Matcha tea is a hot selling item in retail and online stores. That’s why buyers need to do plenty of comparison shopping before forking over money to anonymous vendors. The quality of matcha tea varies widely, as do the prices. This warning pertains to powdered tea, the bottled variety, as well as the supplement capsules.
When it comes to powdered matcha tea, always learn whether you’re purchasing food-grade or ceremonial. For cooking and baking, food-grade is usually acceptable. For everything else, go for the ceremonial option. When buying bottled matcha tea, it’s quite hard to know about the quality of the powder used in preparation. As for supplement capsules, many (but not all) sellers will disclose the grade of tea used.
Powders, supplements, bottled drinks
There are only three ways to buy matcha tea; as a powder, as supplement capsules, and as a ready-made drink that comes in bottles. Powdered matcha is the biggest seller among the three choices, but consumers need to read fine print on labels, know exactly what grade of tea they’re getting, and beware of online price gougers. If you like to make your own hot and iced teas at home, then shop for ceremonial grade matcha tea. There are literally hundreds of different sellers, but the Japanese name-brands that specify “grown in Japan” are definitely the best of the best.
Food grade powder is okay for making muffins, desserts, and main dishes, but it’s still wise to look for the “from Japan” wording on labels. The truth is, the few non-Japanese sources for matcha tea powder are nowhere near that quality of home-grown Japanese products.
Bottled matcha is still pretty rare but rapidly gaining market share as online retailers and big-city health food stores attempt to cash in on the tea’s popularity. Buying matcha in bottles has some other drawbacks. Consumers don’t really know what they’re getting in terms of quality. Seldom do any of the vendors offer detailed enough labeling to explain what grade, type and amount of matcha tea they used in preparing the drink.
Second, most of the bottled versions contain lots (and lots) of sweetener. Finally, bottled products are almost invariably more expensive than what you could make for yourself at home. Bottled matcha tea is a convenience product and does have its place in the market, but keep in mind that the do-it-yourself route is usually healthier and cheaper.
Capsule supplements can delivers the health benefits of matcha tea but shoppers need to watch out for additives and keep an eye on prices. Plus, capsules don’t taste very good! All kidding aside, if you want to enjoy the flavor of one of the world’s most nutritious beverages, it’s much more fun to drink the tea rather than take it as a vitamin supplement. That said, capsule matcha, without additives and when priced fairly, is a valid choice for those who want the benefits of the drink with minimal time investment.
Bottled matcha teas are a relatively new player in the global marketplace. Note that you’ll be paying about twice the per-drink price compared to the homemade version. A few of the brands do look promising and have enjoyed mostly positive consumer feedback. If purchased by the 12-bottle case, the per-drink price is still about 1.5 times the cost of home brew. On the plus side, prices will likely come down as the market broadens, and there’s nothing easier to do on a burning summer day than wander over to the frig and pop open a cold bottle of matcha tea.
Purists, minimalists and environmentalists might object to the packaging, processing and such, but enough people are choosing bottled matcha to make the option economically viable for sellers. It is already a successful product, so it will be interesting to see how the market matures over time.
Whether buying bottled or powdered products, look for the word “ceremonial” on the label. Sellers will try to be cagey by using terms like “premium,” “finest,” “top grade” and “traditional grade.” The general rule is this: if it does not say “ceremonial,” then you are buying food grade matcha tea. Most of the bottled drinks sell for $2/£1.31 per bottle on average and are sold by the 12-bottle case.
Another shopping technique is to know the current price per ounce of ceremonial grade matcha tea on any given day. Prices have been pretty stable in 2015, and as of this writing premium grade ceremonial matcha is selling for about $20/£13.31 per ounce (slightly more for the organic versions).
If you see vendors offering ceremonial matcha for half that price or less, beware. All the legitimate sellers stay within about 5 percent of each other’s prices.
Cooking grade matcha costs much less, generally about one-fourth the price of ceremonial. At most of the online shops you can buy the culinary variety for about $5/£3.28 per ounce. Based on the price difference, it’s easy to see why some unscrupulous retailers try to substitute cooking grade for ceremonial. Note that one of the very best Japanese growers sells culinary/cooking grade matcha for about $11/£7.22 per ounce, which is probably the high end for cooking grade powder.
Keep in mind that the prices quoted here are subject to change. Also, there is a wide range of quality within each of the two main types of matcha tea. In fact, some of the lower quality ceremonial teas will sell for about the same price as top of the line culinary products. As with cars, clothing and caviar, the market for matcha tea is neither uniform nor predictable. So, go about your shopping with an open mind.
Of all the green teas available, hot or cold, bottled or not, matcha tea is the most nutritious by far. If you want to enjoy the taste and healthful benefits of matcha green tea, be a careful shopper. Read labels, ask store managers about brand information, and compare prices. There’s no reason to pay more than necessary for any product, no matter how much you enjoy it.