Matcha is a very popular tea powder used in either tea, baking and lots of recipes. For those newly introduced to this bright green powdered tea, the first sip can be unexpected and complex. You may wonder what does matcha taste like? It is healthy for me. We will cover every aspects of the taste profile of matcha powder.
The flavor of matcha is multifaceted, ranging from vegetal umami to sweet and floral notes, with slight bitterness depending on grade and a lovely roasted note because of the grilling process.
Matcha has its roots in ancient Japan, where it was used in traditional tea ceremonies. The tea plants were shade grown to increase chlorophyll and amino acid content, then the leaves were steamed, stripped of veins, and carefully stone ground into a fine powder. I always love to use matcha in milk tea, drinks as well as baking like bread and cookies.
You may encountered with lots of matcha food even you are not tea lovers.
While often associated with Japanese culture, matcha production likely originated in China over 1000 years ago. The powdered tea preparation method then spread to Japan where it was refined into an artform. But it is now popular worldwide.
Variations by Grade
The intensity of matcha’s diverse tasting notes can vary greatly depending on grades.
Strong bitterness, grassiness, and astringency mask nuanced flavors. Intended for cooking and baking where boldness holds up. Difficult to drink on its own.
More balanced yet still bold flavor for mixing into lattes and smoothies. Some bitterness remains but also some sweetness comes through. Good daily drinker.
Subtle and complex with sweeter grassy, floral, and oceanic notes. Smooth mouthfeel without grittiness. For sipping straight or with minimal additions.
The sweetest, smoothest, most nuanced matcha, crafted from first flush leaf buds in spring. Intense yet refined flavor and vibrant green color.
What does matcha taste like
Matcha has a overall taste profile of complex grassy, sweetness and bitterness. Let’s find them out one by one.
|Culinary||Strongly bitter, grassy, astringent|
|Classic||More balanced, slightly bitter, some sweetness|
|Ceremonial||Complex flavor, natural sweetness, umami|
|Specialty||Refined, nuanced sweetness, smooth|
Grassy, Leafy Notes
The primary taste of matcha is the pleasant vegetal flavor of the green tea leaves themselves. Newly harvested tea leaves have higher levels of chlorophyll, amino acids, and catechins, all of which impart a fresh, grassy taste.
Young tencha leaves grown specifically for matcha have an especially herbaceous and emerald green leaf flavor. Matcha can be seen as capturing the taste of the tea plant in its freshest form.
These leafy flavors are most noticeable in the higher grade matcha designed for drinking straight.
Ceremonial grade matcha may be described as tasting like fresh cut grass, spinach, green peas, or green bean pods. There is a pleasant savory quality reminiscent of cooked greens.
For culinary grade matcha used in baking and other applications, the greener flavors are overpowered by more bitterness (detailed more below). But a hint of the vegetal taste still comes through even in background roles.
Sweet, Floral Notes
In addition to herbaceous qualities, high grade matcha also has delicate sweetness and floral flavors. These sweeter notes complement and balance the vegetal tastes. The sweetness is subtle, not sugary or overpowering. It is similar to smelling fresh flowers like jasmine or chamomile.
Sweetness and florality tend to be most pronounced in spring harvest matcha before the leaf fully hardens. During these first flush harvests, only the youngest, most tender leaves and leaf buds are hand-selected. Their youth accounts for sweeter character. The leaves still carry the essence of their flowers which passed nutrients to nurture the growing plant.
These prized first flush leaves go into making ceremonial grade matcha that is intended for straight sipping. The sweetness is part of what makes this grade so smooth. Lower grade matcha lacks the same level of sweetness, instead tending more bitter.
In addition to vegetal and floral flavors, matcha has a strong savory umami taste.
In matcha, the umami is more akin to seaweed with a faint briny flavor. These tastes come from the high levels of amino acids like L-theanine in shaded green tea leaves used for matcha production.
Umami adds rich depth to matcha’s flavor. It balances out the sweeter and more astringent notes. Matcha is noted for having a long, savory aftertaste thanks to umami compounds. This is especially noticeable when drinking higher grades of matcha straight. The umami brothy seaweed essence lingers on the palate.
Umami flavors marry well with salty seasonings like soy sauce. This is why matcha is a common ingredient in Japanese cuisine – it complements the savory components. Recipes like matcha soup broth or matcha salt blends capitalize on the tea’s umami profile.
While matcha has many pleasing flavors, most varieties also have some degree of bitterness from plant compounds called catechins, specifically EGCg.
All green teas contain catechin antioxidants, but shade grown tea leaves used for matcha are especially rich in them, resulting in pronounced bitterness.
The bitterness can range from slight to very intense depending on the grade and quality of the matcha.
Higher grades designed for drinking have only minimal astringency. But lower grades intended for cooking and baking carry a much more bitter, tannic taste reminiscent of black tea. These culinary matcha are not palatable on their own.
Factors like leaf age, vein content, harvest season, and processing impact bitterness. Young spring harvest leaves make the sweetest matcha.
Older summer harvest leaves and the inclusion of stems and veins results in more astringent matcha. Bitterness is reduced when these parts are removed before stone grinding.
Smooth, Creamy Texture
When prepared properly, matcha is unique among teas in having a creamy, smooth mouthfeel. This comes from the fact matcha is the entire leaf ground to a fine powder rather than simply steeped leaves. Vigorously whisking the powdered tea in water suspends the matcha particles, avoiding a gritty texture.
However, matcha prepared incorrectly can become clumpy and chalky. You will always need to dissolve matcha with warm water.
Roasted, Nutty Notes
Another element of matcha’s complex flavor is a hint of roasted nuttiness because of the final production step of grinding the dried tea leaves into powder.
The grinding process of matcha is quite slow, over one hour or more. The frictional heat from grinding lightly toasts the matcha, developing richer umami flavors.
Unlike full oven roasting, stone grinding gently warms the tea leaves to preserve fresh flavors. But it imparts subtle roasted undertones, much like sesame oil. The nutty taste balances the bitterness and adds depth.
Preparation to Maximize Flavor
To highlight matcha’s tasting notes, proper technique is key:
- Use fresh spring water just under boiling temperature around 175°F/80°C.
- Vigorously whisk powder and limited water until fully incorporated and frothy.
- Add remaining hot water and whisk again to suspend matcha.
- Drink immediately before aroma dissipates for fullest flavor.
- Adjust ratio of powder to water to tweak intensity and bitterness.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is matcha bitter?
Some degree of bitterness is inherent to matcha. Higher quality matcha designed for drinking has only mildly bitter vegetal flavors. Culinary grade matcha has intense bitterness from stems and veins. You can choose matcha with spring harvest yonung leaves to reduce the bitterness.
Can you drink cooking matcha?
Cooking or culinary grade matcha is quite bitter with an unpleasant astringency. The strong bitterness would make it unpalatable to drink straight.
Does milk help mellow matcha flavor?
Yes, dairy milk can help soften the bitterness of lower grades of matcha. Non-dairy milks also pair well. But milk may mute the delicate flavors in ceremonial grade matcha. Aerate the milk into foam to better suspend the powder.
What sweeteners go well with matcha?
For drinking matcha, opt for minimal sweetener to highlight the tea’s flavors. Honey, agave, or maple syrup complement without overpowering. Sugar dulls the experience. Dark brown sugar’s molasses notes pair nicely.