in which we blind-taste-test ceremonial matcha green tea and declare a hands down victor

In my search for the perfect warm, delicious beverage that doesn’t give me heart palpitations (coffee, how I love you, why have you forsaken me?) I have recently begun drinking matcha.  Matcha is Japanese powdered green tea, frothed up in a bowl with a bamboo whisk.  It is emerald green, “vegetal” in flavor, and chocked with virtuous feeling.  In fact, drinking matcha is the exact opposite of a vice, so full of health-giving properties (there have been studies!) that no one is out there saying you shouldn’t drink it.

(Oh, except for the whole radioactive cesium thing, courtesy of Fukashima, that, apparently, contaminated some of Japan’s tea growing regions.  This is so sad it makes me want to weep.  Some information here.)

prettygoodnumberoneMatcha recently came to my attention while reading the oh-so charming food/travel/memoir Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo by Matthew Amster-Burton (who’s blog, Roots and Grubs is equally charming).

Pretty Good Number One is about Matthew and his daughter Iris’s adventures eating their way through as many Tokyo restaurants as they can during a one month stay.  I adored it.  A funny, self-deprecating voice, jaw-droppingly delicious-sounding descriptions of strange foods, and a hilariously self-aware kid—it’s a perfect storm of travel-food writing.  Highly recommended.

Matthew says, “Of all the snobby things I do–and it’s not a short list–carrying teabags is the worst,” in a description of green tea where he helpfully pointed me to, the online source for high-end green tea.  I went, I poked around, I bought some tea.  It came in the mail a few days later.  I was in.

Actually, I accidentally bought an expensive tin, Uji Matcha Kiku Mukashi, $20 (plus shipping $4.50, so about $25 bucks for this tin that is only two inches tall), the accident being that I thought the tin would be a LOT bigger.  Hey, I’m American, I have no idea how much 30 grams really is.  I thought, no problem, I’ll splash out for a tin of the good stuff (okay, actually it’s the mid-range stuff, the good stuff is more like $55 plus shipping for 30 grams, wow) and drink matcha for a couple of months.  Um, no.  Turns out 30 grams gets you about three weeks of a daily bowl of the stuff, so, maybe a buck a bowl if you stretch it.  That’s a buck a day if you can keep from having seconds.  Hmm.  I really, really don’t need an expensive (however virtuous) beverage habit, right now.

Crap!  Too late!  It’s freaking delicious!  And so incredibly green!  A GORGEOUS, amazing green.

matcha bowl 4

Confession: while I do like it straight, I admit I prefer it with a few drops of stevia and a small splash of cream, as seen above.  I know the matcha purists out there are probably shuddering right now, I’m sorry, I can’t help it, I just like it.  Super creamy, a bit sweet, round…it’s like green-tea ice cream, only much, much better.  Complex, I don’t know it’s just interesting, it’s impossible to describe.  There is a bit of a caffeine hit but it’s different from coffee or even chocolate, milder or softer.  Whatever, it’s working for me at the moment anyway.  No heart banging in my chest equals yay!

I held off getting one of the little bamboo brushes, thinking that was just going too far, but I was wrong, it’s super worth it.  I found one at the local Asian market for $5 bucks (I always feel bad buying super cheap stuff like that because sheesh, the dude that made the little brush probably got a penny for his/her efforts) and discovered that the bamboo whisk is ten times superior to my wire whisk at getting out the lumps, nay, a hundred times superior, resulting in a super silky smooth beverage with no strange sea-weed-ish blobs.  Definitely get the brush.

From coffee to matcha, my morning beverage routine switched overnight!  Until, da da DAAAA….all too soon, I started running out.

On my second order, I choose the cheaper stuff, Uji Matcha Kiri no Mori, $13 plus shipping.  When it came, looking at the two little tins, Sophie and I both had the same thought: BLIND TASTE TEST.

That’s right, green tea, time to rumble.

matcha bowl 1Sidebar: Please notice the very pretty bowls we’re drinking all this very pretty tea in.  Sophie made them!  She’s been learning to throw pots on the wheel for years, starting with tiny, one-inch high, lopsided “bowls” (so cute!) when she was six and up to these lovely cereal-bowl sized bowls now.  Turns out Sophie’s bowls are perfect for whisking up some matcha.  Plus they make me happy whenever I use them.  She’s so cool!  /end sidebar.

I made the matcha.  We took turns handing each other the bowls while keeping our eyes closed.  Honestly I was seriously hoping I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, that my palate would be too stupid, blasted by chocolate perhaps, to perceive the improvement that surely only an experienced tea drinker would notice.  Because a dollar a day is too much for my wallet.

matcha bowl 3(In case you’re curious, the left is the less expensive, the right is more.  They are nearly identical in color, although in the picture, the left looks a bit more olive.  Just a trick on the light.  They both look much duller in the pic, too, than they did in reality.)

Alas!  Both Sophie and I easily, hand-down, tasting blind, preferred the expensive tea.  It’s more complex, sweeter, smoother.  There’s just more going on in the bowl.  We kept switching bowls on each other, trying to trick it up, tried it multiple times, but the difference was always obvious—eyes closed!—our choice always the same.

Don’t get me wrong, the less expensive tea is lovely.  On it’s own, it is quite nice.  And the difference is less noticeabe (still there though, no doubt) once I adulterate it with stevia and cream.

But side-by-side, there is no comparison.

Dang it.

Or, as Matthew of Pretty Good Number One says in this informative post:  “Do not order the $60 matcha. I’m sure it’s great. That’s the problem.”

matcha bowl 2

For my third order, which will I get???  I have three weeks to decide….

5 thoughts on “in which we blind-taste-test ceremonial matcha green tea and declare a hands down victor

  1. Eric Gower

    Love your paean to matcha, Maya. The cool thing about drinking matcha outside of Japan is that you can prep it and drank it however the F you like. Lately it’s been hot here in northern CA so I’ve been making a lot of coldbrew matcha, it’s absolute heaven. And trust me on this: you will likely love it straight in this version, it tastes creamy and sweet on its own (provided you’re using excellent matcha, of course). Ask if you’d like details on how to prep it.

  2. Matthew Amster-Burton

    Hey, Maya, thanks so much for the kind words about my book. Not sure if you and Eric are already pals, but you should try his Breakaway Matcha, which he was apparently too polite to plug. It comes in several varieties, all expensive, all worth it.

    1. maya Post author

      Hi Matthew, How cool to meet you! No problem, I really enjoy your writing. Thanks for the tip on Breakaway Matcha. No, I hadn’t met Eric before (hi Eric!) and yes, I sniffed out his site. Such pretty pictures! Unfortunately, a bit pricy for me. 🙁 I do think I have another matcha post coming, though, as my daughter and I have tried a few new kinds and I think a second Matcha Face Off Battle Extravaganza is totally called for.
      Thanks again for stopping by!

      1. gaiusgracchus

        Well, I tried the Breakaway Matcha and I should not have. It is phenomenal. Unfortunately too pricey for me, too.
        Wish I could find a good one cheaper — but if you have the $$$ that Breakaway Matcha will blow you away. Smooth as silk and not bitter at all.

  3. Pingback: matcha taste test smackdown, round two! | mayaland

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