A piping hot cup of coffee really hits differently when you’re in a mad rush on the highway, and here’s something about waiting in the mile-long line of a McDonald’s, Dunkin’, or Starbucks drive-thru, screaming through the window for a jolt of caffeine, the legal stimulant we all so desperately crave. Sure, we’re simps for Dunkin’, but for some of us, once we get our fix, instant regret runs through our minds and, uh, our digestive tract. The heart palpitations, jitters, 2 p.m. crash—how can something that brings us so much joy be so unforgiving? But for many of us with a limited tolerance for those little brown beans, there is sweet relief to be found in another caffeine source: matcha.
Of course, matcha is much more than a coffee substitute—in addition to being an important component of Japanese tea culture, it’s also a nutrient-packed beverage that deserves even more shine for its many upsides. For the few who are still-unacquainted: Matcha is a richly colored, finely milled jade-green powder made from high-quality green tea, and it’s been a popular pick-me-up in much of East Asia since the Song dynasty (all the way back in Y1K). In the late 12th century, a dude named Eisai brought tea seeds with him to Japan with the intention of producing and popularizing the powdered green tea he had encountered in China, and he was also the one who created a domino effect mainstreaming this type of tea consumption from religious and ceremonial to, well, just for kicks and status. Soon, everyone got super into it, and in Japan, you’ll also find matcha as a popular flavoring in sweet and savory snacks. In more recent years, matcha has become a hit stateside, with matcha bars popping up everywhere from Brooklyn (the old VICE office was blessed to be next door to a MatchaBar location) to Los Angeles (Travis Barker is publicly obsessed with the stuff), and in between.
In regards to matcha’s rich and storied history, Lauren Purvis, CEO of Mizuba Tea Co., says the principles upon which Eisai founded modern matcha culture still resonate today. “Eisai was a firm believer in the health properties of powdered green tea,” Purvis says. These days, there’s even more data supporting the notion that green tea, and matcha specifically, can help reduce stress, aid weight loss, boost cognitive health, and more. “When you drink matcha, you’re drinking the whole leaf, not just steeping it in water, so you really get all the nutritional benefits,” Trinity Mouzon Wofford, co-founder and CEO of Golde, tells VICE. “It’s super rich in chlorophyll, antioxidants, and other nutrients that can help protect the body against degenerative disease.”
Coffee and green tea are both known to have benefits, so what’s the difference? “The major thing that sets matcha apart from coffee (and other forms of caffeine) is the natural presence of an amino acid called L-theanine,” Wofford says. “L-theanine is super good for the brain and actually helps eliminate stress and promote focus, so matcha gives you all the energy you’d expect from coffee, but none of the jitters or caffeine crash.” Matcha has historically represented health, class, and luxury—everything we’d still like to embody today—especially if all we have to do is make a delicious caffeinated beverage. So, if you’re looking to drink more matcha, what kind should you look for? The key to making great matcha at home is starting with great matcha powder (we also recommend picking up a matcha whisk and a milk frother for perfectly blended lattes).
We also recommend sticking to ceremonial-grade matcha for drinking—ceremonial-grade matcha is richer in color and has higher concentrations of chlorophyll, since it’s made with younger leaves—while culinary-grade is fine for baking and other flavoring uses. We spoke to Wofford and Purvis, two true matcha experts, to help us start our journey of DIYing our matcha lattes. Here’s the best matcha powder you can buy online, so you can indulge in stimulants the right way, with a touch of ~health~.
Mizuba Tea Co.
Mizuba Tea Co. is stone-milled to order, which is a special grinding process that uses buhr stones instead of steel rollers. The magic happens at its 100-year family matcha manufactory in Uji, Japan. The flavor profile of this specific batch is toasted vanilla with milky notes of churned butter, and a single tin makes up to 30 servings. It also has a perfect five-star rating on the site. “After many months and testing over 12 different matcha brands,” one reviewer writes, “this Mizuba matcha remains in my top favorites!”
Ippodo gets top marks as a great everyday matcha; its flavor profile exhibits umami notes with subtle sweetness, which is pretty dang good for the price tag of $30 per tin. It’s also ceremonial-grade, in case you couldn’t already tell from its stellar reviews, one of which calls it “the stuff of dreams and cravings.” This particular matcha powder is a variety called ummon-no-mukashi, which is the highest-quality within the brand’s lineup.
MatchaBar’s rich matcha powder is vibrant in color and flavor, with floral notes and a subtle umami flavor. It’s made in small batches and is appraised by a certified chashi (tea master) who ensures that the tea is high-quality and ceremonial-grade.
Golde is a Brooklyn-based brand that got its start with its popular Original Matcha Turmeric Latte Blend. (Basically, it’s like if golden milk and matcha had a baby; turmeric also has anti-inflammatory properties and supports immune defense.) The company has since expanded into manufacturing pure, ceremonial-grade matcha powder sourced from small farms in Uji, Japan. Each serving of matcha power has 72 grams of caffeine, while the latte mix contains 13.5 milligrams of caffeine in every two teaspoons for a gentle boost. “Each serving of matcha contains more caffeine than a shot of espresso, so it’s a perfect coffee replacement and can really help whenever you feel sluggish throughout the day,” Wofford says.
Directly from Uji, the city in the Kyoto region that is known as the source of Japan’s best matcha, this ceremonial-grade matcha’s unique features include shade-grown tea leaves that are cultivated for three weeks before they’re then stone-ground. The brand also claims to be optimized to minimize clumping—a common problem with some matcha powders, and we don’t want to slurp up a ball of green dust. The best part? If you’re not satisfied, you can get your moola back in your pocket—just contact the company directly for its money-back guarantee. But, we’re betting our bucks that won’t happen, since it has a 4.7-star rating and over 3,000 reviews on Amazon.
Clevr’s Matcha SuperLatte in a bag contains everything you need to quickly whip up a café-quality matcha latte without all the sifting, mixing, and frothing. Sourced in Uji, Japan, this matcha is of the highest quality and is fortified with adaptogens, mushrooms, and probiotics for a steady caffeine kick, minus the dreaded anxiety. Complete with dehydrated oat milk and coconut cream, all you need is some hot water and ice. Once done, voilà, you’re in the matcha-making biz.
The Tea Spot
This ceremonial matcha is organic, stone-ground, and has a slightly vegetal taste that matches its earthy profile. It also has a slightly lower caffeine content than some other matcha powders, so it may be a better fit for those who are prone to jitters. Plus, reviewers love its invigorating flavor. “I'm becoming a bit of a matcha freak. This one stands out with its fresh grassy sweet notes. It's well-balanced, not astringent, and has a soft mouth feel,” one reviewer writes.
Time to toss your Starbucks gift card in the dumpster, comrades.
The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story. Want more reviews, recommendations, and red-hot deals? Sign up for our newsletter.