Matcha has been a synonym of Japanese tea culture since 12th century, when powdered tea had been first introduced to Japan.
Growing demand of matcha in the western countries stimulated production of powdered green tea in other countries as well, mainly in China. Because of its availability and low price it became quite popular on the matcha market. And so, before we started our own matcha business, we had decided to do a research and find out what Chinese powdered green tea called “matcha” is all about. Can it be a real competitor to Japanese matcha? Here is what we found out and what you should know as well.
Tea originated in China, but…
All green and black teas are made from leaves of one plant species, which is called Camellia sinensis. It was first discovered in Southeast China, gained in huge popularity during Tang dynasty and it became a regular part of people’s lives. In 1191, the Zen Master Eisai brought the new and revolutionary idea of drinking powdered green tea from China to Japan. Matcha was initially used solely by monks in order to endure long meditations, but in some time it found its way to the to the Samurai society, royalty and the Japanese upper class. Since the 16th century, matcha exclusively has been used in Japanese tea ceremony(chanoyu), which is a very complex ceremonial art of drinking tea, celebrating simplicity, calmness and mutual respect.
What is the difference between Chinese powdered green tea and Japanese matcha?
The idea of producing powdered green tea has become deeply rooted in Japan. For more than 800 years Japanese have been improving growing and production methods in order to bring the original idea into perfection. Chinese, on the other hand, have never become enthusiastic about powdered green tea. China, India, Korea and other Asian countries developed their own ways of growing tea and have their own tea culture. Chinese green teas belong between the most precious teas in the world, however they are very much different from Japanese green teas.
The difference lies not only in growing and production methods, but mainly in all other environmental factors such as for example soil and climate conditions. French refer to these special characteristics as terroir. And terroir of Southeast China is very much unlike the terroir of South Japan. Chinese “matcha” appeared on the market 15 years ago, at a time of growing global demand for green tea flavored foods.
Production of mass consumer products like for example bottled iced teas does not require green tea of a really good quality…
But an export of Japanese matcha started to grow because of the growing popularity of matcha in the Western countries. And Chinese farmers wanted to compete. They tried to imitate some of the production methods of matcha, but without a proper know-how their “matcha” has got a very poor quality. There is neither resemblance in taste nor in its appearance. The colour is dull and the texture is slightly grainy, which makes it impossible to foam.
Let’s mention one example of growing and production methods used by Chinese producers. Their “matcha” comes from tea plants, which are not shade grown. The harvested tea leaves are roasted in a pan, in order to prevent an oxidation process from happening. Nevertheless this method results in slight yet perceivable changes in taste and colour. On contrary, the harvested tea leaves from Japanese farmers are first steamed and then air-dried. Thus their colour remains bright green and they preserve its sweet vegetable taste.
So if we compare Chinese “matcha” with real Japanese matcha, there is really just one thing they’ve got in common: word powder.