Drinking world-class matcha is SO much like drinking a truly great wine. Forget the health benefits of either for a moment, and let’s just concentrate on taste.
World-class matcha — and yes, I do count all three grades of Breakaway Matcha in this category — really is like a world-class red like Domain Romanée-Conti in many respects: both are heady, have perfect balance, have umami in spades, have acidity that’s racy and almost electrifying, have multilayered flavors and aromas on both front and mid palate, and have a long, smooth finish.
Lots of agricultural similarities, too: geography, soils, amount and intensity of sunlight, humidity, rain, harvest time, fertilizer . . . .
And then we have similarities of craft: harvest timing, inherited knowledge, method of picking, processing procedures, aging, blending … ALL of these factors dramatically affect the final product, be it matcha or wine.
That said, it’s also important to note that, just as there is no shortage of truly bad wine in the world, the markets are full of very, very poor quality matcha. Much of it starts off bad (by poor/cost-cutting agricultural techniques, and by machine harvesting new growth, stems and all) and winds up much worse: poor storage, excess supply, and a “race to the bottom” in price all add up to matcha that is either sugared (meaning, sugar has been added to it to make it palatable), badly oxidized (resulting in a hay-like colors and aromas), or simply lifeless and dead, bitter, dusty, and forgotten.
It is vile stuff; most unfortunately, this dead, cheap matcha is the only experience with matcha that many people have. If you’ve tried matcha and didn’t like it, join the club. That is what you had, and it’s ubiquitous.
Bad matcha is actually much worse than Two-Buck Chuck; it’s more like pouring a glass of “cooking wine.” Which is what it is, in essence: most matcha is meant for culinary purposes. It may still have enough of a “matcha” taste to taste ok as green tea ice cream, as cookies and cakes and all kinds of confections. The fats and sugars in those confections will often mask off-flavors, and the result will be quasi-acceptable.
Great matcha is very, very different. It is meant to be drank, like wine, not used as a cooking ingredient. (I doubt there is anyone on earth who dumps half a bottle of Echezeaux into a pasta sauce.) All of the amino acids, umami, and acid structure of great matcha remain intact when brewed into a nice cup, but are destroyed/rendered undetectable if fat, sugar, and heat enter the picture.
So: think of great matcha as great wine. And think of culinary matcha as cooking wine. The parallels are pretty much exact.
But in another important sense, great matcha is the antiwine: instead of the soporific effects associate with alcohol, matcha provides a calmly stimulating effect, perfect for sipping throughout the day and becoming supremely productive.
One more difference, while we’re pointing out differences: cost.
- Grand Cru Burgundies: $200/glass
- “Cult” Napa wines: $75/glass
- Excellent Napa cabernets: $30/glass
- Mediocre Napa cabernets: $10/glass
- Breakaway Matcha Blend 100: $ 3/cup
Yes, the most delicious, rare, and healthful drink on the planet costs about 1/10th that of a quality cabernet, and even less less than a glass of subpar wine. Great news for hyperpremium matcha drinkers! AND great news for serious wine drinkers: if you’d like an Echezeaux-like experience that you drink all day long and that makes you MORE focused, calm, and awake, look me up!