Matcha originated in China between the seventh and 10th centuries and spread to Japan via Buddhist monks, where it became an integral part of Japanese tea ceremonies (and still is today). It shouldn’t be confused with green tea, though. Because while the two varieties share some similarities (they both come from the same species of plant, for example), matcha tea leaves are grown under shade and milled to a fine powder that is whisked directly into the beverage rather than steeped.
Michelle Cheng, the founder of Ceremony café and tea house in Providence, Rhode Island, says that her favorite thing about matcha “is the focus it’s able to provide me, without the consequences of a caffeine crash you would typically experience from drinking coffee.” She isn’t the only one. Matcha’s ability to instill both calmness and focus, paired with its sweet, grassy flavor, has allowed it to remain a global favorite for nearly a thousand years.
How Is Matcha Made?
Almost all high-quality matcha is produced in Japan—particularly in and around Uji, which is south of Kyoto. It’s made with leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant, which is the same one that produces all tea leaves. What sets matcha apart is how it’s produced. Tea plants are shaded in the final weeks of growing, which causes the plants to produce more chlorophyll and L-theanine (an amino acid that lends a prized umami flavor to the tea). The thoroughness and length of the shading can have a big impact on quality: plants that are shaded for longer will have a more intense green color and mild, sweet flavor.
When it’s time to harvest, the farmers pick only the newest leaves at the top as they have the least bitterness (more on this later). The leaves are steamed to stop the oxidation process and preserve their color (as opposed to black tea, which is allowed to fully oxidize) and dried. The veins and stems are removed—creating a type of tea called tencha—then the leaves are finely ground using a stone mill. After all of that, we have matcha in its final form.
How Is Matcha Prepared for Serving?
There are two traditional ceremonial matcha preparations: usucha and koicha. Usucha is known as thin matcha. It is prepared by stirring sifted matcha in a wide bowl (called a chawan) with a bamboo whisk (a chasen) to create a frothy tea that can be sipped directly from the chawan. Koicha is the more formal version that uses half of the water and doubles the amount of matcha powder. Matchaeologist compares koicha’s consistency with melted chocolate or honey. The ratios can vary based on preference, but a good starting place is two grams of matcha to two fluid ounces of water for usucha and four grams of matcha to four fluid ounces for koicha. Both methods use hot (but not boiling) water, although lukewarm or cold water can be used to bring out other flavors from the powder.
Obviously, these are not the only ways to prepare matcha. Many matcha drinkers prefer to add ice, dilute it for a matcha americano, or use milk (dairy or plant-based) to make a matcha latte. Mixing it with soda water will also create a refreshing afternoon tonic. The chasen and chawan aren’t must-haves either. With practice, a bamboo whisk can be an excellent companion for making matcha with a creamy foam head, but a milk frother can achieve similar results fast and effortlessly. Our go-to method is straight-up shaking it with water to dissolve the clumps and produce a super-aerated froth.
Matcha is also widely used in cooking and baking, especially for snacks and desserts. It can be substituted for espresso and cocoa in tiramisu or added to pastries, cookies, and cakes. Ice cream is another common application. The tea powder is often used directly in the ice cream base itself to churn out vibrant green scoops, but Cheng recommends making a thick koicha-style paste to pour over the top of vanilla ice cream for an affogato-style treat.
Ceremonial vs. Culinary Grade: What’s the Difference?
Matcha is often labeled under two categories: ceremonial grade and culinary grade. “Ceremonial grade means the tea is qualified to be served in a tea ceremony service,” says Cheng, who was born and raised in China. It tends to be made from the earliest leaves harvested in springtime. They are the sweetest and most delicate, as they are the first to grow after the tea plant spent the previous winter storing nutrients. These matcha varieties are also the most vivid green and have a smooth flavor with the least amount of bitterness. Ceremonial matcha is ground very fine to make it better for drinking in traditional preparations.
Culinary grade matcha is usually duller in color than ceremonial, as it comes from more mature leaves that weren’t shaded well during growing or were harvested later in the season. It is also more bitter and astringent than ceremonial grade matcha, with fewer nuances. It might be easy to write off culinary-grade matcha, but it does have its value. The more robust flavor is better for cooking, baking, or smoothies. Plus, it’s usually half (or a quarter) the price per gram compared to ceremonial and is available in larger quantities.
Don’t get too hung up on grading while shopping for matcha, though. There are no actual regulations around what makes the powder this grade or that, so it is up to the producer to decide what they think is worthy of the increased price point (spoiler alert: some take advantage of this fact). Also, most higher-quality Japanese matcha shops use the grading only for Western reference or eschew it all together—like Ippodo Tea, which recommends matcha powders based on their flavor character, uses, and price.
The Criteria: What to Look for When Buying Matcha Online
Since grading isn’t always a good indicator, buying matcha online can be overwhelming. As we mentioned, first-harvest tea leaves are preferable for traditional drinking preparations, while later harvests are set aside for cooking. Cheng advises online shoppers to seek matcha that is produced in Japan, particularly from Uji or Yame. She also suggests looking for powders that are pure green, without muddy hues. “Some cultivars are naturally lighter in color but are still very high quality, especially if it’s a single cultivar matcha that’s unblended,” she says. “Yellowish to brown [coloration] is a sign of oxidation, which results in poor-tasting matcha.”
Similar to wine, there are also single-cultivar matcha powders made from specific tea plant variations (deliberately cultivated for their growing or flavor characteristics) as well as single-origin styles that showcase the terroir of one region or estate. True matcha powder will only have one ingredient, so watch out for matcha latte mixes or sweetened powders. During our research, we found most everyday ceremonial/drinking-grade matcha powders cost around $0.80 to $1.25 per gram (single-cultivar and premium blends can be upwards of $2 per gram), while culinary-grade matcha tended to fall between $0.20 and $0.50 per gram.
While we are primarily highlighting online matcha brands below, Cheng also highly recommends NYC-based teahouse Setsugekka. It offers some matcha powders via its online store (she particularly likes the Ishikawa Organic Matcha and Yamenohana varieties). Ceremony, Cheng’s teashop, will also be opening an online store in the summer of 2023 where she hopes to share her favorite premium, ethically sourced matcha powders.
The Best Matcha Powders to Buy Online
The Best Matcha Blends: Ippodo Tea
Ippodo is widely praised by matcha lovers across the web, which makes sense for a shop that has been in the Japanese tea business for more than three hundred years. Its flagship store is in Kyoto, but it ships high-quality tea across the world. Shoppers can filter the matcha powders (which are sourced from the regions surrounding Kyoto and blended by the Ippodo team) by flavor character, uses, and type. Ippodo provides an abundance of information, including preparation methods, tasting notes, and suggested uses for each of the products. One thing you won’t find: grades. According to Ippodo, all of its blends are high-quality enough to drink on their own—even the Hatsu and Wakaki powders, which are suggested for baking. For beginners, Ippodo suggests the Horai blend, which is a “light-hearted” and smooth matcha for drinking traditionally or in lattes, while Ummon is a robust umami tea designed to be savored. For those just getting into the matcha world as well as seasoned matcha lovers, Ippodo Tea has an excellent range for every budget and taste preference.
Good to Know
- What Is Available: More than a dozen high-quality (i.e. ceremonial grade) matcha blends that can be used for koicha, usucha, lattes, and cooking, plus to-go packets, uji-shimizu (sweetened matcha), starter kits, and other tea-making tools.
- Matcha Price Range: Starts at $0.25 per gram for matcha recommended primarily for baking; $0.60 per gram and up for drinking matcha. Bulk sizes (with lower costs per gram) are available for some blends.
- Recommended Picks: Hatsu for an all-purpose drinking, lattes, and baking blend ($10 for 40 grams), Horai for newcomers ($19 for 20 grams), and Ummon for a rich sipper ($30 for 20 grams).
The Best, Most Versatile Matcha: Golde
This simple, elegant ceremonial-grade matcha powder is a fantastic all-rounder: it plays well in hot or iced preparations. Grown in the Uji Province of Japan, it is everything we like in a good matcha: delicately earthy and grassy, buttery, and with a hint of sweetness.
Good to Know
- What Is Available: Ceremonial matcha in either a tin or a pouch, as well as start kits.
- Matcha Price Range: $28 for a 40 gram tin, or $42 for a 100 gram pouch.
- Recommended Picks: You can’t go wrong with Golde’s ceremonial tea, which is a great option for daily matcha drinks, either iced or hot.
The Best Single-Origin Matcha: Matchaful
Matchaful was founded by Hannah Habes with the goal of importing sustainable, high-grade matcha directly from Japan. As part of its Farm-to-Whisk program, Matchaful works with a fourth-generation farm that shades its pesticide-free tea plants using solar panels (the energy from which benefits nearby towns). While its lineup includes ceremonial and culinary blends, the single-origin collection is where this brand shines. The Hikari Single Origin Matcha powder offers a “creamy palette with tasting notes of walnut, lemon, and butter” and is sourced entirely from the solar-shaded estate in Shizuoka, Japan. For those wanting to experience a single cultivar, Kiwami Single Cultivar Matcha also comes from the Farm-to-Whisk estate and is made from the Okumidori tea variety. It’s known for its mellow floral sweetness. The limited reserve Asanoka Single Origin Matcha is another single-estate and single-cultivar pick (this time Asanoka leaves from the Kagoshima prefecture) with notes of nori and chestnut.
Good to Know
The Best Affordable Matcha: Rishi Tea & Botanicals
Rishi Tea was established in 1997 and sources organic matcha directly from tea farmers. Similarly to Ippodo Tea, Rishi has a wide range of price points and flavor profiles. Of course, they sell pricier matcha powders (like the creamy Tsuji San’s Matcha Asahi, which goes for $55 for 30 grams), but Rishi has plenty of affordable options as well. The single-origin Ceremonial Matcha ($18 for 30 grams) offers a particularly welcoming entry point for beginners. It’s a blend of Saemidori, Okumidori, and Tsuyuhikari cultivars from Mount Kirishima in Japan. It has low astringency, which makes it good for traditional preparations as well as lattes. Rishi’s Everyday Matcha ($12 for 30 grams) comes at an even more affordable price. It has more bitterness and a robust flavor because it is a blend of first- and second-harvest leaves, but would be a good all-purpose pick for daily lattes, smoothies, and baking.
Good to Know
- What Is Available: About a dozen high- and mid-grade matcha powders for traditional and latte preparations, plus teaware
- Matcha Price Range: Starts at $0.35 per gram for 30-gram tins. Bulk sizes are available for Barista and Teahouse blends.
- Recommended Picks: Everyday Matcha Tin for lattes and smoothies ($12 for 30 grams), Ceremonial Matcha for drinking daily ($18 for 30 grams), and Matcha Sticks for on-the-go ($16 for 16 single-serving sticks).
The Best Matcha for Lattes: MatchaBar
Brothers Max and Graham Fortgang opened their MatchaBar location in Brooklyn in 2014. Although the physical location is now closed, MatchaBar has leaned into distributing its custom ceremonial and culinary matcha blends online. The sibling duo works with family farms in Kagoshima, Japan, and uses first-harvest tea leaves, even for their Culinary Matcha Powder. MatchaBar’s Ceremonial Grade Matcha Powder blend is the star of the show, though. While it’s good enough to be prepared in traditional usucha fashion, its earthy flavor lends itself especially well to hot and iced matcha lattes.
Good to Know
The Best Matcha for Baking and Cooking: Jade Leaf Matcha
Jade Leaf’s mission is to sell organic matcha (sourced from a network of family farms in Japan) for a fair price. It offers ceremonial teahouse and artisanal tea master’s reserve blends for drinking, but its Organic Culinary Matcha is a top pick for cooking. This matcha is sourced from the Uji and Kagoshima regions and comes from second-harvest leaves. It’s super affordable, too: it starts at $0.33 per gram for a 30-gram container.
Good to Know
- What Is Available: Pure matcha powders including late-harvest “ingredient” matcha, second-harvest culinary-grade, and ceremonial-grade powder, as well as single-serve sticks, latte mixes, tea bags, and tea-making utensils.
- Matcha Price Range: Starts at $0.67 per gram for ceremonial-grade matcha and $0.33 per gram for culinary matcha. Both are available in bulk sizes for an even better deal.
- Recommended Picks: The second-harvest Organic Culinary Matcha ($10 for 30 grams) balances flavor with affordability for cooking and baking. We would not recommend using any ingredient-grade matcha powders (Jade Leaf or otherwise), as they tend to have a bitter flavor and dull, brownish color.
The Best Splurge-Worthy Matcha: Kettl
Kettl was founded by Zach Mangan (along with his wife, Minami) after he spent time traveling solo in Japan and experiencing fresh tea that was produced and sold hyper-locally. The brand focuses on its direct partnerships with growers and producers in rural areas of Japan. Since its start, Kettl has helped Michelin-starred chefs like Thomas Keller and Grant Achatz create thoughtful tea selections in their restaurants. In 2022, Zach Mangan published Stories of Japanese Tea: The Regions, the Growers, and the Craft as a deep dive into Japanese tea cultivation. Kettl is one of Cheng’s overall favorite matcha sources; she specifically calls out its house-milled varieties (which are ground on an imported stone mill at Kettl’s Brooklyn shop) as a splurge-worthy buy. At the time of writing, Kettl is grinding from the 2022 growing season, which includes the top-notch 2022 House Milled Grand Prize Garden Asahi Matcha ($95 for 10 grams). This matcha comes from a number one prize-winning crop of tencha tea leaves and has notes of rich umami cocoa. Kettl also has a Mill Club Subscription where koicha-worthy teas from top producers are freshly milled and sent to your door for $60 a month.
Good to Know
- What Is Available: A rotating selection of expertly-sourced matcha powders for traditional preparations. Kettl also sells matcha-infused chocolate bars and teaware including bowls and whisks.
- Matcha Price Range: Starts at $0.99 per gram for 20-gram tins.
- Recommended Pick: With the Mill Club Subscription, you get a milled-to-order batch of premium matcha powder for $60 a month.
The Best Coldbrew Matcha: Breakaway Matcha
According to its website, Breakaway Matcha creates tea with the “five tell-tale signs of great matcha: maximum umami, electric color, intoxicating aroma, dreamy frothability (achieved through traditional granite grinding mills), and a long, stunning finish.” It’s worth perusing the selection of “hyperpremium” powders and gift-able flight boxes (like the $36 Intro Flight, which includes four grams each of four popular blends). What sets Breakaway apart, though, is its matcha powders that are uniquely well-suited for brewing in icy cold water. The cold brew matcha comes in three categories: Original, Organic, and Reserve. The original is capable of a sweet foamy crema, while the organic is described as “edgy, clean, and snappy.” The Uji-sourced reserve powder has “aromas of baby vegetables, pea tendrils, and new grasses,” making it both refined and refreshing.
Good to Know
- What Is Available: About a dozen and a half obsessively sourced “hyperpremium”, cold brew, and culinary-grade matcha powders, plus accessories and gift sets.
- Matcha Price Range: The ceremonial-grade matcha starts at $0.96 per gram, while the culinary grade starts at $0.39 per gram. Bulk sizes (with lower costs per gram) are available for all of the matcha powders.
- Recommended Picks: The Coldbrew Original Matcha, Coldbrew Organic Matcha, and Coldbrew Reserve Matcha powders ($29, $35, and $39 for 30-gram bags, respectively) are all good for daily iced matcha, while the Single-Serve Coldbrew Original Matcha sticks ($19 for a 10-pack) are good for traveling.
The Best Flavored Matcha: Chamberlain Coffee
If you’re more of a casual matcha imbiber, flavored matcha might be up your alley. And you don’t need to make homemade fancy syrups (though if you want to, all the power to you!) to try some fun flavor combinations: enter Chamberlain Coffee, which sells a flavored matcha variety pack comprising of original (e.g. unflavored), vanilla, and mango. We have to say, an iced mango matcha latte sounds very refreshing and summery.
Good to Know
- What Is Available: Since this is a coffee purveyor primarily, there are limited matcha offerings: plain, mango, vanilla, or a pack of all three.
- Matcha Price Range: The set of three flavored matchas will run you $55 for two 30-gram and one 40-gram tins.
- Recommended Picks: For the adventurous, try the variety pack (it would also make a great gift).
Expert Pick: Setsugekka
Michelle Cheng of Ceremony Tea in Providence, Rhode Island, recommends Setsugekka matcha. The company just reopened its online store and also has an IRL location in East Village, NYC if you want to experience a tea ceremony or tea lesson in person.
Good to Know
- What Is Available: A variety of matcha from different regions of Japan, each showcasing the terroir of its origin. Cheng recommends the Ishikawa Organic Matcha and Yamenohana varieties. They also sell bamboo whisks for making matcha, as well as gift cards.
- Matcha Price Range: $18 to $165, depending on the match and quantity.
- Recommended Picks: Ishikawa Organic Matcha is a great all-rounder for drinking, as well as the Yamenohana which showcases the bitter and umami qualities of matcha.
What is matcha?
Matcha is a finely ground powder made from green tea leaves. It originated in China during the Tang Dynasty (which spanned from the seventh century to the 10th century) and spread to Japan in 1191. The highest quality matcha is made from young tea leaves that have been grown under shade, resulting in a powder that is vibrant green and delicately sweet.
How is matcha different from green tea leaves?
Matcha is made from the same type of plant as green tea (Camellia sinensis), but matcha is shaded during the final weeks of growing. This increases the chlorophyll production in the tea leaves, which produces a more intense green color and flavor. After harvesting, both matcha and green tea are steamed (to halt the oxidation process) and dried. Matcha is then ground into a fine powder, which is prepared by fully mixing it into the water (rather than steeping, like green tea).
Does matcha have more caffeine than coffee?
Matcha has approximately 19 to 45 milligrams of caffeine per gram. An average serving contains one to two grams of matcha powder, so that’s between 40 and 90 milligrams depending on the quality of the matcha and how it is prepared. That’s more than most teas but less than coffee. An 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee contains 95 milligrams of caffeine on average, while a double shot of espresso has about 120 milligrams.
Is matcha healthy?
There isn’t definitive research on whether drinking matcha has specific and consistent health benefits. As long as you are not sensitive to caffeine or frequently loading it up with sugar, matcha can be a safe and nutritious drink to add to your day. It is high in antioxidants, which can (moderately) help prevent cell damage in the body. Matcha also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that has been argued to meter the effects of caffeine, reduce stress, and improve focus and cognitive function (although, again, the research is not totally conclusive).