Updated: Aug 17
It can be really hard for consumers to distinguish between a high quality matcha (抹茶) from a low level one. The fact that some tea vendors commercialize other Japanese powdered green teas (and not so green) as matcha, makes things even more complicated.
Have you ever been told that matcha is just powdered green tea? Technically, is a way to put it. However, it is all much more complex than that since matcha is the only Japanese tea that is produced in a very specific way.
If you haven't read the article I wrote about matcha in the past, I would recommend you to have a look at it before you read this article. It will help you to have a much better insight on the topic discussed in this article.
All powdered teas coming from Japan aren't matcha. Yes, you read that correctly. Matcha is made from tencha (碾茶), small tea flakes that have been shaded for about three weeks (20 days is pretty standard) before the harvest. Any other powdered tea from Japan is not matcha. No other tea around the world is produced in this way.
Currently, some Asian countries are learning the matcha production technique & creating their own versions of matcha. They also produce a number of powdered teas using the local tea plants & cultivars. In this article, I will specifically talk about Japanese tea powders. I have seen Chinese matcha at the local Asian supermarket. A customer got it & showed to me. Its colour was dirty brown. She said it tasted awful. It wasn't matcha, just powdered green tea. I am not sure how they produce it since there was not much info provided.
So, what are the other powdered teas?
If the powder comes from other Japanese teas could be called funmatsucha (粉末茶) or if it comes from lower grade generic tea blends (the generic word used to denominate this type of commodity tea in Japan is ryokucha 緑茶) is known as funmatsuryokucha (粉末緑茶.) Funmatsucha, can be made out of gyokuro (玉露), sencha (煎茶), kukicha (茎茶), houjicha (ほうじ茶), tamaryokucha (玉緑茶)... Even from Japanese white tea as I have been told by one of my contacts in Japan who found a farmer who makes it. Lower grade teas than the ones used to be sold as loose leaf are typically used to produced these type of powders. Of course, as with everything else, there are always exceptions.
If the powder is made using first flush kabuse tea leaves is called arabikicha (粗挽き茶), an invention from a Japanese tea company in Kagoshima. The tea leaves don't go through the process to become tencha, thus it cannot be called matcha. Arabikicha was granted an award within the powdered tea category at the prestigious Nihoncha Award in 2016. Another type of powdered tea goes by the name of mogacha. It is made by using unshaded or very lightly shaded sencha leaves that have been processed in a normal tea factory (not in a tencha factory) in a way that mimics & produces a raw material close to tencha. It yields a green tea powder that looks quite a lot like matcha but it isn't matcha. Confused? Yes, me too! There is not so much information available on this type of tea powder so I will need to do a bit more of research. In the case I find something interesting this article will be updated.
There is also a type of tea made out of very small particles called Konacha (粉茶). This is not a type of powdered tea, but rather a tea made out of small broken pieces of tea leaves. It reminds me of the grounded nori sold in small sachets used to add a nice touch to some Japanese dishes.
What's the point of having multiple powdered teas?
First of all, good matcha can have a very steep price due to its laborious processing method along with the quality of the leaves used. Some people don't want, or cannot afford to drink matcha daily. But they would still like to take advantage of the multiple health benefits that drinking tea has to offer. Having any other type of powdered tea at hand is a good alternative. The water soluble components in tea such as vitamin C, catechin &caffeine are released in hot water. Insoluble components such as vitamin A (carotene) vitamin E & plant fiber can be obtained by drinking powdered teas since the whole leaf is consumed, not just the liquor minus the leaves. I wasn't able to find a good study about this. I will update with a link if I do. Secondly, using high quality ceremonial grade matcha for cooking sounds crazy & isn't cheap. By using other types of powdered teas we can obtain great results at a more affordable price.
In addition, if you have a business, you might like to offer to your customers more flavours than just matcha. By using funmatsucha you can do just that & still have some margin since having a profitable business is hard.
Some of the funmatsucha are manufactured as instant powders that can be mixed quickly & on the go. Therefore, they are convenient, easy to carry & easy to prepare. Yet, the quality of many of them is not that good.
I tend to buy them every time I have the chance. The majority of the ones I had tasted so far (even from Japan) weren't a good alternative to the matcha I usually drink. I also got some for free in Japan from a large tea corporation & well, let's say it was well below standards. There has been one remarkable experience with one organic matcha powder in sticks though. Still pending in my list of things I want to be able to offer to you.
What are the dangers of having multiple powdered teas? While using the words green tea powder, powdered green tea or just powdered tea if it is black tea powder, is fine, calling every powdered tea out there matcha, isn't.
The end customer might get confused. With so many powdered green tea options outhere, those customers who are just starting to drink matcha might think that every single powdered tea they encounter is matcha.
I have seen some drinks companies calling powdered black tea black matcha. Say what? Even some Japanese companies have done this in order to sell their powdered teas more easily abroad. I have seen a tea vendor selling houjicha matcha, yet when I asked if the matcha had houjicha in it, he said it was powdered houjicha. So no matcha in it. Where is the matcha police when you need it? Just joking! In my opinion, these sort of things contribute to the confusion. They don't think about the customers, they just want to jump on the matcha bandwagon to sell more.
I have seen some cafés using cheaper tea powders for their drinks (some are light yellow!) even though they are selling them as matcha based beverages. This should not be allowed, since it is misleading. Plus anything that has matcha in it comes at a premium, they are using way cheaper options but still charging as much. Clever, isn't it? I see this as a dishonest practice that should be called off by the consumers themselves. If you see a rather off putting looking matcha powder being served, don't drink it! Don't consume it! By educating yourself in the matter, you have the power to recognize when you are not being offered the real deal. I am sure all of us want to get what we pay for! Sometimes, even if the matcha has a nice emerald bright colour its quality isn't that good. Colour alone is not an indication of high quality, but it helps to distinguish between matcha made using shaded or unshaded leaves. But if we check the colour of the powder we can easily know if it is matcha or funmatsucha right?
Before I continue, I want to talk about a personal experience I had recently. I received a matcha powder I purchased from a quite notorious tea vendor. I wanted to try what is being offered around since by just drinking the teas you sell you will never find out if better/more interesting/nicer options exist in the market. Who knows? Maybe I am missing out! It looked good. I paid a pretty penny for it, it wasn't cheap. I also have an extremely well developed palate that can detect the mildest hint of the bitterness. I am used to drink organic teas, despite my favourite matcha not being organic. Unfortunately, I have to say it was really disappointing. The colour looks nice, it smells ok, but the flavour... An extremely bitter taste from the beginning to the end. And right afterwards. No matter what temperature I used (I have tried a large number of parameters so far) the flavour is plain bitter. Similar to eating a bitter gourd or bile taste in your mouth. Yep, that bad! No other single note came out. Bitterness & more bitterness. I have drank matcha powders sold as culinary grade that weren't nearly as bitter & unpleasant as this one. It makes me wonder if the matcha is that way or if something happened to it. I have even considered contacting the vendor to enquire about this so shocked I am. Don't take me wrong, some matcha powders are stronger, some have a bit of nigami (苦味) which is the term the Japanese use it for bitterness) it is not that every single matcha in the market will be the sweetest or of the highest quality of all. If brewed at 100 degrees Celsius many of them wouldn't be sweet at all. And as much as I cannot deal with bitterness too well, I still can tolerate a nice hint of nicely feeling bitter taste, like the one in tonic water, to give you an example. Or the one found in the bitters to make mixed drinks. But this type of bitterness was of the unpleasant type. The kind of bitter aftertaste that isn't fun to deal with.
I will be looking into the type of cultivar used for this matcha since it was an unusual one. Yet, I feel displeased with the whole experience. Like if my hard earned money had been wasted. At least it looks like was matcha & not funmatsucha. Or is it? I am pretty sure it is matcha, the powder is really thin. I will not be name shaming anyone here, this is not the goal of my post. My purpose in life is not trashing other tea vendors. I just wanted to highlight that by just looking at a matcha/tea powder alone, we cannot determine its quality. Tasting a product is the best way to figure out if the quality is up to scratch, or not at all. Having the knowledge also helps. I have seen some matcha powders with extra chlorophyll added to look greener. It makes sense for cooking since often times the matcha colour from culinary grades fades away. Even those from really good brands I am not sure if it is green tea with added chlorophyll or just real matcha with extra colour in it though. And of course we cannot forget that everyone's palate is different. You can train your palate up to certain extend. However, I have been reading an article about a number of studies made on how flavour is perceived just today & I found it fascinating. 25% of the population seems to have a deficient palate, it is said that 50% of the population has an average palate & the other 25% are known for being supertasters. Being a supertaster can be a blessing or a curse. I will dig out more on this, for another article. Not only because it is an interesting topic but also because it helps us to understand why all of us taste the same things in a completely different way. Ok, enough. I have derailed a bit from the main topic of the post here. So, do you recommend using other types of tea powders?
Sure thing. They are not incompatible, it is fine to try & use other types of Japanese tea powders in your daily life. It is not all about matcha after all.
I wouldn't be recommending to drink only just one type of Japanese tea but drink as many as you can or like. I love variety. As you already know, I am a matcha junkie & I cannot live without my daily dosage of 3 grams. More on microdosing in the future. However, on top of this I like to drink many other teas during the day. Gyokuro, genmaicha, sannenbancha, kukicha, sencha, houjicha...And I use a diverse amount of teas for cooking as well. One of the most effective ways to train our palates is by eating, smelling, drinking, tasting, palating as many things as we can. Even if we don't really like them in the end, we went trough the experience, we learnt something new. So go ahead, get some powdered teas that aren't matcha, prepare them, taste them, feel them, compare them, learn how they look like, how they smell, how they perform when mixed with water or in drinks. See if you like them more or less. Try new things! I currently don't offer any other powdered tea except for matcha. Maybe in the future I can get some, if I ever receive the samples stuck in customs for weeks now. Know what you buy, know what you are getting for your money. Make sure that next time you have a nice matcha drink at a café or anywhere else, you are pretty confident that matcha & not funmatsucha, is what you get when something as matcha based is offered.
Has anyone tried any other powdered Japanese teas apart from matcha? Leave your comments below! If you liked this post don't forget to hit like (the little heart at the right bottom) & consider to subscribe to the blog so you don't miss any of the future posts. You can also find me on Instagram (daily Japanese tea based pairings plus giveaways) & Tik Tok (Japanese tea based drinks.) And the Spanish version of this article should be released at some point on the Spanish blog. And if you haven't done so, subscribe to the newsletter and get 10% OFF from your first order.
Keep enjoying the summer! Until next Monday!