- Japanese matcha is vibrant green due to shading, which also boosts chlorophyll and nutrient levels.
- Chinese matcha often has a duller, brownish-yellow color and may contain fewer nutrients due to different farming practices.
- Japanese matcha generally has a finer texture and is easier to froth, while Chinese matcha can be lumpier.
- Flavor profiles differ: Japanese matcha is sweeter and less bitter, while Chinese matcha is earthier and may be more bitter.
- Japanese matcha usually has superior quality and a better nutritional profile.
- Regulatory standards for matcha differ between Japan and China, affecting consumer perceptions of safety and quality.
Ask any matcha aficionado - Japanese and Chinese matcha aren’t the same thing.
Broadly speaking - these powders have many key differences (e.g. different growing conditions, harvesting processes etc.) and are viewed very differently in the health food world - with one actually potentially quite problematic.
What Is Matcha Tea?
If you’re completely unfamiliar with matcha tea, this revered and widely-loved beverage is in its simplest terms: stone-ground green tea powder made from very young shade-grown tea leaves.
Matcha usually has a bitter, earthy, and somewhat vegetal taste that is much stronger than regular green tea.
Matcha and green tea may come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, but they’re not the same thing.
Origins of Japanese Vs. Chinese Matcha
Although matcha is predominantly grown in Japan, Chinese matcha is definitely a thing, too.
So before we dive into the differences, let’s have a quick look at the history of matcha. Keep in mind - everything we say here is a ‘broad stroke’ - meaning that there are some generalisations being made, however, it isn’t always the case.
A Brief History Of Matcha: Origins
Japan is now the main producer of green teas like matcha but green tea itself is of Chinese origin. In fact, the term "matcha" may have originated from the Chinese word "mocha" (抹茶) meaning powdered tea. Though the name "matcha" also combines two Japanese words: "matsu," meaning "to rub," and "cha," meaning "tea," reflecting its meticulous preparation process.
While the Chinese were believed to be the first people to grind and powder green tea, the Japanese developed the matcha-creating method that’s so popular today. This method includes steaming, shading, drying, and grinding the tea.
Matcha is shaded (literally, grown in the shade) to give it its unique chemical composition and taste.
It’s thought that the shading method was discovered accidentally when Japanese farmers tried to prevent their tea from freezing by covering the leaves.
Fun fact: It was said that during the 12th century, a Zen Buddhist monk who studied in China came back to Japan, carrying tea seeds and the foundations that eventually led to the formation of the Japanese tea ceremony tradition.
Japanese And Chinese Matcha: Texture Differences
The difference between Japanese and Chinese matcha lies in the production techniques. Generally speaking - the Japanese manufacturing method is more advanced than the Chinese method, which gives Japanese matcha powder a finer texture that's easier to froth.
Most Chinese processing is performed by hand, which can give Chinese matcha a more inconsistent texture, with lumps and bumps.
Japanese And Chinese Matcha: Flavor Profile
Because Chinese and Japanese matcha tea are grown and processed differently, their typical flavour profile also shows some notable differences.
Japanese Matcha - A Typical Flavour Profile
Genuine, high-grade Japanese matcha has a unique flavour. Japanese matcha plants are grown in fertilized soil to provide the plant with plenty of nutrients, and the shade-growing process also significantly affects taste.
Some high-grade Japanese matcha plants are grown in almost complete darkness for a few weeks before harvest, producing a much sweeter flavour with minimal bitterness.
Once the plant is harvested, the leaves are steamed, which helps preserve the nutrients and flavour.
Chinese Matcha - A Typical Flavour Profile
On the other hand, Chinese matcha generally isn’t usually grown in shaded conditions. This gives most Chinese matcha a different taste, which is somewhat earthy and subtle.
Because Chinese matcha isn’t grown in the shade, tannins usually develop, giving Chinese matcha a more bitter taste compared to Japanese matcha.
Chinese Vs Japanese Matcha: Difference in Colour
The colour of matcha is a significant indicator of its quality and origin, and there are distinct differences between Japanese and Chinese matcha in this regard.
Japanese matcha has a vibrant green color, a result of the shading process that increases chlorophyll levels in the leaves.
On the other hand, Chinese matcha often presents a duller colour palette, featuring tones of brown and yellow. These differences are not just aesthetic; they also influence the taste and nutritional value of the matcha.
Other Key Differences Between Chinese And Japanese Matcha
Because Japanese matcha and Chinese matcha are grown differently, there are also some significant differences in nutrition, quality, and price.
As we’ve mentioned, the Japanese grow matcha in the shade, which gives these varieties of matcha a nutritional advantage. When grown in the shade, Japanese matcha produces more chlorophyll.
The shading process also ensures that the chlorophyll and additional nutrients are absorbed more easily into the leaves.
Although Chinese matcha contains most of the same nutrients as Japanese matcha, they may not be found in as high quantities due to the farming process.
This difference in quality often translates to a difference in price, with premium Japanese matcha typically commanding a higher market value compared to its Chinese counterpart.
Concerns Surrounding Chinese Matcha
Japan was struck by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, which destroyed the Fukushima electric plant.
After the disaster, some of Japan's central regions, including Fukushima, Gunma, and Tokyo, reported dangerously high radiation levels. However, areas where Japanese tea is grown, such as Uji, reported no significant radiation levels.
It’s incredible that despite such a horrific disaster, Japan has been able to protect its people and products from the effects of radiation.
In fact, Japan has stringent policies on its radiation levels, allowing no more than 100 Bq per KG, compared to 1200 Bq per kg in the United States.
Unfortunately, China isn’t so strict when it comes to regulating its products. In 2006, China was openly criticized when many teas from Chinese producers were found to have exceeded the limit of 2mcg of toxins per teaspoon - no Japanese teas exceeded this.
Despite hopes that this would have been regulated after testing, in 2013, more Chinese teas were randomly sampled, with several containing pesticides that were banned under the Stockholm treaty, including endosulfan and methomyl.
While Chinese and Japanese matcha contains most of the same nutrients, there are some concerns surrounding the safety of Chinese matcha.
Tips For Buying The Best Matcha
When you’re buying matcha, you’ll want to get your hands on the safest, highest-grade powder possible.
Here are a few tips to ensure you’re always buying the highest-quality product:
Avoid Untested And Non-Certified Matcha
Unfortunately, unsafe and non-certified matcha tea still makes it onto the market, which can be dangerous for your health in a number of ways.
Before you drink your tea, always check the label to examine the ingredients and find out where your matcha was grown.
Do your own research on the brand before buying and make sure they are transparent with their testing practices and results.
Avoid Matcha Mixed With Other Substances
Another important thing to avoid is matcha mixed with other substances.
When you buy matcha, you’ll want to make sure it’s 100% matcha. Some cheaper brands may be mixed with other powders, like rice and fillers, which dilutes the matcha and makes it cheaper to produce.
Maltodextrin is often put in impure matcha, and this compound can have dangerous effects for some people.
So again - when you next go to buy matcha, make sure you are confident in the brand you choose.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Matcha powder from China good?
Chinese Matcha is generally considered to be of lower quality compared to Japanese Matcha. The farming and processing methods in China are less mature, resulting in a product that may lack the fine texture and vibrant color that are characteristic of high-quality Japanese Matcha.
What is matcha tea in Chinese?
In Chinese, Matcha is known as "Mo Cha" (抹茶). It originated in China before becoming a significant part of Japanese culture. The term "Matcha" combines the Chinese words "Mo," meaning "to grind," and "Cha," meaning "tea".
Is Japanese green tea the same as Chinese green tea?
No, Japanese and Chinese green teas are different in terms of processing, flavour, and appearance. Japanese green teas are often steamed, resulting in a more vibrant green colour and a grassier flavour. Chinese green teas are usually pan-fired, leading to a more varied flavour profile and a less vibrant colour.
Where does the highest quality matcha come from?
The highest quality Matcha typically comes from Japan, particularly regions like Uji and Nishio. The meticulous cultivation process in Japan, including shading the tea plants, contributes to a higher-quality end product.
Why do Asians drink matcha?
Matcha is consumed in Asia, particularly in Japan, not only for its unique flavour but also for its health benefits. It is rich in antioxidants and has been part of traditional ceremonies for centuries. It's also used in various recipes and as a flavouring.
Although Japan has become the primary matcha production hub, you may be surprised to know that this superfood actually originates from China!
Generally speaking - there are some considerable differences between most matcha manufactured in Japan vs China, however - no matter which one you prefer, always do your research to confirm the brand is transparent with their safety testing and their potency!