Justin Iso is the head pastry chef behind chefiso.com. He is the winner of the Christmas Cookie Challenge on Food Network and was named Best Baking and Sweets Blogger by Saveur Magazine. With a background in Japanese confections and French pastry, he brings the best of both worlds into his recipes.
Quality matcha powder has an incredible flavor but the good brands seem hard to find these days. The internet is flooded with trash matcha ever since sellers realized the marketing power of the word. How are consumers expected to find a decent matcha powder in a sea of scam products?
The key is to focus on the right brands, particularly those from older Japanese companies. Of course navigating foreign brands can be daunting. As an avid matcha drinker, this chef is somewhat of a self-proclaimed expert on the subject. My chef's pick for ceremonial-grade matcha is the Ippodo brand from Kyoto. They have been making matcha since the 1700's, so they know a thing or two about crafting the best matcha powder.
If you are a total novice to matcha, your best buy is going to be a tin of Sayaka-no-mukashi from Ippodo. Whisk up a cup of this matcha powder and you won't be disappointed.
Ready to embark on your journey to become an expert matcha powder buyer? Here are a few tips:
Avoid things labeled "ceremonial grade." Though it may seem counter-intuitive, anything that has to say it's ceremonial grade probably isn't something you want to be drinking. You wouldn't buy a Prada bag with a big sticker that reads "luxury product." Truly exceptional matcha often has the reputation that experienced matcha buyers know to look for.
Be prepared to spend some money. Matcha isn't cheap, at least real matcha isn't. But a little bit goes a long way. $40 for a 40-gram tin is about $1-2 per cup, which is less than your morning coffee. You are paying for centuries of experience harvesting and preparing delicate tea leaves to achieve just the right flavor, acidity, umami, and herbal notes. This is how much good matcha costs, so if you try to save a few bucks here or there, you might as well buy the $10 tin of bitter powder.
Culinary Matcha Powder
All of these ceremonial matchas are priced at around $40-50 for a 40-gram tin, which is about what quality matcha costs. But cheap matcha has its uses! Matcha desserts call for a much lower grade of matcha. Any subtlety of quality matcha is lost in baking, cooking, or mixed with other ingredients. For culinary-grade matcha, Maeda-en is a very good choice that is affordable but not exceedingly bitter.
Tools for Making Matcha
Once you've picked a matcha powder, you can't just steep it in some water like your everyday tea. Matcha requires meticulous preparation. Specifically, you'll need a chawan in which to brew the matcha powder. Scoop about 1-2 grams of the sifted powder into the chawan and whisk with a small amount of water using a chasen whisk. Then pour in the remaining hot water to whisk your bowl of matcha tea.