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What to Look for When Buying Sustainable Matcha, According to an Expert

Matcha has become the darling of morning routines. Here's how to make a sustainable purchase the next time you want to sip the popular beverage.

matcha industry sustainability
Written by
Tehrene Firman
Published
If everyone on your feed seems to be sipping matcha right now, you're not imagining things. While
coffee
will forever remain the "best part of waking up" for many, matcha is making its way into morning routines across the United States, with the market projected to
reach $6.42 billion
by 2028. And it's easy to see why.
The
green tea powder
is a low-caffeine alternative to a cup of joe, which means you can get an energy boost minus the jitters and crash. It's also rich in body-protecting antioxidants and has been linked to benefits such as improved brain function and heart health.
But is matcha sustainable—or has this boom resulted in an industry that’s not exactly planet-friendly? Here’s everything you should know about the popular beverage, including how to choose options that have the environment in mind.

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The Sustainability of Matcha

matcha industry sustainability
According to
Remy Morimoto Park
, the holistic nutritionist behind
Veggiekins
, matcha itself is incredibly low-waste. "With other teas, you’re usually steeping it in water and then disposing of the leaves after that,” she says. Matcha cultivation also tends to be a sustainable practice for two reasons.
“It’s extremely seasonally dependent, and production is also limited by geographic location,” she says. “The climate and environment have to be so particular in order to produce high-quality matcha, so it limits growers to specific regions in Japan with the perfect climate.”
Some farmers also incorporate sustainable practices like
solar panels
, which converts the sun's light and heat into electricity. "Shading the matcha leaves is an essential part of the production process, and some farms shade their matcha with solar panels in order to make use of some of the sunlight they’re blocking," Park says.
There’s really only one downside when it comes to the sustainability of matcha: Its shelf life. While matcha can last around a year unopened, it degrades within a month of opening. Because of that, it needs to be consumed within that period of time or it goes to waste—aka there's no
buying in bulk here
, like you would be able to with coffee.
“If left in the sun or improperly stored, the color will dull to a yellow/brown and the flavor becomes bitter and unpleasant,” Park says. “Luckily, matcha is typically sold in smaller quantities for this reason, which does require more packaging than a bulk quantity of matcha would."

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What to Look for When Buying Sustainable Matcha

Farming Practices

The next time you’re shopping for matcha, there are some key qualities you can keep in mind to ensure you’re buying a planet-friendly option. First up, look into the farms your matcha is coming from.
“It’s difficult to really tell whether one farm is more sustainable than another, but I think a good indication that a farm is producing to the best of their ability (and growing seasonally) is that they may actually run out of matcha from time to time and/or produce very limited quantities of seasonal releases and blends,” Park says. “If ever you see a seasonal release, for example, that’s usually a pretty good sign.”
Park says one of her favorite brands,
Ippodo Tea
, comes out with a first-harvest blend in limited qualities each year, as well as some limited-edition seasonal blends throughout the year. “These smaller, limited edition releases are a good indicator because it's natural to simply run out of product after harvest, especially with a specialty crop like matcha,” she says.
If a brand doesn’t provide much information on where or how the matcha is grown and you’d like to know more, don’t be shy about reaching out and asking questions about the growing practices. But as a general rule of thumb, a brand that uses shade-grown tea leaves grown in Uji, Japan—the birthplace of matcha—is a great place to start.

Certifications

You’re probably familiar with all the
certifications for coffee
that prove its eco-friendliness. With matcha,
certifications
do exist but they’re not as common—and a brand that doesn’t have any certifications isn’t automatically unsustainable. With that being said, one certification you can look out for is
Japanese Agricultural Standards (JAS)
, which Park says is the Japanese equivalent of the USDA Organic certification.
"It means that a farm is following all growing protocols. But not all farms will have a JAS certification, even if they're following protocol, because there's a cost associated with obtaining the certification,” Park says. “It’s also important to note that organic growing is not the most important when it comes to matcha. Farmers follow rigorous growing protocols in order to produce the highest caliber of matcha but oftentimes the JAS organic requirements really limit yield and quality of matcha grown.”

Sustainable Ingredients

Another thing to look for before making a purchase is the ingredients list. Unless you're buying a latte powder product, the ingredients list should only contain one ingredient: matcha. Unfortunately, some lower-priced options are able to cut costs by sneaking in inexpensive fillers like rice solids that not only affect the flavor and experience but also the potential health benefits.
“There are some companies out there producing matcha at a more rapid pace, but typically you won’t see this in the true Japanese tea growing regions," Park says. "This matcha tends to be lower quality matcha or matcha grown from regions outside of Japan."
Matcha can be costly for good reason: Those dollars go toward quality and supporting companies that are doing things right.
“One of the reasons why it's such a premium product and quite highly-priced is that top tier, ceremonial grade matcha comes from the first harvest of the year and all following harvests after that yield lower quality matcha with less flavor intensity, nutrient density, and color vibrancy,” Park says. “High-quality matcha is very difficult to mass produce, and as a result, those who are growing it take very good care of the crops and the soil, too.”

Eco-Friendly Packaging

When you’re shopping, you’ll typically see matcha packaged in either a metal tin or a plastic resealable bag. Matcha also commonly comes in single-use stick packs. Not surprisingly, the metal tin is the most sustainable way to go when it comes to reducing waste—plus, it’s the best option for keeping your matcha fresh.
The tins are made of recyclable steel, which can be recycled by most community recycling services. They’re also the perfect size for
upcycling
and can be used elsewhere in the kitchen.

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Making Your Matcha Sustainably

matcha industry sustainability
Now that you’ve found a sustainable
matcha powder
you love (get our top picks
here
), it’s time to whip up the
matcha latte
of your dreams. Before you get started, Park has a couple of additional tips to help make the process more eco-friendly.

1. Use a Bamboo Whisk

Skip the plastic frother and instead opt for a traditional
bamboo
whisk. “It’s not only plastic-free, but it also does a much better job of actually preparing the matcha the right way," she says. "A bamboo whisk will aerate the matcha, which is beneficial for the flavor and is the best method of getting rid of the fine clumps that naturally occur because matcha is so finely milled as a powder."
Plus, “bamboo is biodegradable and compostable, whereas an electric whisk is made with plastic, metals, and also requires batteries to power,” she adds.

2. Use a Plant-Based Milk

Plant-based milk, like
oat milk
and almond milk, has a lower environmental impact than
cow’s milk
. Using it also gives you a healthier latte.
“When you mix matcha with cow’s milk, the casein protein in the milk binds to the polyphenols in matcha,” Park says. “It alters the bioavailability and blocks absorption of antioxidants, so in short, you’re missing out on potential health benefits that matcha has to offer by drinking it with cow’s milk.