April 27, 2022
Green tea is often confused with matcha. It’s not difficult to do; both green tea and matcha are green and imported from Japan. Compared to green tea, matcha is still relatively new to the U.S. and not as widely available. While they are similar in many ways, their differences are much more important. How are green tea and matcha different and what benefits does each offer? Read on for an in-depth look at green tea and matcha.
Both matcha and green tea are made using Camellia sinensis, or the tea plant. What makes green tea and matcha different is how each is grown and processed. Tea that will become matcha is usually is grown in partial shade. This protects the theanine in the leaves, which is an amino acid that gives matcha its umami flavor. The amount of sun which plants that are grown for green tea depends on what kind of green tea is being produced. High quality green tea and matcha typically only use the tips and the newest three or four leaves on the stem. (Have you ever wondered why we are called ‘3 Leaf Tea’?) Overexposure to the sun can turn tea leaves bitter so by shading the leaves and using the youngest leaves, farmers can ensure their tea is smooth and mellow. The tea leaves are then harvested by either hand or machine.
After they are picked, tea leaves begin to undergo fermentation, which causes the tea to change flavors. To prevent this, the leaves are fanned with moist air. The leaves are then steamed to stop the fermentation process. The length of the steam time will affect the flavor of the final product. Put simply, the longer the leaves are steamed, the more easily the cell membranes break down in subsequent processing. This leads to increased cloudiness in the tea once it’s brewed and luster but reduced astringency and fragrance. The leaves are then cooled.
Now, this is where matcha and green tea part ways. Tea leaves that will become matcha are destemmed, deveined and then ground into a fine powder. Tea leaves that will become sencha undergo a series of rolling, pressing and twisting. This gives the leaves their distinct tube-like shape. Finally, the leaves are dried. Compared to when they were harvest, the leaves now only have 5% of their moisture left. A secondary processing involving shaping, sorting, roasting and in some cases, blending, is necessary before the tea can be sold as green tea.
Green tea has similar benefits to matcha; it has the protein, L-theanine, which promotes relaxation, catechins, a type of antioxidant and some caffeine. However, because matcha is made using the whole leaf, it has more theanine, catechins and caffeine. If you are choosing your tea based on the benefits it offers, matcha is definitely a more potent choice.
Nutritionally, matcha has the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants equivalent to 10 cups of brewed green tea as well as a healthy dose of dietary fiber. Logically thinking, that means 1 cup of matcha has 10 times the relaxing protein L-theanine that green tea has. If you are looking for an energy boost that will keep you alert but not cause the jitters, matcha is what you need.
Like black and oolong tea, green tea is prepared by steeping the dried leaves in cold or hot water then discarding the tea leaves. While green tea leaves can be used to make a latte, a “green tea latte” often refers to a latte made using matcha.
Green tea is figuratively and (almost) literally a watered-down version of matcha. Because green tea comes from the same plant and is grown in a similar way as matcha, it offers the same benefits, just not as much. Green tea (or hojicha) is an excellent choice for those with caffeine sensitivities, or simple for those who don’t enjoy the flavor profile of matcha but still want some of the benefits it has. Of course, we still prefer matcha for most situations but can’t deny that green tea could be helpful to someone on their tea journey. We hope that whichever you choose will help you feel your best and most vibrant!