With its brilliant, emerald hue and fine powdery texture, matcha has become a symbol of health and wellness to many who have yet to even taste the Japanese delicacy. But that’s a reputation that can work in two ways: the wellness-inspired among us will gravitate to the vibrancy of matcha (which is just ground green tea leaves grown under shade); while the hesitant will likely anticipate a big unsatisfying sip of green liquid dirt. Hopefully we can change the latter’s opinion — and who knows, maybe a few sodas get replaced by the naturally-caffeinated, herbal tincture of our ancestors in the process.
Like any nuanced, complex flavor profile, matcha can be difficult to perfectly describe on the palette. It strikes the tongue boldly, like the first sip of red wine of the evening. It’s mildly bitter and a bit earthy at first, but as the tongue becomes accustomed, an alluring sweetness develops. The thickness of the concoction coats the entire mouth and throat as the drinker loses himself in the texture, which can only be really understood after a few sips.
Depending on the matcha’s cultivation and preparation, a unique aftertaste will develop: sometimes nutty, sometimes sweet, maybe a bit floral or bittersweet, as well. The aftertaste flavors are bold and complex and are what longtime matcha drinkers look forward to most.
Master tea blenders can make their product taste differently for different occasions. Unique shading processes lead to the accumulation of amino acids and chlorophyll in the tea leaves. The final product typically takes on a few key flavors, but again, it can vary greatly depending on the whims of the processor.
Matcha can aid in cancer prevention, lowering blood pressure, and preventing glaucoma
The most common comparison matcha receives is to the fragrance and flavor of fresh spinach leaves. It also boasts a hint of smooth umami flavor, which means “savoriness” or “essence of deliciousness” in Japanese. That deep, meaty flavor, partnered with the sweetness on the back end, leads to a common descriptor of “bittersweet” for inexperienced matcha drinkers. But don’t worry — the Japanese have long understood that the flavors of matcha build and grow on the palette with more exposure until it becomes a near-obsession for some.
In summary, good matcha should always have a smooth mouthfeel. Any initial bitterness should be subtle and fleeting. Those flavors will blend gently with the taste receptors on your tongue over time. Finally, a slow, lingering aftertaste that starts with a light sweetness but ends in a nuanced, almost savory note finishes the sip.
There’s so much more to learn about the ancient product — astringency, grades of matcha, temperature, water volume, and mixing techniques can all affect the final flavor. But if you’re on the fence about trying it, now you’ll be better prepared; and more importantly, you’ll understand that a relationship with matcha can evolve over a lifetime.