One Surefire Sign You’ve Got Bad Matcha

green tea, matcha, tips

There’s a lot of tips out there meant to help matcha beginners choose good quality tea. These range from the obvious (“Should be green”) to the subjective (“Should be easy to whisk”) to the blatant marketing trick (“Should be over 1USD/gram”).

While I won’t tell you what makes for a good matcha, allow me to introduce one objective way to know that you have bad matcha: the grit test.

The grit test is simple: if a matcha feels gritty/sandy/rough between the fingers –  it’s bad. This isn’t a characteristic of ALL bad matcha, but NO good matcha is gritty.

Venn_diagram_bad_good_matcha

Figure 1: The relationship between good and bad matcha. Gritty matcha is a subset of bad matcha. Note that “mediocrity” is not to scale.

Figure 2: A – the bowl after drinking a matcha of standard quality, one I would commonly drink at tea ceremony practice. B – a close up of A.  C – the bowl after drinking a low quality, gritty matcha. D -a close up of C. Note the large particle size in comparison with B.

How do I know that all gritty matcha is bad? While working in Japan and practicing tea ceremony on the side, I drank a lot of matcha. To do some rough math: 1 tea practice per week x 30 weeks (I took a lot of vacations) x 2 bowls of matcha per class (on average) x 3 years = a lot of matcha! And not a single bowl was gritty.

After returning to the US, I purchased some matcha from a Western-facing online vendor, thinking that whatever this “ceremonial grade” stuff was, it sure was expensive and had a fancy label, so it’d probably be fine.

NOPE! Luckily I’d only bought a small amount, but what I’d received was a big bunch of NOPE. At first glance it looked like matcha, it (mostly) smelled like matcha – heck, it even whisked like matcha – but that big chewy mouthful of green sand was like no matcha I’d ever known.

Check out Figure 2 for an illustration of the difference in textures between a typical matcha (A and B) and the gritty matcha (C and D). In C and D, you can easily see the sandy/grainy consistency of the tea left on the sides of the bowl. Typical matcha (Figure 2 A and B) is ground to the weight of a fine powder. Think talcum powder or fine powder blush.

This matcha was ground so poorly I could chew it between my teeth. And those grainy particles were hard! My guess would be that this matcha was made from older, stiffer leaves instead of the tender shaded shoots. The particles were so large that if I had let it sit instead of drinking it immediately, it almost certainly would have fallen out of suspension and collected in the bottom of the tea bowl.

Nonetheless, I could still create a decent foam with it. In my experience the ease of creating foam is more due to tea:water ratio than anything else and doesn’t necessarily correspond to matcha quality.

Figure 3: A – the gritty matcha after whisking. Although large particles are visible on the side of the bowl, in pictures the foam looks identical to B – a standard quality matcha after whisking.

The taste was very strange; more like a fruit-flavored candy than anything I’d recognize as a classic matcha flavor. It wasn’t inherently bad – just different. As it is, most matcha are blends aimed at creating specific flavor profiles, so it’s difficult to judge quality by taste alone.

That said, it’s very easy to separate out the worst of the worst matcha using the grit test. By the way, this particular matcha was selling for over a dollar US per gram! At this price it’s comparable to some of the highest tier, non-gift grade matcha sold by the big-name Japanese tea companies.

And I don’t know about you, but if I’m spending that much per gram, I’d rather be spending it on tea than greenish grit.

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