea. Buy your matcha tea from someone you can trust, be it a reputable online retailer or reliable local brick-and-mortar tea store.
• Find a good seller and stick with them. Matcha tea is expensive, so it pays to develop a lasting relationship with a knowledgeable seller.
Over time, you’ll come to appreciate the tea more and more. After a few years pass and you graduate to the level of “long-term customer,” your retailer will likely offer you regular specials and discounts on packages of matcha tea. These discounts can add up, and the quality of tea you have access to will get better over time.