…1 is the priciest and 8 is the most affordable. No one is necessarily “better” than another, it’s more about finding which best suits your tastes/cravings…
There are eight grades: 1 to 8, moving from rich to balanced to light.
For rich flavors of “umami, sweetness, bittersweetness, and fragrance”:
- Grade 1: Kuon
- Grade 2: Ummon-no-mukashi*
- Grade 3: Kissho-no-mukashi* or Seiun
- Grade 4: Horai-no-mukashi or Sayaka-no-mukashi
For balance of “umami, sweetness, bittersweetness, and fragrance”:
- Grade 5: Kafu or Kan-no-shiro*
- Grade 6: Kimmo-no-mukashi or Chidori-no-shiro
- Grade 7: Enishi-no-shiro or Fuku-mukashi
For lightness and astringency:
- Grade 8: Hatsu-mukashi*
Note: You can make usucha (thin matcha) with Grades 1-8. For koicha (thick matcha) use only Grades 1-3.
We’ll look at four of them today. As we move across the grade scale the color gets slightly darker. In any case, you want a bright, bold, healthy green color for drinking matcha straight. Ever get those big bags of “culinary grade matcha” from the supermarket? You can use it for cooking/baking, but never use that for drinking.
And if you really want to see comparisons in quality, buy an average supermarket matcha and line the powder side by side with a grade 1-3 from Ippodo. You’ll see a huge difference in color (and maybe even texture). Colors don’t lie.
From left to right:
- Grade 2: Ummon-no-mukashi. This one is my personal favorite for everyday drinking (though if you get to the Kyoto flagship look for Kitano-no-mukashi which is exclusive to that location).
- Grade 3: Kissho-no-mukashi
- Grade 5: Kan-no-shiro
- Grade 8: Hatsu-mukashi
One simple way to tell if one matcha is higher grade than another (aside from variation in color) is to smear your finger across side to side scoops. The higher grade matcha is more fine (on the left) and sticks to the plate (almost like a paste). The lower grade matcha (on the right) don’t stick as much. For that Grade 8 on the right, we went across three times and it didn’t stick nearly the way Grade 2 did with just one smear.
One that note, Jee and I were discussing and we both agree that Ippodo’s Grade 8 is the equivalent of many other’s brand’s “ceremonial matcha”…which is to say that Ippodo’s quality is high across all grades.
P.S. A few of my favorite tea equipment picks on New York Magazine. I mention the Bonavita Kettle in that article, and that’s the kettle you see pictured in the background of this post. It’s a solid all purpose kettle for everything tea (I use this kettle for client demos/classes and even have it in place for a few hotel and restaurant clients). The Stagg Kettle is also quite nice, but runs on the small side if you’re in a high volume (aka hotel/restaurant) setting.