I used to be a coffee gal. Every morning, rain or shine, I started the day with a large mug of dark roast, no cream or sugar. My coffee ritual was less about drinking it and more about chugging it as quickly as I could without burning my tongue – a skill I’m honestly quite proud of mastering. Then I’d repeat the process two or three more times throughout the day. At the worst point of my caffeine obsession, it was tough to get through the day without my required 285 mg of caffeine. And even then, I felt like crashing by 5 p.m.
One weekend, my dear old Dad came to town and brought his powdered matcha. He’s been a matcha fanatic for years, and doesn’t go anywhere without it. When he started drinking it way back when, I was floored. This was a guy who used to drink copious amounts of Mountain Dew when I was growing up. I guess he switched to a different can of green caffeine.
While he was visiting, I snuck a cup. It was bitter, but not like coffee. Honestly, it sort of tasted like dirt and grass. But I decided then and there that I was going to try – for one month – to swap coffee with matcha tea. If my Dad could do it, I could.
What is Matcha?
Matcha is a type of tea leaf that grows from the same plant as other green tea varieties – Camellia sinensis – but matcha leaves spend a chunk of their lifespan in the shade. Around four weeks before harvesting, matcha plants are covered with tarps to prevent further photosynthesis. This creates a buildup of chlorophyll in the leaves and increases amino acids, resulting in a subtly sweeter and more nutrient-dense tea.
Most high-quality matcha grows in Japan.
“Japan has a long-standing history of producing matcha,” says tea master Enna Ye. “Though green tea originated in China, Japan created the harvesting and manufacturing process of matcha powder as we know it today. They are true experts in their field.”
Ye adds that she’s sampled many different matcha teas from Japan, China, and South Korea, but she believes that Uji, Kyoto has the best tasting matcha.
Like Coffee, Quality Matcha is Worth the Price
While there was an abundance of matcha on the market to choose from (and you’ll see I tried a few others at the end of the article), I opted to start with Ippodo Tea’s Ummon Matcha, described as a rich, full-force tea. I picked this brand not only because of the endless praise from tea drinkers online, but because the flagship store in Kyoto, Japan, has been in business for 300 years. For 1.41 oz., I paid $31. I flinched at the price, but, nevertheless, bit the bullet for quality.
“A good, high-quality matcha will always be a rich, green green color and consists of purely the first harvested leaves of the season,” Ye says. “These are plucked first in May, depending on the harvest time, from the very top leaves. These leaves are reserved for ceremonial grade matcha – matcha that has traditionally been used in tea ceremonies.”
Chieko Yamamoto, president and CEO of IKEDA Tea World, says, “Matcha tea leaves are only harvested three or four times a year,” she says. “And then after that, the trees rest. The matcha produced by the first harvest is of the highest quality.”
She also adds that high-quality matcha doesn’t taste bitter and should have a smooth flavor with rich umami.
“Lower grade of matcha has more catechins, so it often has a bitter taste,” she says. “It depends on how each person prefers their matcha, though. If they want to mix it with other ingredients, the bitterness sometimes gives a kick to the total flavor balance.”
Week One: A Caffeine Roller Coaster
To make sure I knew what I was getting into when making the switch from coffee to matcha, I had Dr. Shilpa Ravella on speed dial. And thank goodness I did. The number one thing Ravella warned me about was the side effects of drastically lowering my daily caffeine consumption. On average, one cup of matcha contains 70mg of caffeine, compared to coffee’s 95-100mg.
“It’s best to decrease your coffee intake slowly. Trying switching to half-decaf and then full decaf first,” Ravella says. “Withdrawal symptoms can begin even after a half-day and include issues like headaches, fatigue, muscle pain, and irritability.”
So from June 1-3, I drank half-decaf, and then full decaf coffee. I found myself wanting to go to bed at 4 p.m. and being extremely grumpy. But by the time I started drinking solely matcha, I was almost too excited to have caffeine back in my life to notice any of the side effects.
My first cup of matcha was somewhat of a bust. Desperate for energy and wanting to make the drink as quickly as possible, I didn’t follow the directions on the back of the tiny canister, which was very specific that matcha is to be whisked in a small concentrated amount, then hot water is poured on top, and whisked again. Instead, I plopped a teaspoon into a mug of hot water and stirred with a spoon. This resulted in me drinking clumps of bitter powder for the next fifteen minutes, staining my teeth and having an overall terrible experience.
How to make matcha the right way by whisking it properly with a matcha whisk 🍵 #matchawhisk #ceremonialmatcha #matchatea #japanesematcha #matchatok #caffeineaddict #matchapowders #matchaaustralia #greencaffeine
♬ gymnopédie no.1 – Edits
Week Two: The Ritual of Making Matcha
I really wanted to get the most out of this month-long experiment and enjoy the ritual of matcha as much as my Dad. I did some research and realized matcha took a little bit of time to make and there were no shortcuts. I was so used to leaping out of bed and grabbing a cup of joe from our coffee pot – programmed to brew right before waking up so that it was hot and ready – that I didn’t consider matcha would have a different process.
Week two, I started off on the right foot by following the correct procedures:
- Sifting. You must, must, must sift your matcha into a mug or bowl before doing anything. Matcha, as I found out the hard way, clumps easily, so this will allow for more even distribution in hot water.
- Whisking. I purchased a simple, cheap whisk on Amazon for this next bit. Pour the sifted matcha into a small amount of hot water – not the full 6 oz. yet. To whisk matcha, to so from side to side rather than in a circular motion. I discovered, with a little victory dance in the middle of my kitchen, that when done properly, whisking will produce a soft layer of foam on top.
- Top it off. Pour the rest of your hot water over the concentrated matcha and whisk again.
Overall, the process took a painstaking six or seven minutes, which only heightened the ‘on-edge’ feeling I had from my lack of caffeine. However, as much as I hated to admit it, the second week I didn’t experience any extreme fatigue. Sure, my patience and temper was a little thin, but there were no crashes. Ravella explained.
“Coffee provides a quick energy boost, while matcha improves your energy levels more slowly,” she says. “It has L-theanine, a green tea amino acid that can relax the mind and reduce stress. So it helps you feel more alert and relaxed with less chance of those caffeine jitters.”
Now that I knew how to make it properly, I found I really enjoyed matcha’s earthy flavors. It wasn’t exactly bitter, as many people described, but almost sweet underneath layers of concentrated green tea flavor. It felt more hearty compared to green tea bags I’d steeped before, with tons more flavor.
Week Three: Caffeine Withdrawal No More
This week, I started enjoying the matcha-making process. It forced me to slow down in the morning and do something with my hands first thing. I clicked on my favorite news podcast, and took extra time to sift, whisk, and stir my mugful. Suddenly it wasn’t about swallowing my morning drink in one gulp, because why would I do that when I took so much time to make it?
By now, I wasn’t experiencing any ill side effects of caffeine withdrawal. In fact, I didn’t miss coffee at all. The biggest physical difference I felt was how even my energy levels were throughout the day, compared to the highs and lows I felt with my daily dark roast. There were also benefits I couldn’t feel, but Ravella explained I’d appreciate in the long run.
“Like all green teas, matcha is loaded with catechins (which are polyphenols) like epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which may reduce inflammation in the body,” she says. “Matcha can help to prevent cancers, including prostate cancer, and heart disease. It can reduce headaches and digestive symptoms, help to promote weight loss, and improve brain function.”
Week Four (The Final Week): Never Going Back to Coffee
Toward the end of the month, I realized that my frother was just as proficient as distributing matcha into hot water as my whisk was, and it took half the time. While I still occasionally took out trusty old whisky, I used the frother when time was tight.
The last week of my experiment, I was not only comfortable with the swap, I was excited about matcha! I started to test out different varieties, first visiting the Sonobana Market in Nashville to buy a matcha that the store clerk recommended called Shirakawa Uji Hikari Matcha. I then went online and ordered Ujido Ceremonial Blend Matcha, a blend a friend recommended. For good measure, I bought the matcha everyone talks about on TikTok, Chamberlain Matcha.
Each one tasted slightly differently, which, Ye explains, is due to the matcha plant’s growing region.
“We compare matcha to wine tasting,” she says. “We understand with wines, they have different taste profiles depending on the region. This is very much so with matcha. Different methods of farming and processing affect the flavors as well as the altitude.”
Below are my thoughts on each matcha variety.
Ippodo Tea’s Ummon Matcha
Price: $35.95 for 40g
Ingredients: Kyoto Prefecture matcha blend
Notes: Kyoto grows high-quality matcha because of the misty climate, rich soil, and balance of rain and sun.
My thoughts: This matcha,was a perfect introduction to what matcha is supposed to taste like. It had a full, robust flavor that was almost – almost – sweet. It was one of the strongest flavored matchas in the bunch.
Shirakawa Uji Hikari Matcha
Price: $38.00 for 40g
Ingredients: Uji-hikari matcha
Notes: Shirakawa, a zone located in Uji, Japan, is famous for its gyokuro production (a variety of shaded green tea), but has become an up-and-coming matcha producer for the last few years. Tea leaves are handpicked from unpruned tea plants.
My thoughts: This was a more mellow matcha, though I still enjoyed the subtle notes of citrus. The fruity undertones pleasantly surprised me and seemed to linger on my tongue longer than the other varieties.
Ujido Ceremonial Blend Matcha
Price: Was $17.99, but on sale for $15.99 for 2 oz.
Ingredients: Powdered green tea leaf blend
Notes: This blend is mostly ceremonial grade (high quality), but mixes in culinary matcha (lower quality and often used for baking) so that it’s a less concentrated beginner matcha. It was suggested I add frothed milk with this blend.
My thoughts: After buying expensive matchas, I thought I’d try a less expensive variety with Ujido. I frothed some warm oat milk, poured it on top, and added a drizzle of agave to create a matcha latte. This was delicious, but I lost that earthy umami flavor I loved with matcha.
Chamberlain Coffee: Matcha
Price: $22 for 1.0 oz
Ingredients: Organic Japanese tencha leaves
Notes: Social media influencer and fashion enthusiast Emma Chamberlain developed her company, Chamberlain Coffee in 2020, making this the newest matcha on my list. It’s also certified organic by OCIA Japan.
My thoughts: While I wasn’t expecting a lot after trying matcha made from practically ancient tea businesses, I enjoyed Chamberlain Matcha’s smooth flavor. The only problem I had was the lack of information about where and how the matcha was grown. The other varieties I tested could trace its roots to a specific region in Japan, whereas there’s not a lot of background with Chamberlain Matcha.
Should You Switch from Coffee to Matcha?
Lots of people might be wondering if making the switch from coffee to matcha is for them, and the answer is… Maybe. Caffeine intake is personal and can be different for everyone. Some people have digestive issues after drinking matcha, as the catechins can temporarily upset the lining in our stomach. It’s also worth noting that, if you’re not used to drinking caffeine, matcha will make you just as jittery and anxious as a regular cup of coffee.
As for me? I haven’t had a cup of coffee since June 1, and I don’t plan on going back anytime soon. I’m not a coffee hater, but since ditching my three cups a day, I feel matcha better.