Green tea and matcha have long been praised by nutritionists for their numerous health benefits. They were originally part of Japanese tradition but have since crossed cultures and borders to become a staple for people everywhere.
Green tea is different from matcha. They both come from the Camellia sinensis plant, but matcha is a powdered form while green tea is made of whole, dried leaves. The growth and preparation process of matcha enhances its strength and its health benefits. It also has more caffeine than green tea.
Both green tea and matcha are excellent choices for health-conscious people. Read on to explore more about them, from their differences to their benefits. We will also offer a glimpse into their history, as well as investigating how they are made.
Green Tea vs. Matcha
Green tea and matcha are both derived from the Camellia sinensis plant. Despite sharing their origin, there are many differences between them.
Matcha is made only from the Camellia sinensis plant. Green tea can also be made from the two main varieties of the plant: Camellia sinensis var sinensis, and Camellia sinensis var assamica.
Matcha comes from very specific Japanese-only cultivars which allow for shaded growth.
Texture. Matcha is made into a powder whereas green tea is produced from dried leaves.
Matcha and green tea are grown, harvested, and prepared in very different ways. Green tea is also not made out of the whole tea leaf, unlike matcha.
Green tea leaves are steeped in hot (never boiled) water and then strained. Matcha powder is added to water in a specific bowl and frothed with a specific bamboo whisk.
Matcha has a higher amount of everything that makes green tea so healthy and nutritious: amino acids, antioxidants, and chlorophyll. Matcha also has a higher amount of caffeine than green tea.
Matcha is a brighter and deeper green than green tea. This is due to its growth process. Matcha should also retain its bright green color when prepared into tea.
Green tea can taste more bitter than properly sourced and served matcha.
History of Matcha and Green Tea
Matcha and green tea have been part of East Asian culture for centuries. Legend alleges that green tea was discovered by accident in China in 2737 BC when tea leaves fell unseen into Emperor Shennong’s cup of hot water while he was traveling.
During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), tea master Lu Yu wrote The Classic of Tea.
By then, drinking tea socially had already become the norm, and ceremonies around the act were created. At that point, tea was made by steaming tea leaves and making them into bricks.
These were then roasted and turned into powder which was added to water along with a pinch of salt.
This process changed during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) when the mixture of powdered tea and water was whipped up in a bowl. The process was ritualized by Zen Buddhist monks.
In 1191, the monk Eisai brought Zen Buddhism and its rituals to Japan. In 1211, Eisai wrote about the benefits of green tea on the five vital organs in the Kissa Yojoki or Book of Tea. The book also contained information on the growing and processing of tea leaves.
Tea became prized in Japan and the ceremony around it took hold of high society from the 14th to the 16th centuries. Both green tea and match remain popular in Japan today.
Powdered tea has gone out of fashion in China, but matcha has seen a resurgence in its popularity there too.
Chinese tea was brought into Europe in the 16th century, initially by merchants and missionaries from Portugal.
There is even a type of green tea called genmaicha that’s a mixture of green tea, roasted rice grains, and matcha powder.
The Tea Plant: Camellia Sinensis
Camellia sinensis, also known as the tea plant or the tea tree, originates in Southeast Asia, East Asia, and India. Its leaves produce green tea, black tea, white tea, and oolong tea. It is part of the Theaceae family, also known as the tea family.
Camellia sinensis can now be found around the world, particularly in regions that are tropical or subtropical, where the plant thrives. It is harvested in the warmer months. There are four varieties of Camellia sinensis.
Two of these are some of the most important tea-making varieties:
Camellia sinensis var sinensis
Native to Southeast China, this small bush is the first tea plant on record and can be found in cooler and higher altitude climates. It has small leaves and produces most Chinese and Japanese teas, as well as the Taiwanese Formosa teas.
Camellia sinensis var assamica
The assamica variety is native to southern China, Thailand, Laos, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, and especially Assam in the north of India. This variety has broader leaves and it’s also taller than var sinensis.
Most Indian teas are made from Camellia sinensis var assamica, and so is Pu-erh tea, a fermented tea from Yunnan Province, China.
Processing Green Tea and Matcha
Matcha and green tea are grown and processed differently. These processes are essential for the production of high-quality tea.
Producing Green Tea
There are various ways to produce green tea according to the country where the processing is done. These are some of the particularities involved in this process:
Green tea can be grown both in the sun and in the shade.
Green tea is usually harvested three times a year: from late April to early May, from June to early July, and from late July to August. The most desirable harvest is the spring one, as it produces some of the highest quality teas.
There are many traditional methods to process green tea that differ from country to country: pan firing, drying in the sun, basket firing, and charcoal firing. It can also be roasted. There are also modern methods such as steaming, tumbling, and drying in the oven.
After the initial processing, green tea is stored in paper bags and refrigerated until it is needed. It’s then dried one more time before being blended and packaged. This ensures that the tea lasts as long as possible throughout the year.
There are many ways to grade and categorize green teas depending on the country, but China tends to grade teas according to the shape of the leaf and the age of the leaf. There are numerous grades per leaf shape and age.
Matcha has more specific processing stages. These are some parts of this process.
Matcha is made from leaves that are grown only in the shade. These leaves can also be used for Gyokuro, another type of Japanese shaded green tea. Tea bushes are covered in preparation for making matcha at most twenty days before harvest. When the harvest comes, the best tea leaves are plucked.
The grading of matcha depends on the location of the leaves plucked for its use. The young leaves at the very top of the plant give the highest quality tea, while the older ones on the bottom are more bitter.
After harvest, leaves for matcha are left out to dry, which creates the crumbly mix known as Tencha. Matcha is made out of Tencha that has been ground into powder. The traditional grinding method is by stone. Stone-grinding Tencha can be a slow process because any temperature variation can alter the quality of the leaves.
There are three main commercial grades for matcha, only two of which are accepted in Japan.
Cooking grade. This is the cheapest matcha option. It is meant for cooking or use in smoothies and other such drinks. It is also on the bitter side, which makes it unsuitable for high-quality tea.
Premium grade. This is the matcha that is made from the leaves at the top of the tea bush. These leaves make high-quality tea that is meant for daily consumption.
Ceremonial grade. This grade is not recognized by Japan, but it is meant to indicate the highest quality of matcha. This grade is supposed to be the most adequate for tea ceremonies, and it is therefore the most expensive.
Serving Matcha and Green Tea
Serving green tea and matcha involves very different processes.
Green Tea Is Brewed Before Serving
Green tea is brewed to be served. This process traditionally involves steeping loose tea leaves in hot water in a teapot or strainer. The water is usually between 140F and 185F (60C to 85C). It’s best to steep the leaves between 1 and 3 minutes, depending on whether the tea is Japanese or Chinese. Green tea can be served with milk and sugar.
Matcha is Specially Prepared Before Serving
Matcha tea needs to be prepared to be served. Before preparation, matcha powder should be passed through a sieve. The preparation process involves putting a teaspoon of matcha powder into a bowl with water that has been heated to just under its boiling point.
You should then whisk the mixture with a traditional bamboo whisk called chasen until the tea is frothy. Traditionally, matcha is not served with milk or sugar but with a sweet called wagashi which is meant to be eaten before drinking matcha.
Health Benefits of Green Tea
Green tea is known as one of the healthiest drinks in the world. These are only some of its many benefits:
Rich in antioxidants. Green tea has plenty of antioxidants like catechins, polyphenols, and EGCG. These substances can reduce the risk of heart disease and particular types of cancer. They also get rid of free radicals.
Healthy brain. Green tea is rich in amino acids like L-theanine which acts in combination with caffeine to enhance the functions of the brain. Green tea can also help reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Immunity booster. Green tea has antibacterial properties that help with everything from fighting halitosis to fighting off colds. It also helps with keeping gut bacteria healthy, which in turn helps with immunity too.
Prevents diabetes. Green tea can help reduce blood sugar levels. It can also decrease the risk of diabetes.
Healthy skin. Green tea can prevent the breakdown of collagen. This helps with keeping skin glowy and wrinkle-free.
Longer life. According to some studies, green tea drinkers may live longer and healthier lives than non-green tea drinkers.
Healthy heart. Green tea can reduce cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood fats. The antioxidants in the tea also contribute to keeping the heart as healthy as possible. It can also reduce the risk of strokes.
Relaxation. Green tea can contribute to reducing stress. The amino acid theanine also has a relaxing effect. Green tea is particularly effective as a stress reliever in combination with other teas.
Anti-inflammatory. Green tea has a natural anti-inflammatory effect due to the EGCG catechin.
Health Benefits of Matcha
The way matcha is processed makes it a superlative form of green tea when it comes to all its health benefits. It has a higher content of everything that makes green tea such a health booster.
Here are some of the numerous health benefits you can get from drinking matcha:
Energy boost. Matcha is a perfect drink to have both pre- and post- workouts. It increases blood flow which keeps the heart safe, and it prolongs the effects of glycogen, a polymer of glucose that helps with endurance levels.
Drinking matcha also provides an increase in energy that has an extended duration (4-6 hours) without any jitters or crashes. It is also slow-release, which will keep your energy levels constant.
Detox. Matcha has a high level of chlorophyll, which is also responsible for its deep green color and makes it easily identifiable. Chlorophyll also indicates that antioxidants, polyphenols, and amino acids are present in high quantities. All these components together help rid the body of toxins and harmful chemicals.
Mood booster. The compounds found in matcha, particularly amino acids like L-theanine and catechins like EGCG, can have a positive influence on serotonin and dopamine levels.
Nutritious. Matcha is packed with nutrients such as various vitamins, magnesium, chlorophyll, zinc, and antioxidants.
Productivity enhancer. The trinity of EGCG, caffeine, and L-theanine work together to boost attention levels and processing speed. They will also help with concentration. Matcha is an excellent addition to your workday.
Healthy bones. Matcha can increase bone mineral density. This can help keep bone diseases like osteoporosis at bay.
Metabolism boost. While not a replacement for healthy lifestyle choices, the compounds in matcha promote the use of body fat during intense activities and can work in combination with other factors to help with faster weight loss.
Cancer defense. The polyphenols present in matcha may help shield cells against the spread of cancer. The full extent of this effect is still being researched, and this would only help with some types of cancer like skin cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer.
Meditative effect. Drinking matcha can lead to increased levels of calmness and a meditative state. L-theanine in particular is highly relaxing and can fend off stress.
Healthy teeth. The components in matcha can boost the health of your teeth and gums.
Helps combat arthritis. Matcha has potent anti-inflammatory effects which can help with conditions like arthritis. It seems to also help with slowing the arthritis-induced breakdown of cartilage.
The Popularity of Green Tea and Matcha
The numerous health benefits of green tea and matcha have contributed to the constantly rising popularity of both these drinks. Plenty of studies on the positive effects of green tea have already been made and even more studies are in progress.
Green tea (which includes matcha) is second only to black tea in terms of global tea production. The Western world is becoming more and more aware of the importance of green tea that countries like China and Japan have known for centuries.
In the past five years, tea sales have increased at a rapid pace in the United States.
Nutritionists, influencers, and trainers all recommend the effects of green tea and matcha. Much of the world is becoming health-obsessed and looking for the biggest health and nutritional benefits in what is being consumed.
Green tea has gained widespread availability at the same time as people are becoming more aware of its positive influence.
Matcha and green tea have even enjoyed a renewed boost in sales in Japan, with the rise of trendy coffee shops including drinks made from matcha and green tea as stars on their menus.
The Takeaway: Both Are Delicious, Healthy Choices
Green tea is different from matcha despite sharing a common origin in the Camellia sinensis plant. They are grown and processed differently, they are served differently, and they include different levels of positive health-boosting compounds.
Matcha has a far higher level of amino acids, antioxidants, and catechins. These compounds help the body and mind work better.
Green tea shares these compounds, but on a smaller scale. Both green tea and matcha make a difference in overall health when they are included on a regular basis as part of a balanced diet and lifestyle.
Both Matcha and green tea have a long and rich history in China and Japan in particular and they are now enjoying constantly increasing popularity in the Western world.