The 6 Best Matcha Powders
Matcha is a finely ground powder made from specially cultivated green tea leaves. It has deep roots in both Japanese and Chinese cultures. Traditionally enjoyed as a hot beverage as part of a tea ceremony, matcha's beautiful color, unique flavor and health benefits have propelled it to popularity in recipes from sweet to savory. To help you find the best matcha powder, we tried nine brands. Here are our favorites from the taste tests, alongside more information about the history, cultural context and the different types of matcha powder available on the market today.
What Is Matcha Powder?
Matcha is a finely milled green tea powder made from a particular type of green tea called tencha. Tencha originates from the same plant as all teas—Camellia sinensis—but is shade-grown to encourage chlorophyll to color the leaves a darker green. After harvest, the leaves are steamed, laid out flat to dry, deveined, stemmed and slowly stone-ground to produce the final powder. Unlike other green teas where the leaves are steeped in hot water and then strained out, matcha is whisked into hot water and consumed as part of the final beverage.
Beverages made from powdered tea date to the Tang dynasty of China, while the act of whipping tea powder with hot water became more mainstream during the Song dynasty. In particular, this style of tea drinking was embraced by Chinese Buddhists, from whom Japanese Buddhists learned of this predecessor of matcha. Buddhist priest Eisai is credited with bringing the practice back to Japan in the 12th century, and it has since become an important ritual enjoyed by Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. The traditional Japanese tea ceremony—attributed to various Zen masters, notably Sen no Rikyu—was developed in the 16th century and encompasses everything from sieving the matcha, measuring and scooping it, to expertly stirring it into just-below-boiling water using a chasen (bamboo whisk).
Matcha's striking color, unique flavor and health benefits have made it a popular flavor in Japan as well as abroad. After the proliferation of the Uji green tea processing method, a more efficient method for capturing the tea's bright green hue, as well as the development of various matcha cultivars (or groups of plants bred for specific characteristics), matcha became far more available to the general public. Now, it can be found in both savory and sweet applications, such as soba noodles and tempura, Pocky snacks and soft serve. In the U.S., matcha's popularity started to increase around 2015, when it began to show up as a flavoring in beverages such as Starbucks' matcha lattes, in restaurant desserts and in packaged goods. As a result, some have expressed concern over the erasure of matcha's important cultural roots in favor of a revisionist history that centers wellness influencers.
Types of Matcha Powder
When buying matcha powder, you may come across three types of matcha powder designations: ceremonial grade, premium grade and culinary grade. While they are meant to indicate quality, there is no regulation or standardization for these terms. Instead, look for the matcha powder's country of origin. Most matcha is produced in Japan, and you can readily buy Japanese-produced matcha in the U.S. Another thing to look for on the label are words like shade-grown, stone-milled or ground, which indicate that the matcha has been properly grown and produced.
How to Use Matcha Powder
High-quality matcha is best served on its own, prepared with hot—but not boiling—water. Some tea shops in the U.S. will also offer guests the experience of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, with its thoughtfully choreographed steps and calm, smooth motions. In daily life, matcha is a beautiful ingredient that can be used in a variety of ways. Most commonly the powder is seen folded into sweets, like bonbons, ice cream and cake. It has also become a regular flavor in beverages like matcha lattes and smoothies.
6 Best Matcha Powders
Matcha is a flavorful green tea powder with a striking color and sweet aroma. Traditionally served as part of an elaborate tea ceremony, matcha has only grown in popularity and can now be found in everything from noodles to ice cream. The labeling process around matcha is not yet fully defined, so finding the best matcha requires due diligence from the consumer in regard to how the matcha was sourced and processed. These six matcha powders are a great place to start, whether you're looking for a vegetal, deep jade drink like Kenko or a vanilla, pastel-toned beverage like Kimikura.