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Last Updated on February 10, 2021 by Scott
Viewing a cup of green tea and a cup of matcha tea next to each other makes it hard to believe that both brews come from the same leaves. The clear, yellow-greenish color of green tea is a stark contrast to the opaque bright green foaminess of matcha tea. The difference starts at the farm – from handling tea plants individually at the beginning of the season, to the different processes that the leaves go through after picking.
What is the Difference Between Matcha and Green Tea?
Both green and matcha tea are derived from the plant camellia sinensis. This tea plant is also responsible for the other true teas; white, black, and oolong tea. The difference between green tea and these others is the drying and oxidation process that they go through, while matcha has its own special handling added at the very end of production.
To put things simply, matcha, Japanese for “powdered tea,” is made of green tea leaves that are ground into a powder. We could end here, but there is much more to the story. How does matcha tea get that bright green color? Do they taste the same? Are there different health benefits between matcha and green tea?
Where Green Tea Comes From
Green tea can be viewed as the first tea. The origin story of tea, that a Chinese emperor drank water that accidentally had some camellia sinensis leaves boiled in it, would probably have included unoxidized tea leaves. This is what we consider green tea.
Green tea differentiates itself from the other true teas as being made from unoxidized leaves in the middle to late stage of their growing season. White tea is also unoxidized, but is selected from the young buds that appear at the beginning of the harvesting season. The heartier, more flavorful leaves that make up green tea have an increased amount of antioxidants and caffeine.
Since the leaves for green tea and matcha are from the same plant, it is important to know how farm locations can make a difference between the two as well.
Differences Between Chinese and Japanese Green Tea
While the origin of the plant and the first widespread use of green tea is noted as from China, the plant was introduced to Japan in the 9th century by traveling Buddhist monks. Japanese grown and produced green tea shows a different flavor profile in relation to its Chinese cousin due to the fact that the terroir and production methods differ.
Japanese tea farms are generally smaller than their Chinese counterparts and as such they needed to make compromises or improvements. The Japanese farmers created a highly structured and technologically advanced method of growing tea plants based on row organization and mechanical picking, as opposed to the sprawling hand-picked tea farms of China. They also found that shading the tea leaves could create a different taste to the final product.
In addition to the terroir differences. Japanese tea producers changed the Chinese method of stopping leaf oxidation of fire based methods (pan-fired or baked) to steaming, again changing the flavor profile of the final leaf.
Differences Between Chinese and Japanese Matcha Tea
Matcha was introduced to Japan by another travelling monk around the 12th century. The standard Chinese matcha had (and still has) a subtle, earthy flavor with a subdued green color. It can also be a little bitter, but with a brighter taste profile.
Japanese matcha, on the other hand, is what we consider the classic matcha tea. The vibrant green hue is the result of the shading process developed by the Japanese before they even knew what matcha was. This process increases the amount of chlorophyll and amino acids, gives more of a sweetness to the final taste, and reduces astringency.
The Japanese steaming method also preserves more nutrients as opposed to pan-frying, and does not add any additional oxidation.
Matcha vs. Green Tea Processing
As can be gathered by seeing the difference between matcha and green tea, the processing that results in matcha powder has a few additional steps.
The green tea leaf harvesting and processing method is as follows:
- Picking fresh tea leaves
- Withering leaves by spreading them out in the sun (or in proximity to another heat source)
- Heating leaves to stop oxidation
- Rolling leaves into a ball (most of the time – sometimes they are left open)
As noted previously, the “heating” step can differ from location to location, with Chinese manufacturers generally pan-firing or baking, and Japanese manufacturers using the steaming method.
Matcha production, specifically classic Japanese matcha, adds a few different steps, notably to the beginning and end of the processing cycle.
- Shade trees before harvesting season, generally between 1-4 weeks.
- Harvest the fresh leaves
- Wither the tea leaves
- Heat the leaves to stop oxidation, normally by steaming
- Dry leaves
- Remove stems and veins from leaves
- Grind leaf parts (now known as tencha) into a fine powder
Difference in Preparing Matcha and Green Tea
Both green tea and matcha have a classic history that lends to certain traditional methods of preparation. With the difference between leaves and powder, they are prepared differently, but with similar meditational intentions in mind.
Green Tea Preparation
Green tea is a versatile tea that can be brewed in virtually any way, but the way we like to brew it is with a hybrid Eastern/Western method. Because the leaves will expand when heated we do not want to constrain them in an infuser, but we also do not want to try to extract the essence too quickly.
To brew green tea with the hybrid method:
- Heat water to approximately 180F / 82C for standard green teas. Reduce the temperature when using high quality leaves picked in the spring.
- Pour hot water into the teapot and cups to heat them.
- Discard water from teapot and cups.
- Place green tea leaves into the teapot, approximately 1tsp per 8oz of water.
- Pour water directly onto the leaves.
- Cover and steep for approximately 1 minute.
- Pour the resulting brew through a strainer into tea cups.
Green tea leaves can be brewed more than once, usually between 2-3 times with this method. High quality leaves, or leaves from older trees, can be brewed more than 5 times, but your mileage may vary.
Matcha Tea Preparation
Matcha tea will arrive in a powder form. As opposed to leaf tea where the end result is an infusion of essence from the leaves (and the leaves are eventually discarded), matcha powder is added to and mixed with water, and is entirely consumed. Matcha powder does not dissolve in water, so the tools and process must be followed carefully for best results.
As you might be able to guess, matcha tea is not created by steeping. It has to go through a very different process to get from the package to the final brew. This is obtained by vigorously whisking the powder into water, creating a suspension of the solid particles in liquid.
There is a special tool created specifically for making matcha tea, and this is the chasen. Handmade from one solid piece of bamboo, this whisk has been refined over centuries to blend matcha powder with water, leaving the perfect texture without any clumps.
This method uses a wide mouthed bowl called a chawan. Any cup or bowl that you can easily whisk inside can be used.
To brew matcha tea:
- Heat water to around 170F / 77C, being careful to not pass 175F / 80C. Too high of a temperature will make for very bitter matcha tea.
- Pour water into the chawan to heat it.
- Discard water from the chawan.
- Place about 2/3 teaspoon matcha tea powder into the bowl.
- Pour approximately 1/2 cup of hot water into the chawan.
- Using the whisk, quickly agitate the water and powder using a “W” or “M” motion from your wrist. Whisk until you have a frothy mixture.
Do Green Tea and Matcha Taste Different?
The difference in taste between matcha and green tea is quite striking. Green tea is light and thin, with a sweet overtone and flavors ranging from grassy to fruity. The scent can be floral depending on the origins of the leaves, while sometimes a bit more vegetal.
Matcha on the other hand is thicker, and depending on the brewing method can reach the consistency of paint. The frothy mixture of matcha tea has an intense vegetal overtone to it with a sweet aftertaste.
Both green tea and matcha can be enhanced by sweeteners like honey or agave, but when prepared correctly should not have any bitterness that these additions are usually meant to hide. A classic beverage made from matcha powder is a matcha latte, where it is mixed with steamed milk.
Difference in Health Benefits Between Matcha and Green Tea
Because matcha tea is made using whole tea leaves instead of just infusing the leaf properties into water, the difference between the two teas is quite large.
- Matcha has up to 137 times more antioxidants than low quality green teas, and around 3 times more antioxidants than the highest quality leaf teas.
- Matcha has around 68mg of caffeine in each cup while green tea averages around 32mg per cup. For reference, coffee is about 100mg per cup. For those trying to lower their caffeine intake, green tea may be a better choice.
- Both matcha and green tea contain polyphenols and vitamin C, but the level of each in matcha is much higher.
- Matcha tea is an excellent source of fiber, while green tea has almost none.
- Matcha contains five times as much L-Theanine as green tea.
Even though they share the same origin plant and have similar steps in their processing, there is a huge difference between matcha and green tea. One glance and taste will confirm this, and we hope you now know why.
Scott is the founder of TeaMinded. He enjoys tasting and discovering teas from across the globe, with green teas and ceremonial matcha from Japan being among his favorites. He’s grateful to be immersed in the tea community, always learning and sharing along the journey.