April 30, 2018
Culinary vs. ceremonial: what's the difference and which should I choose? We have the answers.
One of the most asked questions we receive in regards to matcha is: "What is the difference between ceremonial and culinary matcha? Should I only buy ceremonial? Is culinary matcha always low quality?" Uses for matcha range from making koicha (thick, paste-like tea) at the most formal ceremonies, to more modern preparations (lattes, cocktails sweets or skincare products like lip balm). As such, matcha has gone from being a tea created for specific use (in the tea ceremony), to becoming an extremely versatile product found in many creative capacities.
We are very passionate about this conversation of matcha quality, because unfortunately there's been quite a lot of misinformation and misuse of the terms. Fortunately, Mizuba Tea has direct answers from our producers in Japan about what these terms actually mean!
The truth is, the terms mean *very* little in the American matcha market. Presently, the words "ceremonial" and "culinary" can only be judged based on the integrity of the company. There is currently no regulation or standardization of matcha to be deemed ceremonial or culinary, so any company or brand can term their matcha "ceremonial" or "culinary" – even in Japan. There is also no specific definition of how matcha should be grown in the field, or processed after harvest, so each matcha manufacturer or brand is free to label their tea as they wish.
With mass-market demand, what ends up happening is some companies try to pass off low-quality matcha as ceremonial — or deem that culinary matcha is always low-quality.
This is not the case with Mizuba, and our commitment to quality throughout our entire offering list is the reason over 400 coffee shops across the U.S. serve our matcha to their guests. Whether you buy ceremonial or culinary matcha, we take the utmost care to ensure the matcha you receive is the best of the best.
So how do I know my matcha is truly "ceremonial," or culinary? Is culinary even bad to purchase?
Pure, shade-grown & stone-ground Uji Matcha
Speaking solely from Mizuba Tea Co's perspective, here are some guidelines to keep in mind. As a whole, the best way to shop for matcha is to determine the authenticity of the tea.
Always ask these four questions when purchasing matcha:
3) Is the matcha produced only from nutrient-dense, spring-harvest tencha
tea leaves? (Hint — in order for matcha to be made from tencha, the tea leaves must
have been shade-grown). Matcha is not made from sencha or gyokuro!
4) Has the matcha been traditionally stone-milled? Or powdered by other means? True, authentic matcha will have been stone-ground.
These mills can only grind small batches of matcha at a time, and only yield about 40g of matcha per hour (that's only 1 Mizuba tin!)
All the above qualities must be in place to make true, authentic Japanese matcha.
Poorly processed matcha will be the antithesis to the above. For example, low quality powdered green tea (not truly matcha) will be not be made from tencha tea leaves, will not be shade-grown, or shade-grown for a very small duration, or not stone-ground at all.
Keeping the above guidelines in mind, here are some factors that historically have been taken into account for culinary versus ceremonial matcha tea. The big question: how are you personally going to be enjoying your matcha? Are you looking to enjoy the tea in its simplest form (matcha mixed in water, nothing added)? Or are you going to enjoy a variety of preparations, from lattes to cookies? People in the Japanese tea industry might refer to "点てて飲む抹茶" or literally, whisk and drink matcha and "製菓用抹茶," which means matcha used for sweets.
1) Ceremonial simply means that the matcha is appropriate for koicha
preparation in the tea ceremony. (Koicha means “thick tea” and it is a very intense experience! One usually drinks “usucha” which means thin tea.) Ceremonial grade matcha is meant to only be mixed with water.
2) To prepare koicha, one would want an expertly crafted matcha! So over time, people reserved their exceptional, difficult-to-produce teas for koicha preparation. There are a lot
of factors that determine difficult to produce teas. For Mizuba, we carry a variety of "ceremonial" matcha teas. The differences in our ceremonial matcha range from how often they are harvested, how old the plants are, whether the tea is harvested by hand or machine, and whether or not it is from a single-estate, if the tea is from a rare cultivar, etc. Some of these matcha teas that reflect these unique characteristics and variables are our Nagomi
, and Kokoro
on our website. (However, our Daily
are *technically* ceremonial teas as well! We just consider them to be our more approachable, basic matcha teas.)
3) Bear in mind that even within a "ceremonial" category (seeing as it only means matcha mixed with water" that there are many grades available, ranging from the highest quality hand-picked matcha meant for the preparation of the smoothest koicha (made at home by tea aficionados, or during the most formal tea ceremonies), to entry market mechanically harvested tea meant for daily consumption in the form of usucha (casual froth), at home, in coffee shops or for tea ceremony class whisking practice.
Why most Culinary matcha doesn't measure up — and why ours does
Culinary matcha has received a bad rap because — unfortunately! — in the mass market the term culinary has been used to pass off very poorly processed matcha. If you've bought matcha online before, you might have experienced it: bitter and/or metallic, yellow, dull, oxidized powdered green tea! Remember: it's not matcha if it hasn't hit the mark of all the production factors we listed above.
Cheaper, "culinary" matcha is usually harvested from late summer or autumn harvests. In Japan, these can taste ok if *purely* used for mixing into cakes, cookies, or skincare uses etc. We wouldn't recommend it for lattes or for drinking. However, the majority of mass-marketed culinary matcha is just plain, poorly processed powdered green tea.
This has led consumers to believe that they must spend the money on ceremonial matcha, even when they want to mix it with milk for lattes, for example.
Of course, you can do whatever you'd like with any matcha you buy! But if you were to ask our opinion, we think ceremonial tea should be reserved for enjoying the matcha's nuances on their own. That said, if you love your ceremonial matcha with milk, we're not going to stop you — the best kind of tea is the one you enjoy the most.
What should you be looking for in flavor? The keyword here is "bitterness."
High-quality matcha will yield a refined, balanced, and smooth flavor with reduced bitterness, while lower quality matcha displays stark, coarser flavors that will not be enjoyable unless the tea is sweetened or mixed with milk, cream, etc. As such, high-quality matcha will be used as a "ceremonial" grade, while lower grade matcha will be determined to be a "culinary" grade to make sweets, soba, latte, ice cream etc.
But pay attention: here, it is interesting to note that high-quality matcha can have a pleasant bittersweet quality. In fact, in the Japanese tea industry, there are two words for bitter: nigai, which means displeasing bitterness that makes your face twist, and shibui which means "pleasant bitterness." Shibui is the light bitterness that will give body, balance, and an interesting character to the overall flavor of a good matcha. Mizuba's culinary matcha falls into the shibui category and is smooth enough to drink on its own as a tea made with just water! But in our opinion, it also makes the best latte around.
It is our recommendation to save your money to enjoy ceremonial teas as a special experience, and use Mizuba's Culinary matcha
as an every day, exceptional-quality culinary tea to truly enjoy the matcha flavor in your lattes, smoothies, iced teas, lemonades, etc :) Mizuba's culinary matcha is the best option to make your favorite mixed matcha creations, and the our higher grade teas are wonderful option to enjoy pure matcha.
What makes Mizuba's Culinary Matcha different?
For Mizuba, we couldn't possibly sell a matcha we don't believe in or one that is low-quality. We believe that all matcha should taste wonderful, and our culinary matcha is no exception. Therefore, you can trust in our Organic Culinary Matcha
because it is still processed as a true, authentic, Japanese matcha from Uji!
What is the difference between Mizuba's culinary and ceremonial matchas? Not much! Our culinary organic matcha is still from Uji, shade-grown, and traditionally stone milled just like our ceremonial matcha. However, the tencha used to make Mizuba's culinary is harvested from more mature leaves. These leaves are stronger, and therefore produce a stronger, yet still smooth (!) flavor, for you to enjoy through whatever you add the matcha to — you can still taste the tea through milk for lattes, through flour for cookies, etc! The Culinary Organic Mizuba will always be the quality you expect. Kind of like how you’d want an incredible espresso to taste good on its own in pure form, but also be delicious in a cappuccino.
Personally from Mizuba, the integrity of culinary matcha been such a problem in the industry that we've considered eschewing the term altogether and calling it something like Mizuba's signature, “all-purpose” matcha. However, as you might know, Mizuba has begun to be known as purveying one of the best culinary matcha teas in the industry. So for now, we're keeping the term and telling the world what pure, good matcha should be! We believe it's worth it.
Thanks for reading, and we hope this helps you understand how to buy the best matcha possible for you! What matters in the end is for you to use the tea in a way that makes you happy. Have any questions? Feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Mizuba, we 100% believe in making incredibly quality matcha accessible to everyone. And our culinary is no exception.
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October 24, 2022
This was so helpful! I really appreciate this clarity!