It’s very easy to tell good matcha from bad matcha ONCE THE PACKAGE IS OPEN, but it’s impossible to tell just by looking at packaging, either online or in person. Packaging can be deceptive: always buy from a trusted source!
Once the package is open, you have a gigantic clue: color. Quality matcha should be bright, bright, BRIGHT green. Electric green. Bad matcha will be a dull green; some are even army green, others are downright yellowish. These colors are bad signs indeed: they mean that 1) the matcha is well past its prime, 2) the matcha contains stems and branches, or 3) mostly like both 1 and 2. So color is the biggest immediate factor in assessing the quality of matcha.
Next: get up close to it, and take a deep, slow inhale through the nose. What does the aroma tell you? Does it smell fresh and inviting and vegetal, almost like freshly blended baby green vegetables? If so, you’ve got some good, sweet matcha. If it smells a little stale, a little dusty, a bit like old hay . . . that’s not so good.
Taste. This one is easy. After you’ve whisked your cup of matcha, does it taste good, or does it make you feel like spitting it out? Does it taste bitter or sweet (our neither)? Inferior matcha tastes unpleasantly bitter (there are those who would say that a good matcha should be pleasantly bitter, but here at Breakaway Matcha we are not among them). We prefer it to taste sweet, which is a result of the complexity of the amino acids in the tea. We certainly don’t add sugar or honey or agave or any sweetness to it; it should be naturally sweet. It should also have a great deal of umami (a brothy meatiness), which is also an emergent property of the high amino acid content of great matcha.
Finish. It should have a long, pleasant finish that lasts a good 30 seconds, if not longer. Young vegetal notes should just sing on. This is the mark of a truly excellent matcha.