Matcha is matcha, right? Not so!
With matcha's growing popularity over the past few years, the matcha market has become inundated with lots of low-quality matcha and imitation matcha.
This has made knowing where your matcha comes from one of the most important factors to consider when purchasing matcha green tea powder.
Is Japanese matcha better than Chinese matcha? (Short answer- 100% Yes)
Matcha Japanese is the matcha you want. Right now, Japan and China are the two biggest growers and exporters of green tea powder – but all green tea powder is not matcha. It must be grown in a special way only done in Japan to be truly matcha. This is one major reason why matcha is not all created equal.
Japanese matcha tea: Japan, which has essentially 1,000yr of experience perfecting meticulous growing and harvesting methods around matcha, produces a much higher quality powder than the versions made in China and elsewhere. (3)
Studies suggest that over the past 15 to 20 years, China has begun to produce more and more of its own 'matcha green tea powder' under 'simulated' Japanese farming conditions. So what are the main differences between Japanese and Chinese matcha – and why such a difference in pricing?
In the following post, we highlight the key differences between Japanese grown-matcha and Chinese matcha – and exactly why the world's highest quality matcha comes from Japan.
Why do Japanese drink matcha?
Wondering just why matcha is so popular in Japan? In Japan, matcha tea embodies the cherished values of harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. The preparation and serving of matcha are revered rituals, symbolizing an important cultural practice. The traditional tea ceremony which is still very much alive and celebrated in modern day entails meticulous choreography, from cleansing the utensils to whisking the vibrant green matcha powder into steaming water.
Matcha tea has also found its way into the everyday and casual Japanese culinary scene at almost every cafe, restaurant, and convenience store, enhancing favorite Japanese snacks and sweets such as lattes, Kit-Kat bars, ice cream, and mochi.
Beyond its cultural significance, matcha tea boasts a range of health benefits. Abundant in antioxidants, particularly catechins, it has been linked to reduced risks of heart disease, cancer, and other ailments. Matcha tea also contributes to enhanced metabolism, increased energy levels, and heightened mental clarity. Its allure extends far beyond being a mere beverage, making it a treasured part of Japanese culture.
Comparing Japanese Matcha to Chinese Matcha
Empirical studies suggests that the differences between Japanese and Chinese Matcha comes down to several elements: The soil quality, the parts of the plant being harvested, shading techniques, the age and availability of heirloom cultivat tea plants, as well as cultivation protocols – but we've boiled it down to precisely what you should consider when shopping for matcha online or in person.
Color and visual differences
One of the first ways you often identify Japanese matcha green tea powder from Chinese matcha is the noticeable color difference. Japanese matcha has a brilliant, vibrant green color with an almost iridescent hue. Meanwhile, Chinese matcha often has a duller hue, with hints of brown and yellow tones.
In Japan, matcha leaves are grown in the shade the last several weeks before harvest, which increases the chlorophyll in color, giving Japanese matcha its vibrant color. (3)
Texture of powder
Due to Japan's strict and meticulous nature of growing and cultivating matcha, Japanese matcha is noticeably a much more refined, delicate powder than Chinese. Japanese matcha seamlessly mixes with water to create an airy, bubbly froth and smooth, silky finish once prepared.
Observational study infers that chinese matcha – on the other hand – is mostly processed by machinery. It also consists of stems, branches, and vines – which results in varying texture and particle sizes that leave a sandy, almost grainy texture in your mouth. Once prepared, Chinese matcha also doesn't tend to froth as much as Japanese matcha due to this sandy, granular texture. While some chinese green tea powder may have a brighter green color, the tea plants and farming practices are younger – meaning less nutritious and flavorful product. For example, some matcha tea plants in Japan are more than 100 years old.
Additionally, there are no 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th generation (you get the idea) matcha farming families in China like there are in Japan… the nuances of harvesting and growing matcha the right way are significant and cannot simply be replaced by being able to grow green tea. Most of those specialized practices and care for the plants is only passed down through family skilled-learning.
Taste and flavoring
Matcha from Japan has a noticeably sweet, umami flavor with little to no bitterness. This is absolutely because the Japanese matcha farmers take their soil quality to a whole other level, ensuring that plants get an optimum amount of nutrients through strict fertilizing and watering regimens. The soil used to grow matcha in Japan often has been carefully amended for that specific purpose over the course of centuries. There are delicate and entirely unique soil microbiomes for the tea plants in Japan that won’t be found in the fields of Chinese tea crops. Japanese matcha is also heavily shade-grown 3-4 weeks before harvest and is cautiously steamed and air-dried to soak up every possible gram of goodness.
On the flip side, Chinese matcha often has a bitter flavoring. It is not typically grown in the shade, nor is the soil of the same quality as found in Japan, so there is virtually no umami taste and instead it features a more sandy flavoring. It also requires an intimate (often multi-generational) connection between each craft farming family and their owned tea crops to know when to begin the shading process. No one knows their matcha tea plants like the traditional farmers of Japan.
Japanese and Chinese matcha may contain the same type of healthy compounds, but that from China just won’t be in the same quantity or concentration. Research implies that japanese matcha has significantly higher levels of antioxidants, l-theanine, and ECGC – to name just a few.
How Japanese matcha is thoughtfully farmed and cultivated gives it a substantial nutritional advantage and longer list of health benefits over Chinese matcha. Chinese matcha spends less time growing in the shade, has lower soil quality, and may be pan-fried dry, which is a step used to stop oxidation although it also stunts the nutritional value of the tea compared to the steaming method used in Japan.
Empirical studies found that chinese matcha is exceptionally unlikely to demonstrate the same lab-tested purity and potency levels as Japanese matcha (which growing areas have been carefully maintained/records kept for centuries). That means matcha from China more likely has contamination of pesticides and environmental petrols, and more. In fact, multiple studies have found toxic pesticides present in Chinese-based matcha powders.
In 2012, the non-profit Greenpeace purchased 18 teas from random Chinese tea vendors, with seven of the 18 vendors being from among China’s top producers. (2)
Greenpeace sent the tea to an independent lab to test pesticide levels. What were the test results? Results showed that 12 out of the 18 teas (67%) contained toxic pesticides banned in tea production. Most of the pesticides identified have actually been globally banned. (2)
Another notable study from 2006 also found that 32% of the samples of green tea from China exceeded the limit of toxins per teaspoon. (4)
Totally on the contrary, nearly all reputable Japanese tea and matcha passes full spectrum pesticide analysis, which typically test for more than 500 pesticide and environmental contaminants. Chinese matcha may argue that the purity is as “safe levels,” but why choose that? Our Japanese matcha tea standards typically mean that NO contaminants at any levels are acceptable.
You've probably noticed a significant price difference between Japanese and Chinese matcha. Some of the reasons above hopefully help to explain that.
Japanese matcha is a higher cost because of the extra labor and quality checkpoints, but does that mean you actually end up paying more?? Not necessarily, since “quality over quantity” means that it takes less Japanese matcha to get all the benefits and energy you’re hoping for, than compared to Chinese matcha.
Most of our customers who may have once consumed Chinese matcha find that Japanese matcha is not only more pleasant, but in the long-run equally or more affordable. The old saying, 'you get what you pay for,' rings quite true in the case of matcha.
Contrasting attitudes and relationships around matcha tea
Matcha made outside of Japan is not trying to be the perfect emerald-green tea powder. Instead, China and other matcha producers aim to 'get just close enough to the techniques of growing and processing Japanese matcha so they can compete in the growing global market. The reality is that there is still no true comparison for real matcha, which only comes from Japan.
The bottom line – the original matcha is Japanese matcha powder
Is Japanese matcha better than Chinese matcha? We believe so!
Is matcha from China bad? It depends how you think about it – but if you are focused on health, and getting high quality energy + nutrition, then there is no replacement for Japanese matcha. Also it’s a misconception that the price difference is one that is not affordable. Often it’s just a few cents more per serving to opt for real, Japanese matcha.
At Matcha.com, we believe the millennium of laborious tradition around matcha farming in Japan speaks for itself. Everyone deserves access to high-quality, Japanese-grown matcha at a reasonable price point.
And yes! We are the ONLY matcha brand to create a special proprietary six (6) stage quality testing protocol, meaning we carry the safest Japanese-matcha you can find.
So… ready to jump in? If you’re not sure where to start –– check this out!
Our new matcha sampler Ceremonial "Flight" variety pack that is great to take on the go and stay healthy while traveling.
- Start your Matcha journey and get your own Matcha kits
- Learn 33 ways Matcha improves health here
- Read more of our scholarly articles on this page
- Bulk Matcha for businesses? Inquire here
- Dietz, C., Dekker, M., & Piqueras-Fiszman, B. (2017). An intervention study on the effect of matcha tea, in drink and snack bar formats, on mood and cognitive performance. Food Research International, 99, 72–83. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2017.05.002
- Green Peace. (2012, April 12). Greenpeace Discovers Banned Pesticides in Chinese Tea. World Tea News. https://www.worldteanews.com/Features/greenpeace-discovers-banned-pesticides-chinese-tea
- Kochman, J., Jakubczyk, K., Antoniewicz, J., Mruk, H., & Janda, K. (2020). Health Benefits and Chemical Composition of Matcha Green Tea: A Review. Molecules, 26(1), 85. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules26010085
- Reinholds, I., Bogdanova, E., Pugajeva, I., Alksne, L., Stalberga, D., Valcina, O., & Bartkevics, V. (2020). Determination of Fungi and Multi-Class Mycotoxins in Camelia sinensis and Herbal Teas and Dietary Exposure Assessment. Toxins, 12(9), 555. https://doi.org/10.3390/toxins12090555