Matcha tea: green gold

Matcha means powdered tea, but not all powdered teas are matcha! So what is real matcha and, above all, how can we recognize it?

Gabriella Lombardi
Gabriella Lombardi
tè matcha

Matcha means powdered tea, but not all powdered teas are matcha! So what is real matcha and, above all, how can we recognize it?


Matcha is experiencing a moment of worldwide popularity, a true speaking name which, even to laymen, immediately calls to mind a brightly colored powdered tea.

However, not everyone knows that real matcha, that miraculous beverage rich in umami, is obtained only by ensuring that the tea plants cultivated the most renown gardens are shade-grown for the last month before their buds and most tender leaves are harvested. Umami, or the fifth taste, can be defined as a complex flavor, both sweet and savory, which fills the mouth and leaves us with a greater sense of satisfaction. In tea, the distinctive umami flavor is caused by the amino acids present in the tea plant. Because of the shade, these components of the proteins climb back up the lymphatic system, reaching the top of the plant and concentrating themselves in the leaves. Here they don’t turn into tannins, as, on the other hand, happens in tea plants that are exposed to direct sunlight.

In the cup, this all translates into a very rich, full, and persistent tea with zero astringency. Furthermore, also because of the shade, real Matcha produces a large quantity of chlorophyll, giving the leaves an intense emerald green color. This is another way to recognize high quality ceremonial Matcha.


We’ve mentioned chlorophyll and amino acids, specifically L-Theanine, but this “green gold” is also full of vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols with well-known antioxidant properties.

Given that we’re basically ingesting very finely ground tea leaves (remember that Matcha is the only tea that isn’t prepared by infusion but rather by dissolution), even just a few sips provide our immune system with a true ally: thanks to the high concentration of catechin, a single cup of Matcha is equal to approximately 20 cups of normal green tea!

Furthermore, the high percentages of L-Theanine in this particular Japanese tea, help to improve our concentration and stimulate our memory, without causing the typical edginess and state of anxiety and agitation that an excessive consumption of coffee can provoke.

Without knowing anything about chemistry, the Zen Buddhist monks had already understood its properties, making it their favorite elixir for maintaining concentration, harmony, and wakefulness during their long hours of meditation.


Matcha, also known as jade foam, has a history that stretches back millennia, to China’s Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) during which it became the beverage of the monks and of the most cultured intellectual élite. The customary preparation of the time required the tea to be “whisked”: pieces were broken off of a brick of pressed tea and then crumbled and stone ground until an extremely fine powder was obtained. Using a bamboo whisk, the Matcha was then “blended” with hot water until a compact, dense foam formed on the surface.

Japanese monk Myōan Eisai, upon his return from China, where he had gone to study Zen Buddhism, brought not only tea seeds back with him, but more importantly the preparation techniques that he had learned. Over the centuries, the Chinese Song technique was perfected until it ultimately became the matcha that we know today: the shade-grown tencha serving as the protagonist of traditional and codified tea ceremonies and being used in various culinary contexts. 


As we already mentioned, to obtain real matcha, the shade-grown leaves harvested at the start of May are steamed to prevent oxidation. The ribbing of these semi-processed leaves is subsequently removed, thus obtaining tencha. It’s at this stage of the process that the qualitative level of the product which, once ground, will become matcha, is evaluated. In fact, it isn’t the grinding process that determines the ultimate quality of the product. That’s why professional tea tasters base their selection and evaluation on leaves of tencha and not on the matcha. The grade of the leaves prior to being ground depends on various factors: cultivar, area of production, amount of shade, moment of harvest, selection of shoots… 

Tencha is not immediately ground into a powder, but rather preserved and left to age until autumn, the moment in which it’s ready to be ground and turned into matcha. It takes about an hour to obtain 30 grams of matcha. Grinding it faster and more aggressively will result in a tea with a slightly burnt flavor. The yield is rather low, with only one tenth of the original harvest turning into finished product that’s ready for sale.

The consistency recalls that of talcum powder, but the size of a single granule of matcha is even smaller: thanks to the latest generation of grinders, their diameter doesn’t exceed 5-10 microns!

tè matcha


Matcha is always associated with Japan, but let’s not forget that it’s also produced in other countries, like China, Taiwan, and Korea. Focusing only on Japan, the best gardens are found in Nishio (Aichi prefecture, famous for its organic matcha) and Uji (Kyoto prefecture).

Approximately 80% of the production of Japanese matcha comes from these two terroirs.

Only the shoots and the most tender leaves of tencha (shade-grown, selected, and with their ribbing removed prior to being ground) become ceremonial matcha. Common powdered green tea (also called matcha) skips all of these steps, with the entire leaf (stems, ribbing, and all) being ground up together. Obviously the end result is significantly different.


There’s no such thing as good or bad matcha, but rather matcha intended for different uses.

A ceremonial grade matcha is definitely the best choice for enjoying this green tea in its purest form, appreciating its organoleptic characteristics and all of the properties which are extremely beneficial to one’s health.

Within the broad category of ceremonial matcha, you can choose the best grade for you depending on your expectations in terms of taste and, above all, budget!

When you purchase matcha, the intended end-use is of utmost importance.

For example, for culinary purposes it’s not worth it to invest in a ceremonial grade. Various specific commercial blends exist which, having been made with older tea leaves, offer less expensive solutions that are also less delicate and have a stronger flavor. These culinary grades are perfect for withstanding baking at high temperatures or for being blended with dairy products, soy, sugar, and other foods. In addition to its stronger and more bitter flavor, cooking matcha has a more opaque and duller green color as compared to ceremonial grades.

preparazione matcha


Let’s analyze the dry product and the beverage.

Dry: fine, shiny, bright emerald green powder, as impalpable as flour, with the fragrance of an uncontaminated forest.

Beverage: intense green, opaque liquid, with the famous “jade foam” on its surface, that offers a unique tactile sensation when sipping it. With a slightly bitter flavor, it recalls the sweet notes of starchy foods and white chocolate, leaving a persistent, sweet and umami aftertaste It has a delicate grassy sent, like freshly cut hay.

Preparation of Usacha (light matcha): put 2 grams of tea (the tip of a spoon or the amount picked up by the bamboo spatula, the chashaku) in a bowl (chawan). Pour 70-80 ml of water at approximately 80°C over it and blend it vigorously with the whisk (chasen) until you obtain a dense foam. 

Preparation of Koicha (dense matcha) only for “matcha addicts”: follow the same steps, but use 5-6 grams of tea and only three generous spoonfuls of water at approximately 80°C. You will obtain a sort of mousse: an extreme experience which will help you to further appreciate the best ceremonial grades. I strongly advise against this preparation for lower grades of matcha.

The best matchas, in addition to being enjoyed in their pure form, are also excellent for accompanying caviar, oysters, white chocolate, fine pastries, egg-based creams, and mascarpone cheese. Choose cooking matcha, on the other hand, to prepare smoothies (with cow milk or plant milk like soy, rice, oat, etc…), spoon desserts, cakes, and cookies, or simply dusted over soft cheeses. 

Without becoming Zen monks, matcha can serve as our moment of daily peace, helping us to start the day on the right foot, in a good mood and with lots of energy. 

In my daily life, matcha has become not just a habit, but a moment of pampering and part of a healthy lifestyle. Try it and you’ll immediately feel the difference between days that start with matcha and days that don’t. 

You’ll never be able to do without it again!

tè matcha