The UK’s first female tea sensei and SAYURI founder, Yureeka Yasuda, take us through her top 5 tips for choosing the perfect matcha
Matcha has been part of Japanese culture for over 800 years and has been used for centuries by Zen monks to calm the mind, empower the body, refresh the mind and help achieve relief.
Fast forward to today, and the preparation and representation of chadō, or ‘the way of tea’, remains an integral Japanese cultural activity. In fact, ‘the way of tea’ is considered one of the three classical Japanese arts of refinement, besides calligraphy shodo a flower arrangement gift.
Yureeka Yasuda, born in Tokyo, UK, has a job description that reads like a lifestyle wish list: series entrepreneur, art consultant, brand ambassador, cultural curator, internationally published author, and the UK’s first female tea sensei. More On Yureeka HERE.
Whether it’s through a cup of hand-picked and deep-steamed sencha or organic matcha bursting with chlorophyll, Yureeka believes there is a green tea or matcha out there for everyone. She explains: “I only started to appreciate matcha in my mid-20s as I do now. Initially, I was attracted to its health benefits, but after I adopted the philosophy of “chadō“And to hear that there is a deeper world behind this magical green powder has completely replaced coffee in my daily routine.”
Yureeka makes time every day to prepare matcha at home according to the traditional method, as an act of self-care and awareness. She encourages everyone to take five minutes each day to reconnect with themselves and shares her top 5 tips to incorporate antique zen awareness into your daily routine.
What is matcha?
Matcha is made by pulverizing shade-grown green tea leaves into a fine powder and whisking in water to create a frothy liquid that you drink. It is an antioxidant power source that boosts the immune system and improves memory and concentration.
However, not all matcha are created equal. Although it all comes from the same plant (Camellia sinensis), the different growth methods and harvest times will drastically change the final product. As a tea sommelier (and a personal aficionado) I learned first hand what makes the best matcha and how to align it with your personal taste / OR and how to avoid the awful things that give matcha a bad reputation to be too bitter. So, I have put together my best tips to help you choose the right one for you.
Top 5 Tips for Choosing the Perfect Matcha
1.Think about the grade / harvest
The quality of matcha is determined by terroir, cultivar (single or blend), cultivation process (hand or machine picked), harvest (first, second or a blend) and process method (stone-milled or machine-pressed). Although it may seem confusing, each of those items plays into the degree of matcha. And there are generally two degrees of matcha: ceremonial and premium.
For matcha beginners, I want to ensure that your standards and taste buds are set correctly. So, I recommend ceremonial matcha that will use leaves from the first rinse or spring harvest. This shade growing method results in a richer, sweeter aroma of matcha tea. With this grade, only the young delicate tea leaves are harvested, and these contain more chlorophyll, photo nutrients, caffeine and l-theanine than the older tea leaves that are harvested later in the year. Try straightening or diluting with water (like an “americano”) as the delicate nuances and pure aroma will be suffocated by the addition of milk, sugar or soy products.
If you find that pure ceremonial matcha is too intense a scent (or too expensive for everyday use), I suggest you buy premium matcha (usually a mixed rinse of spring and other crops) and enjoy it as a latte. The rather astringent fat taste is necessary to retain the matcha flavor when mixed with other ingredients, but vegan milk (oats, soy, almond, coconut, etc.) will make it sweeter and tastier, especially for beginner matcha drinkers . And of course, it is perfectly acceptable to add honey or sugar if you prefer it sweeter.
Also note that grade classification and prices depend entirely on the individual brand, so always buy matcha from a reputable, authentic source that can verify where they get their matcha from, how it is grown, how the grade is selected and how it is processed.
2. Check the color
This is the easiest quality for amateur matcha drinkers to pay attention to. High quality matcha usually results in a more vibrant, brilliant green – the greener, the better! This indicates that the leaves have grown in shade, giving matcha its superior health benefits (up to 137 times more antioxidant than a low-grade green tea) which leaves the leaves in the direction of the leaves the chlorophyll (green pigment) and all its nutritional properties move upward to the tips of the leaves in search of light.
Several weeks before the spring harvest season, the tea leaves are covered to block out sunlight. A dull color may indicate that the leaves were picked late, after being exposed to sunlight. And that means less health benefits, less subtle, nuanced flavors and less enjoyment!
Matcha oxidized by improper storage or air exposure during production may cause it to turn pale or brown. Because matcha is such a fine powder, exposure to air will cause it to break down very quickly, so it should be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dark place. As a good rule of thumb, matcha sold in glass bottles or clear plastic containers is a bad sign and should be avoided! Even the highest quality matcha will break down quickly if not packaged properly.
3. Does its origin trace / is it organic?
Matcha is for Japan as Champagne is for France, so anything produced outside of Japan is often not monitored and can simply be ‘powdered green tea’. While it may seem like just an affectation, it is much more than that. In fact, when I first started drinking matcha, I found that not a single organic matcha brand I bought outside of Japan could match the flavors and incredible satisfaction of the Japanese-made matcha tea to which I was not used to it (I had to replenish stock whenever I went home and share my matcha with friends who are desperate for the right thing.)
There are several highly regarded growing regions across Japan, including Shizuoka, Uji and Kagoshima. For me, the importance of knowing the origin of the farm location and having relationships with the producers, knowing that the Japanese producers who have SAYURI contract fields are reliable, have been family-owned for generations, and the traditional matcha growth, adhere to harvesting and processing methods. .
Japan has excellent soil conditions in its volcanic regions, naturally soft water, has strict quality controls in place, and has produced tea with the highest nutritional values compared to other tea-growing countries. SAYURI farmers are artisans and are proud of history, flavor and quality.
4. Choose your fragrance (hint, it should not be bitter!)
Taste and smell are equally important indicators of a quality matcha. You should be able to enjoy a natural round sweetness due to a higher concentration of L-theanine, which also creates a hearty taste known as ‘umami’.
Of course, products will differ slightly in terms of the balance of umami, sweet and bitter flavor profiles. But your matcha should always be pleasant to drink with a fresh and grassy aroma. There should be little bitterness and no hard robustness that lower grade matcha often have.
5. Consider the process
Purity and traceability are important for a quality matcha, as are the harvesting and grinding processes. Once the tea leaves are ready for harvest, they can be picked by hand or machine, then steamed and dried. The leaves are then sorted by grade, with the best selected for ceremonial grade matcha products. The last step is to grind the leaves into a super fine powder.
If the texture of your matcha is gray, there is a chance that it is a lower quality matcha that has been ground with a machine. Grinding that is too hard or that creates too much heat will actually burn the tea leaves and increase their oxidation, leading to low-grade matcha, regardless of its initial harvest. How can you tell if it was ground correctly? Improperly ground matcha will not taste as creamy and smooth as slow, stone-ground matcha.
Of course, these time and labor intensive methods can also often mean a higher price point. Unfortunately, if your matcha was super cheap, chances are good that it is not genuine matcha, as the correct processes may have been accelerated or even skipped. With that said, some companies are simply asking higher, hoping that consumers will think their product is premium. The best way to know is to trust the brand you are buying.
SAYURI, a mission-driven brand that honors Japanese traditions and promotes the health benefits of a daily tea ritual. SAYURI makes a collection of authentic, traceable, organic green teas and matchas accessible to a modern, global audience, while supporting the artisans of Japan struggling to compete in this digital age.