I’m currently living in Japan, and both green tea and matcha are very popular here.
This video explains the history of tea in Japan as well comparing matcha and green tea in terms of how they are produced and their nutritional profile.
For more information and references you can check out the blog post below the video 😊
Some of the many matcha and green tea flavoured foods I’ve seen in Japan include: ice cream, parfaits, mochi (Japanese rice cakes), sponge cakes, cup cakes, cheesecakes, custard tarts, kitkats, oreos and ‘meltykiss’ chocolates (what a name 😂)
The History of Tea in Japan
Matcha may have been the first form of green tea consumed in Japan, and is still used in most traditional Japanese tea ceremonies (for more information on the history of green tea check out this video from Ted Ed).
These tea ceremonies were influenced by Japanese Buddhism and they involve preparing matcha tea and serving this along with Japanese sweets called wagashi (which are usually made of sweet azuki bean paste and Japanese rice cakes). The ceremony itself can vary, but it is considered to be an art form and it can last up to four hours! Japanese tea ceremonies usually involve following specific preparation steps, gestures, rituals and special utensils, including a chasen (whisk), chawan (tea bowl) and chashaku (matcha scoop).
What’s the Difference?
Green tea is made from the same leaves as black tea (A.K.A. ‘normal tae’ in Ireland!) which are called Camellia Sinensis. But with green tea the leaves don’t go through the processes of oxidation and withering which produces black tea. There are many different types of green tea available, as this depends on how the tea is grown and processed, as well as which type of Camellia Sinensis leaf is used.
Matcha is also made from these same tea leaves, but these are grown in the shade for roughly a month before it is harvested, then the veins and stems are removed from the leaves before these are dried and ground down to form matcha powder. This powder is then mixed with water to make matcha tea, or with milk to make a matcha latte. Depending on how much matcha powder is used, matcha tea can be thick (koicha) or think (usucha).
You can buy different ‘grades’ of matcha depending what you are using it for e.g. ‘cooking grade’ matcha is much cheaper than ‘ceremonial grade’ matcha.
Matcha is more concentrated than green tea leaves so it tends to have a stronger flavour, brighter green colour and also contains more nutrients than green tea. Matcha tea has a creamy texture and is often described as having a characteristic Japanese savoury taste which is called ‘umami’.
Whereas green tea is lighter and more delicate in texture, colour and flavour.
As most of the tea leaf is consumed in matcha tea, this tends to contain higher levels of bioactive ingredients that may be good for our health. A cup of matcha can contain at least three times the amount of antioxidants (called ‘catechins’) compared to one cup of green tea. Matcha is also higher in caffeine and the amino acid L-theanine.
Matcha can also contains some fibre and vitamin A, as well as more iron, potassium and vitamin C than green tea; but overall matcha isn’t particularly high in these nutrients compared to other foods and drinks.
There is some good quality evidence that green tea can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Green tea consumption is also associated with a lower risk of certain diseases like stroke, liver disease and osteoporosis; but the evidence isn’t very strong for this overall and more research is needed. I’ll go into more detail about the health benefits and myths related to green tea in a future post.
Matcha is more nutritionally dense than green tea, but they both contain good levels of antioxidants which may have health benefits.
I personally find the taste of matcha to be a bit overpowering (and grassy!) whereas I really like green tea which has a more subtle taste. Of course that is just a personal preference, as many people love the taste of matcha.
I’m also not big fan of how green tea and matcha flavoured foods taste, but I do like that green tea and matcha are both still celebrated in Japan, especially due to the long history of consuming these.