I have been blessed with matcha bounty. Seriously, it’s coming out of the woodwork, I’ve got to drink tea faster. And since Sophie and I had so much fun with our first Matcha Smackdown, clearly it is time for a second. Let the drinking (of tea) begin! WOOT.
Here are today’s contenders:
Such pretty little tins. Here’s the list from left to right:
From O-cha, Kiku Mukashi ($20 + shipping for 30 grams). From Maiko teas, Matsu no Midori ($20 + shipping for 40 grams). From Itoen teas, Koto no Tsuki, ($20 + locally bought so no shipping for 20 grams). And from ZenMatcha, their “Premium” tea ($19 + shipping for 20 grams).
Actually there was one more that we added half-way through (so it missed the initial photoshoot), the O-cha Kiri no Mori ($14 + shipping for 30 grams).
The Kiku Mukashi was my first purchase (as I reviewed first here) with just enough left in the tin to participate in today’s face off, the other O-cha my second purchase. The Maiko I got to be my “next tea” when that was gone. But then I stumbled upon a local tea shop where they had the Itoen tea, three days past it’s freshness date so they sold it to me for half off, $10, couldn’t say no to that! And then Eric Newman over at ZenMatcha sent me a tin of his best matcha for review, very cool Eric! Thank you!
Time to make tea.
In the name of Science, I made each bowl of tea with 1/2 teaspoon of sifted matcha (using a measuring spoon instead of the little bamboo hook thingy that came with my whisk) and heated the water to 170 degrees.
Aren’t Sophie’s wheelthrown bowls lovely? She’s 10, by the way. She rocks.
Anyway, Sophie and I took turns keeping our eyes closed and tasting the teas while the other one took notes. As with our first test, she and I seemed to have the same preferences/experiences. Except that in our first test, the two teas seemed noticeably different from each other, whereas with this group of teas, there was much more similarity. Towards the end, we also roped SuperCoolHusband into the test. He is a total matcha virgin, so this was his first hit.
Blind, we described the Itoen as very sweet, mild, mellow, “I can drink this all day.” No bitterness at all. Round. Smooth. Lots of what I think is what they’re talking about when they talk about the umami, this interesting yum-factor that makes me smack my lips and make a spontaneous “mmm!” A hint of sugar snap peas.
We described the Maiko as sweet, slightly grassy. It reminded Sophie a little bit of that green, hay-like scent that henna has. Maybe what I’m going for is a bit of seaweed flavor, not unpleasant, just a little stronger. No bitterness, mild, with that hint of greenness in the center of the flavor. Lots of umami.
The O-cha Kiku was very similar to the Itoen only perhaps more mild. Mellow, sweet, a fresh green flavor. Lovely umami. Less grassy than the Maiko, a touch yummier, maybe. Hubby said this one was richer than the others.
The ZenMatcha, had a stronger flavor. Some bitterness, a bit harsh. Definitely good, but next to some of these others, not as sweet, not as…luscious, whatever that thing is that matcha can have, that complex yumminess inside the flavor. It was easy to tell this one apart from the others whereas with the other three, I really wasn’t sure which one she had given me.
The O-cha Kiri no Mori was the mildest, easy to drink, even for the virgin. A bit less complex. Very nice. A simpler flavor but not overly so.
Overall Itoen stood out slightly as the sweetest and…roundest. What IS that flavor in the center of the flavor, that round, interesting, magic flavor in great green tea? If I had to rank them by that flavor/experience/thing/umami then I would say the Itoen had the most, then the Kiku, then the Maiko, then the ZenMatcha, then the Kiri.
So much delicious tea! After we did several rounds with straight tea, we added a bit of stevia and some cream and finished the bowls off. We were quite buzzed after we had downed it all.
Final verdict, the Itoen was Sophie’s favorite straight. The ZenMatcha was quite nice with a few drops of stevia and a splash of cream—it’s stronger flavor wasn’t washed out by the additions, but it was a bit bitter for me on its own. The Maiko, delicious on its own, stood up a bit better with the cream and stevia also, that smoky, grassy flavor cutting through the additions. For me, the Itoen was amazing with cream and stevia, like the richest, mellowest, most complex green tea ice cream flavor. But it was hard to tell the difference between the Itoen or the Kiku, and either could be my daily bowl of heaven. I would probably choose the Maiko if I wanted more of the matcha flavor, a grassier flavor kick, and the Itoen if I wanted a smoother, sweeter brew. The Kiku is somewhere in between.
How about by price?
The Itoen and the ZenMatcha are the most expensive at $1.00 / gram (not including any shipping since I didn’t pay any shipping for these, you should do your own math with your own shipping to get your per-bowl cost). A gram is about how much is used in one bowl of tea (1 gram or about 1/2 a teaspoon), so a dollar a bowl.
The O-cha Kiku is in the middle, price-wise at $.83 /gram. (price includes my shipping of $4)
The Maiko is quite affordable at $.63 a gram (price includes $4 shipping). Remember that the Maiko came in a 40g tin where the Itoen and ZenMatcha are in 20g tins, O-cha in a 30g tin. I’d say the Maido is probably the best bang for the buck. [Edited: it looks like the price of the Maiko has gone up since I bought mine, from $20 + shipping to $23 + shipping.]
The least expensive is the O-cha Kiri, at $.48 a gram (price includes $4 shipping). Although it wasn’t as rich and complex a flavor, the Kiri really held its own against tea that was twice as expensive. You could tell the diff, but it was no slouch.
I feel like I’m splitting hairs a bit. At least with the Itoen, Maiko, and Kiku, they were all luscious, delicious tea, sweet with no sweetener added, slight differences in flavor, sweetness, and mellowness, and grassiness, but on the whole, very close. The ZenMatcha stood out from the bunch as a bit bitter, a bit harsher, still nice, but for me needing a little stevia and cream to tone the flavor down a bit. The Kiri stood out as the most mild.
And that’s it! I’ve got a lot of tea to drink with all these tins open. It doesn’t stay fresh for long. Oh, darn, better go have some right now. After all of this is gone, I’d like to try some matcha from Ippodo, another shop that comes highly rated.
Traditionally a potent and beautiful sweet is served with matcha. We didn’t have any of these gorgeous little treats, but we did have…