Matcha green tea is customarily divided into two grades: ceremonial and culinary. The separation comes down to harvest times. That small difference changes each grade’s color, flavor, and uses. Below is a basic comparison of the two.
Ceremonial Grade Matcha
Culinary Grade Matcha
Less vibrant green
Fresh, delicate, slightly sweet
Bitter, earthy, potent
Drinking in teas or lattes
Cooking, baking, smoothies
History of Ceremonial Grade Matcha
Ceremonial grade matcha has been around for centuries. Drinking regular green tea began during the 4th century in China by Buddhist monks, Zen masters, and students. The practice then spread throughout Japan, where priests in Uji perfected the process during the mid-14th century, creating a sweeter version of green tea that enhanced focus, energy, and mood. This was accomplished by growing green tea plants under shade, hand picking only the tenderest of leaves, and stone grinding them into a fine powder that dissolves in water, unlike steeped teas.
In the two ensuing centuries, the use of matcha moved from priests to nobility and then on to military commanders and wealthy merchants. Soon matcha had become a special way to welcome guests into almost every household. But the care, time, and money put into matcha made its preparation special and unique. Traditional Japanese tea ceremonies show reverence to matcha’s history, to the ingredient, and to those who receive it.
They consume many forms of green tea in Japan, but Uji remains the birthplace of matcha, and continues to provide the most sought after matcha throughout the country. This hilly region south of Kyoto is the perfect place to grow the sweetest of green teas. The farmers there still hand pick and pass their leaves off to the monks to be carefully stone ground and prepared.
Ceremonial Grade Matcha Benefits
Being grown under shade preserves chlorophyll and L-Theanine, an amino acid that supplies focus, concentration, and mood enhancement. It also boasts a large a large amount of EGCG. This antioxidant catechin protects cells from oxidative damage, reduced inflammation, aids weight loss, and is being studied for a host of other benefits. On top of this, ceremonial matcha has an extremely fine texture with an appetizingly pure and delicate flavor.
- Increased energy levels
- Brain stimulation
- Improved concentration & focus
- A sense of relaxed well-being
- Boosted metabolism & fat burning
- Cleansing power of chlorophyll
- Anti-inflammatory effects of antioxidants
In terms of nutrition, ceremonial grade matcha has very few calories, less than 1 gram of carbohydrates in a typical serving from dietary fiber, plus a tiny amount of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and iron. Ceremonial grade tends to have more chlorophyll, EGCG, catechins, and L-Theanine than culinary grades.
Purpose of Ceremonial Grade Matcha
Ceremonial matcha comes only from the earliest spring harvest of the sweetest, tenderest, greenest leaves grown under shade. Unlike culinary grade matcha, ceremonial grade isn’t used as an added ingredient in baking, cooking, or garnishing foods. This is for two reasons. First, its delicate flavor doesn’t make it ideal for baking or cooking as its subtle, sweet nature gets buried by other ingredients. Second, it is the most expensive green tea per gram due to the time and energy put into its production, its quality, and its high demand within Japan.
Ceremonial grade matcha is exclusively used for drinking on its own—sweeteners, dairy, nut milks, spices, or other ingredients that you might add to regular green or herbal teas are rarely mixed with this grade of green tea. It is meant to be enjoyed pure and simple.
To make Ceremonial Matcha, you mix the matcha powder together with hot water, typically using ¼ to 1 teaspoon matcha powder and 2 ounces water, to make a thick, frothy drink. If you wish to make this green beverage the traditional Japanese way, you’ll need to use a bamboo whisk, ceramic bowl, and bamboo spoon.
Purpose of Culinary Grade Matcha
Culinary matcha comes from later harvests in the summer. That is the only difference. The tea is still grown under shade, but more sunlight leaks through as the sun climbs higher, gets brighter, and warms the earth. This sunlight converts L-Theanine (the source of the sweet flavor and relaxing effects) into catechins (powerful antioxidants) and then into tannins (more bitter but still effective antioxidants). This means each later harvest is more bitter than the last. So, second harvest tastes more earthy and potent than a ceremonial first harvest, making it perfect for lattes where the milk or milk substitutes don’t overpower it. By fourth harvest, you are looking at a much more bitter matcha that is best for cooking, baking, and smoothies. Later summer harvests still have plenty of health benefits, but need to be consumed slightly differently.
The more potent flavor of culinary matcha comes through in foods where the delicate flavor of ceremonial would be lost and wasted. Really one grade isn't better or worse than another. They just have different uses. Now you know.
Which to Choose?
That really depends on what you want out of your matcha. We carry ceremonial and culinary grades of matcha, with additional products designed to fit all your needs. Ceremonial Blend is a favorite as it falls perfectly in the middle. It is a blend of first harvest (ceremonial) and second harvest (high culinary). This gives you the flavor of ceremonial at a cost closer to culinary. It works well as a straight tea or in lattes. Summer Harvest is a great choice if you are looking for matcha lattes mainly, with some baking or cooking thrown in. Smoothie Booster is exactly what it says, a boost for smoothies or baking. You can always go for pure ceremonial too, for the authentic Japanese experience. We’re here if you have any questions along the way.