How to Differentiate Good From Bad Matcha with the Matcha Colors Video
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How the matcha green color is produced
The matcha green color comes from the chlorophyll and theanine in the plant. Just like other plants, the tea plant produces chlorophyll to facilitate photosynthesis. When you shade the tea plant, it is forced to produce more chlorophyll to compensate for the lack of sunlight. Matcha colors are particularly green because the plants used for high quality matcha have to be shaded for 3 weeks prior to the harvest. During this long shading process, the tea plant is really pushed to its limits and it maximizes the chlorophyll, yielding this dark jade green color.
Why does the difference in matcha colors matter?
While matcha colors don’t have a direct impact on the flavor, they tend to tell a piece of a larger story. Higher quality matcha powder tends to have a richer green color because it comes from long shaded tea plants and it is made from the younger sprouts of the tea plant. These sprouts are the sweetest in flavor and they give the matcha a smoother and rounder taste profile.
After the leaves are harvested, they also have their stems and veins removed. This actually improves the matcha colors even further. When you look at a tea leaf, or most leaves for that matter, you will notice that the leaf itself is a dark green color, but the stem tends to be a bit more yellow. If you were to grind the leaf up into a powder, without removing the stems, it would take on a more yellowish color. For this reason, while matcha colors aren’t a perfect indicator of matcha quality, they can tell you a lot about how the matcha is produced.
High Quality Matcha vs. Low Quality Matcha
In the tea world, there is perhaps no greater difference between high quality tea and low quality than with matcha. High quality matcha is a thick, rich and flavorful green liquid and low quality matcha is a bitter, coarse and brown liquid. Not only are the matcha colors completely different, but the flavors are different as well. Here we will briefly discuss the two different matcha teas.
High Quality Matcha
This is often referred to as ceremonial grade, although that term has no real definition. This matcha is meant to be consumed plain, and a lot of work goes into making it. It comes from the first harvest of the tea field and its made from the youngest sprouts. This maximizes the nutrients in the tea.
The tea plant is not harvested after the fall, so it has all winter to absorb nutrients from the soil and it releases it into the fresh sprouts in the spring time. That’s why these sprouts are so flavorful and nutrient rich. The caffeine content is also higher in the sprouts. The tea plant uses caffeine as a defense mechanism to protect itself from insects. As a result, it needs to produce more caffeine to defend the younger, more tender sprouts compared to the older, tougher leaves lower down on the tea plant.
The teas are also shaded, which not only increases the chlorophyll content as mentioned earlier, but also the theanine and caffeine content. Theanine is the amino acid that gives green tea its smoother and sweeter flavor. When the tea plant is exposed to sunlight, it converts this theanine into more bitter catechins to protect itself from the UV light. As a result, leaves that are not exposed to sunlight will maintain more of their theanine, and therefore more of their sweetness.
These high quality leaves then have their stems removed, a step that is skipped for lower quality matcha teas. This improves the nutrient profile, caffeine content and the matcha colors. As we mentioned before, when the yellowish stems are removed, the matcha powder takes on a much greener color.
Finally, high quality matcha has to be ground in a large granite mill. There are other ways to grind tea leaves into powder, but this way produces the finest grade of powder. Using a smaller mill would make the matcha more coarse and less enjoyable to drink.
As you can see, the color doesn’t affect the taste but the production of the matcha tea affects both the color and the flavor so as a result, matcha colors can be a quality indicator.
Low quality matcha
This is also referred to as culinary grade matcha, as it is meant to be added to matcha desserts and other culinary creations like lattes. During the production of this matcha, certain steps are skipped, so the end product is not as good. The color is also more yellow or even brown. Not all of this matcha is bad. We have found a later harvest matcha from Mr. Masuda that works great in lattes which we call the latte grade matcha. When you add matcha powder with oatmilk and sugar to make a latte, it doesn’t need to taste super smooth. In fact, you actually want the tea to have some strength to it so you can taste it through the latte. T
hat’s why the latte grade matcha works great here, and it is a good way to save money. This tea is also produced without the use of pesticides or chemicals, which is very important particularly with powdered tea as you are consuming the entire leaf. This latte grade matcha will have a more yellow color, as the chlorophyll content is lower, although it still works great in a matcha latte!
Is a light matcha green color a good thing?
There are variations in matcha colors within high quality matcha. For the most part, they should have a darker jade green color, but occasionally you will find some high quality matchas that taste great but have a lighter color to them. This could have to do with the cultivar, or tea plant variety. A cultivar like Yabukita, which is the most common cultivar for Japanese green tea, takes on a lighter green color, but this does not mean that it is lower quality. While these matcha teas tend to be cheaper, a lot of tea drinkers appreciate their lighter, more citrusy taste profile. So if you see a light green matcha and its from the Yabukita cultivar, it may not be low quality, it may just be an attempt to capture a different taste profile.
What are the different matcha colors and what do they mean?
Dull Green Matcha
Bright Green Matcha
Jade Green Matcha
Do matcha colors change?
Matcha colors will change from green, to yellow, to brown as it is exposed to light, heat and humidity. The flavor of even a high quality matcha will begin to approach that of a low quality matcha if it is left out, which is why matcha storage is so important. Make sure you keep it in a cool, dry place in an airtight tin that doesn’t let any light through.
A lot of the tins these matcha teas come in have a bag inside. This acts as a double seal, which protects the flavor and color of the matcha powder. We recommend sealing up the bag, putting it back in the tin and then closing up the tin so it’s airtight. You can then put the tin in a dark and cool cabinet and try to keep it away from moisture. If you really want to keep your matcha well stored, you can put it in the fridge or the freezer. This not only keeps the matcha powder cold, but also dry. Just make sure you don’t have any powerful odors in the fridge, as matcha powder has been known to absorb outside odors!
Is it possible for companies to color matcha?
During our travels around Japan, we have met with a couple of farmers who have told us that some tea companies use a certain type of tea plant to color matcha and produce a greener color. We make sure to ask about the ingredients in all the matchas we sell to make sure that this trick is not being used.
Do we Color Matcha?
As we have discussed elsewhere in this article, making the color better does not make the matcha better, but making the matcha better often makes the matcha colors better. That being said, we like to honor the hard work of the farmers by not taking short cuts and having the matcha colors be an accurate reflection of the matcha tea.
Is there such thing as blue matcha?
There has been some images of blue matcha floating around the internet, but this title is a bit misleading. This is not actually matcha and its not even a type of tea technically. It’s made from ground up flowers from the butterfly pea plant. Because these flowers don’t come from the camelia sinensis plant, they can’t be considered a true tea. Nevertheless, they are still used for their coloring in different herbal infusions and drinks. They don’t have much taste to them, but they do have a lot of color. So in conclusion, no there really is no such thing as blue matcha, but you may find products online claiming to be blue matcha.
Do we recommend Blue Matcha?
If you are really curious about trying blue matcha, you can try it out for yourself but you may be disappointed. Not only is it nothing like real matcha, it doesn’t have much flavor to it at all. As an herbal infusion, it doesn’t have much value other than the intense blue color that it produces. That being said, if you need to use blue matcha to create a blue drink or a blue smoothie, it may be a good option strictly as a coloring agent.
Which Matcha Colors are the best?
These are the matchas we have, in no particular order that have the best green colors: