Matcha vs. Sencha Powder

July 10th, 2013

Today we are going to discuss the difference between Matcha and Sencha Powder. Recently we’ve noticed a lot of people asking what the difference is between the two. Before we get into the differences, let’s go over briefly what they have in common; they are both powdered teas, they are both made from green tea, and they both come from Japan. Now that we got that out of the way we can get into what makes Matcha and Sencha Powder different.

The main reason people get confused that there is a clear distinction between Matcha and Sencha Powder is the fact that they are both powdered. Matcha is a Japanese word that translates as “fine powdered tea” and for that reason some people assume that any tea that is ground into a powder can be called “Matcha.”  That is not the case. In order for a powdered tea to considered Matcha it must be cultivated and manufactured in a specific way. These specific processes greatly affect the final product in terms of taste, color, feel, and smell. To put it in similar layman’s terms it’s kind of like how Champagne can only be called “Champagne” if it comes from the region of Champagne. Matcha is the same way. Japanese people only call powdered tea, “Matcha” if it is made a specific way. If it isn’t, then it’s simply just powdered tea (i.e. Sencha Powder).

For cultivation, the tea that is used for Matcha is shade grown starting a month before harvesting. Each week a layer of burlap-like material is draped over the tea plants like a canopy. By the end of the month, nearly 90% of the sunlight is being blocked from reaching the tea. This process causes the tea leaves to naturally widen and flatten out which in turn will result in a finer particle size when the tea is ground. The shading process also helps maintain the amino-acids in the tea which gives it natural sweetness and a umami (savory) flavor. Additionally, this process helps the tea maintain a high chlorophyll count resulting in a final product with a much more vibrant green color. Sencha, on the other hand, is an open-air grown tea. By being open air grown, it lacks the amino-acids of Matcha, resulting in a ground tea powder that has a more bitter astringent flavor profile. Sencha Powder also tends to have a more yellowish/brownish hue when compared to Matcha.

For manufacturing/grinding,  the process for Matcha and Sencha Powder differ as well. Matcha, after being harvested, goes through a refining stage where the tea leaves are deveined and have their stems removed. The best parts of the leaf are collected, dried, and sent off to be ground with granite stone grinders.  Sencha (and other powdered teas) are ground whole with the stems, veins, and all parts of the leaf. This results in the final product having noticeable stem pieces in it. Typically, when grinding Sencha for Sencha Powder, machines are used instead of stone grinders and the result is a larger, coarser particle size.

As a result of its specific cultivation and grinding process, Matcha has a vibrant green color; it is as fine as baby powder in terms of particle size.  It also has a nice, natural, sweet taste and sweet, vegetal smell. Conversely, Sencha powder has a more yellowish/brownish hue, feels more coarse, and has a stronger, bitter, astringent flavor.

Just remember not all powdered tea can be called “Matcha.” It can’t be called “Matcha” unless it follows the growing and refining methods mentioned above. Be on the look out for imitation “Matcha” as some companies try to sell generic tea powder under the pretense that it is “Matcha.” They too have fallen victim thinking that and powdered tea can be called Matcha, when in fact that is most certainly not the case.

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