Confused about which matcha to try? You’re not alone.
The first step is to figure out why you’re interested in matcha. It basically boils down to two reasons for most people: health benefits, and incredible taste.
If you’re looking for health benefits only, and exquisite taste isn’t your primary concern, then the culinary matcha is far and away the best bang for the buck. It’s very good as cold-brew, and it’s fantastic in smoothies and as an ingredient in all desserts. It even makes a good latte, since the fat and (often) sugar in lattes essentially mask the minor flavor flaws of the tea (and when I say flavor flaws, I’m being picky; it tastes great, but doesn’t deliver the natural sweetness, umami blast, and long stunning finish of the hyperpremium blends). You of course COULD use one of the hyperpremium sipping matcha in milk-based sweetened matcha drinks, and it would certainly be very, very good, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll get 10x the enjoyment as you would the culinary, since fat and sugar coat the palate and render your ability to detect flaws in the matcha inert — it will just taste like a milky sugary matcha, and that’s ok if you like it that way!
If you care about the health benefits AND are after more sophisticated flavor profiles, then you should try one of the hyperpremium sipping blends, which have even more health benefits than the culinary matcha (and are especially loaded with l-theanine) in addition to increasingly levels of epicurean nirvana, The scale of tastiness and overall desirability– and by that I mean the five pillars of great matcha:
- electric color
- maximum umami
- lack of bitterness and plethora of natural sweetness
- good/balanced acid structure, and
- extra-long, beautiful finish
goes up with each Blend, although rarity is a factor too.
Truly great matcha is such a labor-intensive process; it requires tea plants that are a minimum of 50 years old, it’s completely unscaleable, and it needs serious knowhow from obsessive farmers who tend to be at the helm of farms that go back 20+ generations of family farmers working the same plot of land.
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There’s a big jump in quality from culinary to Blend 94, which is lovely to sip on its own, nothing added. And the quality scale continues upward, with another large leap in quality from the 94 to the 97; they’re almost totally different matcha with different flavor profiles, each comes from a specific terroir in Uji, just outside of Kyoto. I’ve served the entire line up, blind, to lots of Japanese matcha connoisseurs, and almost everyone likes the 94 best. It’s the one they’re most used to drinking, with faint twinges of bitterness and a real sass to it. This quality of matcha is most common in the tea schools that teach proper ceremonial matcha etiquette. It has the most bitterness of the four sipping matcha.
The 97 is a rare matcha that lacks even faint whiffs of bitterness — its natural sweetness stuns most people the first time they try it. It is a tremendous value priced at just $1.75 per serving, considering its rarity and sweetness. How much is a serving of Italian truffle? How about fois gras? How much is a glass of decent wine? How much is a glass of BAD wine? $1.75 for this level of epicurean experience is unheard of. What can one buy for $1.75? Gum? A candy bar?
Fanatical matcha connoisseurs tend to go for Blends 100 and 99. They’re grateful for the health benefits, but they’re primarily driven by taste and epicurean experiences.
With the 99, things go ethereal. Same farmer/producer of the 97, a youngish man who’s into experimenting with his wonderful crops. The 99 is his “reserve” matcha, and this is the one I want for my final sip of matcha — hell, final sip of anything. Exceedingly rare matcha for a mere $2.25/serving.
The Blend 100 is the rarest of all, so refined that it feels almost lighter than air. I might argue that it has less character than the 99, but it has such finesse that all matcha connoisseurs should try it at least once just as a glimpse into the heights matcha can soar on an elegance scale. Quantities are small, and much of the annual allotment is already spoken for from our chefly friends.
Curious connoisseurs should try them all, and figure out which one offers the most special delight. And regular drinkers should take advantage of the discounts offered with the larger quantities.
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