Why is Matcha So Freaking Expensive?
Matcha is finely ground green tea powder--incredibly rich in anti-oxidants and prized for its nutritive benefits--that has grown increasingly popular over the past 2 to 3 years. It can be dissolved in hot water to make traditional green matcha tea or served with steamed milk as a green tea latte...even Starbucks offers it. The result is a smooth, vibrant beverage unlike any other--that is, if you buy the good stuff. For reference, high quality matcha powder can ring in around $15 to $25 for roughly 1.5 ounces which should brew 20 to 25 cups, depending on how strong you take your tea. Clearly, this is considerably pricier than your typical package of loose tea. And if you've ever been intrigued by the wellness properties matcha has to offer (or simply captivated by its cool factor alone) and decided to take out a small loan to stock your kitchen with it, you might have wondered the same things that I did:
Why is it so dang expensive? What makes some matcha better (i.e. cost more) than other green teas? Heck, what makes some matcha cost more than other matcha?
After a little research, it seems that not all matcha is created equal, and that there are a number of variables that contribute to the hefty price tag.
It's a distinctly different form of green tea.
Matcha requires more involvement, care, and skill before it comes to market than other green teas on the shelf--and as a result, makes for a more impactful beverage. When you buy and drink loose-leaf green tea or green tea leaves in a tea bag, the leaves are immersed and components of the leaves are steeped into hot water. Matcha, however, is the entire leaf, ground into a very fine powder. That powder is blended into your hot water, not merely steeped. When you drink the whole leaf, the antioxidant power and caffeine content is increased… I don't hate it.
Matcha is only grown in specific geographic locations.
Matcha is grown in Japan. And while there are varieties on the market that are grown in China or that do not specify where it was grown, these probably aren't the ones you want to purchase if you are looking for the "real deal" matcha experience. Traditional, true matcha, is grown in Japan and will likely be transparent about this on the packaging. So be sure to do a little label reading before you make your purchase.
You're paying for a grade based on flavor.
There are two main quality grades for matcha: ceremonial grade and culinary grade. Ceremonial grade is top quality that is brighter green and should not have bitter or harsh notes in its flavor. This grade is used for drinking green matcha tea, made with hot water, matcha, and a bamboo whisk (that's what makes it nice and frothy). The culinary grade can be duller in color and have a bitter edge. The culinary grade will be less expensive, which makes it better for baking and beverages like smoothies. When shopping, keep an eye out for added ingredients like sugar and powdered milk, which is more common in latte and frappe mixes, but can also be use to mask bad matcha.
The bottom line is that yes, matcha is gonna cost ya in comparison to your average loose leaf or bagged tea. The good news? If you get high quality brand, you'll reap some serious antioxidant benefits while enjoying a delightfully smooth, bright, frothy drink. If you're just looking to add something new to your smoothies or try baking with matcha (FYI matcha and chocolate are a surprisingly delicious combo), a less expensive culinary grade variety will work just as well.
As for me, good matcha remains a specialty splurge item that will most likely tank my grocery budget during those occasional "I'm going to try and quit drinking coffee" moments. Wish me well.