Dear reader, you may notice in the coming days that there are changes coming to this blog. Not nearly as dramatic, controversial, or dlfjepotigfjad;lkgjadsf (for my readers not as fluent in internet speak, that was a keyboard pound of frustration) as say, the government, but changes nonetheless. Mostly because there is coming a day where I will not live within a stone's throw of a Trader Joe's store. A sad sad day. But probably a good day for my wallet. :P
I've noticed that TJ's has been coming out with a number of "made in Japan" products. Yuzu hot sauce (thought about getting it, but haven't pulled the trigger yet). My beloved mochi rice nugget snack. And THIS. I really really did not want to get it, mostly because of the price. But that packaging appealed to my inner minimalist. And matcha is a growing love of mine.
My wallet I acquiesced. Let's not blame my wallet like it has a mind of its own.
A few months ago, I took a break from coffee and instead started my days with a lazy/cheater version of a matcha latte. I found that it not only gave me the caffeine boost I needed to be productive and work well, it also didn't make me jittery. In fact, it made me alert but in a calm, peaceful kind of way.
In the most basic terms, matcha is green tea ground into a powder. I'm definitely not a matcha connoisseur or expert by any means. I have yet to experience the Japanese tea ceremony and I certainly am not the one to consult about the health benefits and whatnot. But I should say that if you've never had matcha before, take that product description with a big grain of salt. Matcha is indeed delicate and earthy. There's really not much sweetness I can detect, but again it's kind of like drinking a cup of coffee and being able to detect flower notes and whatnot. It probably exists in some sophisticated palate kind of way, but for the layman, please don't read this and think that there is actual sweetness here. Unless you add sugar that is.
Anyhoo. The good news here is that it is a product of Japan. Also, there's apparently no extra things added, like brown rice filler (which apparently exists. Beware of buying matcha powder with stuff added). Also, there's grades of matcha - ceremonial (which is the highest quality and therefore more expensive, typically used for the tea ceremony) and culinary (lowest quality and is further broken down into premium, cafe, culinary, etc). Again, I'm not an expert, but I do know that high quality matcha AIN'T CHEAP. My hunch is that the matcha TJ's has procured here is probably somewhere between culinary and premium grade, probably closer to culinary. Because why would you sell anything better to the masses that probably don't know the difference? Like grades of gas - if you don't know the difference and don't drive a car that needs the higher quality stuff, you go for the regular lowbrow stuff to get by.
Now as for the actual product - it tastes pretty good actually. Earthy. Delicate. All the things I've come to expect from matcha. I prepared it hot per package directions, and it tasted like any old cup of matcha tea I've had. I also went through the trouble of making a green tea latte. I probably would never ever ever make it according to the cold directions - mostly because I'll bet you that you'll end up with clumps of matcha powder in your water bottle. While matcha tea is delicious, matcha clumps are not. I mean, I end up with matcha clumps even when I whisk it with my very best effort. Perhaps, I should invest in a matcha whisk.
My main beef here is the price to quantity ratio, which is reflected in my overall rating of this product. First of all, it's $6.99 for 10.5g of matcha. That comes out to $0.66 per gram. Now, my gut instinct is that for a mere culinary grade matcha, THAT IS CRAZY EXPENSIVE. Furthermore, I whipped out my digital scale (if you love to bake, this baby is life changing!). Each packet is supposed to have 1.5g. The first packet I weighed didn't even register 1 gram! Granted, my scale is only sensitive to the gram and not a tenth of a gram, but still! The weight of TWO packets came out to TWO grams (which could be anywhere between 2.1 to 2.9g). BUT STILL. It SHOULD HAVE come out to 3 grams. Even taking into account the calibration of the scale, I am wary that I'm not actually getting the amount of product that I paid for. So if I want to be mean and theorize that each packet only has 1g instead of 1.5g, that means I'm paying $0.99 per gram. That is CRAZY.
So I went off on a search to research the price of matcha. Because when you like to save money, that's what you do.
Organic Culinary Matcha: $29.99 / 100g = $0.30/gram
Organic Premium Culinary Matcha: $10.99 / 30g = $0.36/gram
Tmatcha Organic Matcha Culinary Grade: $9.39/ 114g = $0.08/gram (product of Japan, but still kinda suspicious...)
Ceremonial Grade Organic Matcha: $24.95/ 30g = $0.83/gram
In other words, TJ's is selling matcha (that is probably decent grade..nothing higher) at likely two or three times the normal price. And people are buying it. During my most recent TJ's trip, that matcha shelf was nearly empty. All I can say is that somebody is making a lot of money. Which is probably a good thing for TJ's, bad for the rest of us. But who am I to say what you should or should not throw your money away at...
The only circumstances I might find acceptable for this product is travel. To a country where there is no matcha. Or anytime you find yourself at an airport where everything is marked up. But even then, are you really going to whip out a dinky little packet to make 8 ounces of a matcha not-latte (which, in America at least, isn't even the standard size of a small drink)? I used up two packets to make about a 12 ounce, which probably on the more caffeinated side of what I usually make, plus a few teaspoons of sugar, and milk that I frothed by shaking in a mason jar. It was tasty, but I couldn't stomach the price, which ironically is still marginally cheaper than what you pay at a coffee shop ($2 + the cost of milk vs. $3.50, maybe more if you live in a city).
Please please please, for the love of Abraham Lincoln and frugal grandmothers everywhere, if you buy this, don't use it for baking. Or anything other than drinking. Unless you like spending money more than you like saving it.
TL;DR: Trader Joe's Matcha Green Tea. Japanese green tea powder, likely standard lowest grade, except TWO OR THREE TIMES the market price. 5 out of 10.
*7/28/17 Edit*: I have since scoured the market for a comparable product. And yes, TJ's offers a cheaper product when it comes to to-go "sticks" of matcha powder. Admittedly, the TJ's matcha does taste pretty good, but I still stick with my original rating to reflect the price point I would personally pay for a matcha product of that particular quality. And I still think that it's possible to get a comparable product in bulk more cheaply.