Continuation of Matcha Madness: Part I
Comparison of Three Different Matchas:
To illustrate the difference between food and ceremonial grades of matcha, and the importance of keeping your matcha fresh, I present to you three different matchas:
1. Ingredient Grade Matcha from Matcha Source on Amazon [Ingredient Grade is another term for Food Grade]
2. An old order of "Kiri no Mori" Matcha from O-Cha.com
3. A new order of "Kiri no Mori" Matcha from O-Cha.com
The old order of "Kiri no Mori" (henceforth called K.M.) was purchased and opened several months ago, the new order of K.M. was receieved 5-6 weeks ago and opened in the past week, and the food grade matcha was received and opened within the past week.
I should note that because I am a horrible photographer, I did have to do a little bit of editing to the photos in order to bring out the colors. (I did my best to match the actual color of the matchas, and since I'm not selling anything I have no desire to present false information.) Anyway, compare the color of number 1 and 3 for an illustration of the difference between fresh food grade and fresh ceremonial grade matcha, and the color of numbers 1 and 2 for an illustration of what time does to matcha powder.
Color is one thing, but what about taste? The new K.M. is quite good, despite being the cheapest matcha available from O-cha.com. It is has a vibrant, rich green flavor, with plenty of creaminess and sweetness. There is only a touch of bitterness, and there is a pleasantly sweet aftertaste and hui gan. The old K.M. is still good, though there is less richness, more of a light grain taste, and a little more bitterness. It's not nearly as different from the new K.M. as I expected it to be after all this time, but it was noticeably changed. The food grade matcha is, frankly, quite awful. It is bitter, with almost none of the sweetness or creaminess found in the ceremonial grade matchas, though there is the same sweet aftertaste. To be fair, it wasn't sold for this purpose— food or ingredient grade matcha is, as you would expect, intended for use in food where delicate flavors aren't important.
Even though as much as several months of storage won't turn your matcha into ash, it's still a good idea to know how to keep it properly.
Storing your Matcha:
Just like with loose leaf tea, keep your matcha away from light, air, and moisture. Be even more vigilant though, because matcha's fine texture makes it more sensitive than loose leaf teas: smaller particles mean more surface area per volume, and more surface area means more exposure to the elements. Fortunately, most matcha vendors are aware of this, and package their product well. Generally, you will find matcha packed in a mylar bag and/or a sealed, airtight aluminum canister.
At this point, the best place to store your matcha is in the fridge. HOWEVER, there are some rules about keeping tea in the fridge, and these are doubly important for matcha. The fridge is a good place to keep hermetically sealed packages because it prevents heat-related damage. Once you open the packaging though, don't put it back. The heat damage you would prevent is negligible compared to the negative effects of moisture, airflow, and odors that your tea will likely endure inside a fridge without any protection. Also, when you take your matcha out of the fridge, let it warm up to room temperature before opening it in order to avoid condensation. Once you open the container, keep it in a cool, dark place just like the rest of your opened packages of tea.
I would not suggest storing your matcha in a natsume (example) or cha-ire (example). They're really only useful in a ceremonial setting, when an unsightly aluminum can is inappropriate. If you want, you can store your matcha in a mylar bag and then put that inside the pretty container of your choice, but the important thing is that very few of these containers are airtight. Of course, if you go through matcha fairly quickly this won't be as much of an issue, but if you're like me you'll want a more long-term storage solution.
In any case, try to finish it up within a few months, as that's when you begin to notice staleness. Again, we are fortunate that matcha producers know about the short shelf life of their product, and typically package matcha powder in small 30g amounts. I forget where I heard this, but supposedly matcha is traditionally sold in 30g packages because that was just enough for a tea ceremony practitioner to serve usucha matcha to 20 people without leaving any leftovers that could go stale. Chances are you won't be making 20 servings in a day, but it's the same principle.
What's that? You want to learn how to make your own matcha? I hate to say it but...
Stay tuned for the third and final installment of Matcha Madness!