With all the different matcha grades out there, it can be difficult to keep track, that’s why we made this simple, easy to follow guide for you.
We’ll explain what matcha grades are, why they’re important and then we’ll walk you through the different matcha grades.
Let’s get started! 🎨
What are matcha grades?
Matcha grades like ceremonial grade don’t really have a technical definition, but a good way to break them up is by their intended purpose.
They act as a stand-in for quality, and just as you wouldn’t cook with a top-shelf wine, you also wouldn’t bake with a premium matcha.
The highest grade matcha would be wasted if you were to add it to milk and sugar.
Instead, the premium matcha grades are meant to be savored on their own and the lower matcha grades are meant to be mixed with other ingredients.
In the next section, we’ll show you how the different matcha grades are made, and how they serve different purposes.
Different matcha grades and what they’re used for
Here are 3 of the basic matcha grades (from best to worst). You may sometimes just see two mentioned, but it is important to differentiate because the middle option can actually be quite good in its own right, just maybe not suitable for drinking plain.
#1 Ceremonial Matcha Grades
If there is any technical definition of ceremonial grade, it’s a matcha that is intended to be used for tea ceremonies, mixed into water and drunk plain.
Unlike in a latte, there is no room for this matcha to hide, it has to be good!
A lot of work goes into producing these smoother and sweeter matcha grades, so let’s take a brief look at it:
When we talk about ceremonial matcha grades at Nio, we refer to the first harvest matcha. The tea plant can be harvested up to 4 times throughout the year, but the first harvest will be the highest in nutrients.
The tea plants are shaded 3 weeks before the harvest in order to develop a smoother and sweeter flavor. This is because if the tea plant were to be exposed to sunlight, it would produce more bitter catechins and less sweet and savory theanine.
When the first harvest comes around in early to mid spring, the tea leaves are harvested, but only the top 3 sprouts are selected. These are the highest in nutrients and the smoothest in flavor so they are the most sought after for premium teas like matcha.
The processing of the leaves used to make premium matcha grades is very similar to any other Japanese green tea with two exceptions. One is the removal of the stems, which would detract from the flavor and the second is the grinding in the stone mill. This large mill is made out of granite and it has a big network of grooves that push the leaves out as they are ground into a finer and finer powder. It takes the mill an hour just to produce 50 grams of this precious powder.
As a result the ceremonial matcha grades are ideal for drinking plain. During the long, labor intensive cultivation and production the tea develops a natural sweetness, and it doesn’t need milk or sugar.
#2 Latte Matcha Grades
If some of the steps are skipped you end up with a lower grade matcha that is perfect for lattes like the latte grade matcha. We like to make a distinction with this category because even though you are making a matcha latte, you still want high quality.
Our latte grade matcha is grown in Shizuoka by a talented tea farmer who produces it without the use of pesticides or chemicals. He just uses a later tea harvest, and as a result the latte grade matcha can be bought at a fraction of the price.
It doesn’t have quite as green of a color, and it is a bit more bitter but this is no problem because it is intended to be mixed with milk and sugar to create a delicious matcha latte! The price is more affordable which is great because you can add a few scoops to your latte each morning without worrying about the costs.
#3 Culinary Matcha Grades
Finally we have the lowest grade of matcha and that is culinary grade matcha.
As the name would suggest, these matchas are meant to be mixed into other ingredients to create all sorts of culinary treats like matcha ice cream, matcha cakes, cookies and more.
In general, the more things you add to the matcha, the less the quality matters.
We like to make a distinction between adding a little splash of milk into a matcha and mixing it into a matcha ice cream for example.
Where to find the best matcha grades?
Anyways, I hope our guide makes sense when it comes to differentiating between the different matcha grades. If you would like to test out the quality of matcha at home, you can simply compare the color on a sheet of paper and check out how green it is. If it is a vibrant shade of green, you probably have a good matcha and if it is more brown or yellow, chances are you either have an old matcha or a lower quality one.
Of course the color isn’t a perfect indication, as there is variability even within premium matchas, with some cultivars being darker green and others being lighter green, but you get the idea.
If you’re looking to get some ceremonial matcha, you can check out some of the best teas we’ve found during our travels throughout Japan. We have met with dozens of farmers and sampled hundreds of different matcha teas and compiled a list of our favorites at nioteas.com which you can order with free worldwide shipping.
As we mentioned before, we also provide latte grade matcha that comes from a high quality source. It's important to be a bit picky even when you’re making a latte.