What is matcha? Why this green powder is so popular

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Many of the green-colored Japanese foods, desserts, and drinks have one thing in common – they’re made with matcha powder.

The powder is whisked in hot water to produce a frothy, bright green beverage.

Matcha is also used to flavor and color mochi, soba noodles, ice cream, and a host of other traditional Japanese foods.

What is matcha? Why this green powder is so popular

There’s no mistaking the taste of matcha – it’s earthy, slightly bitter, and very grassy. The flavor takes some getting used to, but once the taste is acquired, it’s addictive.

So, what exactly is matcha?

Matcha (translated as “powdered tea”) is a finely ground powder of specially grown and processed high-grade green tea leaves. It is rich in antioxidants and has been traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies.

This article will explain what matcha is, how it’s used, and why it’s considered a Japanese superfood.

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What is matcha?

Matcha is finely milled or fine powder high-grade green tea.

The Japanese tea ceremony centers on the preparation, serving, and drinking of matcha.

Matcha is made from the stone-ground leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, the same plant used to make black and green teas.

The leaves are shade-grown for about three weeks before harvest, a process that increases the chlorophyll content and results in a vibrant green powder.

The matcha powder is then carefully stone-ground into a very fine powder.

It’s this final step that makes matcha different from other green teas, as the leaves are ground into a very fine powder instead of being left in larger pieces.

In modern times, matcha has also come to be used to flavor and dye foods such as mochi and soba noodles, green tea ice cream, and a variety of wagashi (Japanese confectionery).

Matcha is a fine-ground, powdered, high-quality green tea and is not the same as konacha.

Blends of matcha are given poetic names called chamei (“tea names”) either by the producing plantation, shop, or creator of the blend or by the grand master of a particular tea tradition.

When a blend is named by the grand master of a tea ceremony lineage, it becomes known as the master’s konomi, or favored blend.

What does matcha taste like?

Matcha has a unique flavor that is often described as earthy, grassy, and slightly sweet. But it also has a mildly bitter aftertaste that might take some getting used to.

The taste of matcha will also vary depending on the quality of the powder.

Ceremonial grade matcha is typically more expensive and has a sweeter, more delicate flavor.

Culinary grade matcha is less expensive and has a slightly bitter flavor.

What does Matcha mean?

Matcha is a Japanese compound word made of two words: “ma” which translates as “ground” and “cha” which means “tea”.

So, matcha literally means “ground tea”.

The word matcha is first found in a Chinese dictionary dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). At that time, matcha was a powder made from grinding up the whole tea leaf.

What’s the history of Matcha?

Matcha powder has a long rich history.

Over 900 years ago, Chinese Zen Buddhist monks pioneered the preparation and use of powdered tea.

As a result, making traditional Matcha is ritualistic and meditative by nature, requiring special equipment and a meticulous, step-by-step procedure.

This custom was introduced to the Japanese in the 11th and 12th centuries, and they have since prepared and consumed the foamy tea beverage.

Matcha green tea powder as we know it today was first produced in Japan in the 12th century by the Buddhist monk Eisai.

Eisai brought tea seeds back with him from China and planted them in Kyoto.

He also wrote the first book on tea, titled “Kissa Yojoki” (喫茶養生記, “Book of Tea Culture”), which introduced the health benefits of traditional green tea and matcha tea.

Powdered tea has persistently retained its significance in Japanese culture while losing favor in other Eastern Asian countries.

But these days, the matcha ritual is associated with the Japanese tea ceremony.

Even though it originated in China, the vibrant green color of this powder is now widely associated with Japanese desserts.

The tea ceremony is a formal occasion for the host to entertain guests in a calm and relaxing atmosphere.

Is matcha same as green tea?

There is a huge misconception about regular green tea and matcha. Matcha powder is not simply green tea.

People often think that matcha is simply a concentrated or enhanced form of green tea.

This could not be farther from the truth!

The matcha powder is made from shade-grown tea leaves that are ground into a very fine powder, while regular green tea is made from steeping whole leaves in hot water.

This difference in processing gives matcha a richer flavor and a higher concentration of nutrients.

Matcha also has more caffeine than regular green tea, but it is released into the bloodstream gradually so that it does not cause the “jittery” feeling associated with caffeine.

The processing method between green tea and the matcha powder is different.

After harvest, green tea is either steamed or pan-fired to prevent oxidation.

Chinese green teas are often pan-fired, but Japanese green teas are typically steamed.

After that, the tea leaves are formed, dried, and packaged. Many of the initial steps in the manufacturing of matcha are similar to those of green tea: the leaves are picked, steamed to prevent oxidation, and then stone-ground into a fine powder.

One of the key distinctions between matcha and green tea is the ultimate consistency of the leaves (the entire tea leaf vs. fine powder).

Matcha vs green tea extracts

The antioxidant levels in matcha are higher than those found in green tea extracts because matcha powder is made from the entire tea leaf.

This means that matcha contains more catechins, a type of antioxidant, than green tea extracts.

A recent study found that matcha contains up to 137 times more catechins than Chinese green tea.

Catechins are thought to be responsible for many of the health benefits associated with green tea.

They include improved cardiovascular health, weight loss, and blood sugar control.

Types of matcha

There’s a difference between ceremonial grade matcha and culinary grade matcha.

Both powders look almost identical, but there’s a tasteable difference in quality.

Ceremonial-grade matcha

Ceremonial grade matcha is the highest quality matcha powder, and it is used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies.

The leaves used to make ceremonial grade matcha are shaded for about 20 days before harvest, which increases the chlorophyll content and gives the leaves a vivid green color.

After harvest, the leaves are immediately steamed and then dried.

The stems and veins are removed, and the leaves are stone ground into a very fine powder.

Ceremonial grade matcha has a bright green color and a delicate, smooth flavor.

Culinary-grade matcha

Culinary grade matcha is the second highest quality of matcha powder, and it is often used in cooking and baking.

The leaves used to make culinary-grade matcha are shaded for about 10 days before harvest.

After harvest, the leaves are immediately steamed and then dried.

The stems and veins are removed, and the leaves are stone ground into a very fine powder.

Culinary grade matcha has a bright green color and a slightly bitter flavor. This type of matcha is used in cooking, lattes, ice cream, baked good, and other Matcha desserts.

Overall, the flavor isn’t as pure and smooth as the expensive matcha used for official tea ceremonies.

How is matcha used?

There are many different ways to use matcha powder.


Some people believe that drinking regular brewed green tea leaves is the same as matcha but it’s not. Drinking green tea is not the same as drinking matcha tea.

The powder form of matcha allows for a more complete absorption of nutrients.

The traditional way to prepare matcha is to use a bamboo whisk (chasen) and a small ceramic bowl (chawan).

First, the matcha powder is sifted into the bowl.

Next, hot water is added and the mixture is whisked until frothy.

The final step is to drink the tea while enjoying the subtle flavor and beautiful color.

Matcha lattes

The matcha green tea latte is a popular menu item in both Japanese and Western cafes and coffee shops.

It is made by mixing match in powdered form with hot water or milk to create a frothy, creamy drink.

The latte can be enjoyed hot or iced, and the latte takes on a strong green color.


Matcha powder can also be added to smoothies for an extra boost of antioxidants and flavor.

When adding matcha to a smoothie, it is best to use a non-dairy milk such as almond or coconut milk and to add a sweetener such as honey or agave nectar.

Ice cream

Matcha powder can be used to make matcha ice cream.

The powder is added to milk and cream and the mixture is churned in an ice cream maker.

The matcha ice cream is usually made of culinary-grade matcha.

Baking and cooking

Matcha can also be used in baking and cooking. It is a versatile ingredient that can be added to cakes, pastries, mochi, soba noodles, and more.

Matcha powder can be used as a natural food coloring to give baked goods and other dishes a beautiful green color.

Matcha powder can also be used to make matcha green tea butter, which is a delicious way to add the flavor of matcha to toast, bagels, or muffins.

What does matcha do to your body?

People always wonder if matcha has health benefits, and yes, it does!

Some of matcha’s purported health benefits include:

  • Boosting metabolism and burning calories
  • Enhancing mood and concentration
  • Reducing stress
  • Improving cholesterol and blood sugar levels
  • Detoxifying the body
  • Enhancing skin health

Matcha is also a rich source of antioxidants.

These are nutrients that scavenge harmful toxins known as free radicals, which can damage cells, leading to inflammation.

Free radicals have been linked to a number of chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. Matcha is believed to help destroy cancer cells.

Is matcha stronger than caffeine?

Matcha has a high caffeine content – higher than both coffee and green tea. That’s because it’s much more concentrated.

It contains more caffeine than green tea. One regular (240ml) cup of green tea has approximately 30 mg of caffeine.

In contrast, 2-4 grams of matcha contains about 38 to 176 mg of caffeine, and that’s much more than the regular Japanese green tea bags or leaves.

Coffee contains about 40-50 mg of caffeine, so it has a lower caffeine content compared to matcha.

Matcha green tea ice cream is a popular flavor of ice cream in Japan.

Mochi is a Japanese rice cake that is often flavored with matcha.

Best matcha powder to buy

When you add matcha powder to your food, it’s best to use a high-quality powder. When sipping matcha, the flavor should be smooth and pleasant, not overly bitter.

Some of the best matcha powders to buy include:

Best culinary grade: Jade Leaf Organic Matcha Green Tea Powder

This is a type of organic pure matcha powder that is perfect for culinary use.

It has a bright green color and a smooth flavor.

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Best ceremonial: Golde Pure Matcha

This high-quality powder is considered a superfood. It contains L-Theanine and antioxidants and offers all the nutritional benefits of matcha powder.

It has a beautiful green color, and it has a slightly sweet flavor with grassy undertones.

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When preparing a frothy drink like a latte, a bamboo whisk called chasen is required.

The Zulay Traditional Matcha Whisk & Spoon is the whisk and spoon set that’s perfect for making matcha.

Zulay Traditional Matcha Whisk & Spoon - 100 Prong Bamboo Whisk For Ceremonial Tea Preparation - Authentic Japanese Bamboo Whisk For Matcha Tea

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Where to buy matcha

Matcha is sold at most health stores, Asian grocery shops, and online.

It’s important to check the label to make sure you’re buying matcha powder and not green tea leaves or green tea powder.

Matcha powder is more versatile because it can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.


Is matcha and mate the same?

No, matcha and mate are not the same. Matcha is a type of green tea, while mate is an herbal tea.

Matcha is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, while mate is made from the leaves of the Ilex paraguariensis plant.

Is it OK to drink matcha everyday?

Yes, it’s perfectly fine to drink matcha every day. In fact, many people do because of its health benefits.

Just make sure to buy a high-quality powder to get the most benefit from it.

Also, the high caffeine content is something to consider before consuming it.

Is matcha good for weight loss?

Yes, it is. Matcha can help boost metabolism and burn calories. It can also help reduce stress, which can lead to weight gain.

However, it’s important to remember that matcha is not a miracle weight loss solution. It should be part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Who should not drink matcha?

Those who are not allowed to consume high caffeine quantities, such as pregnant women, should not drink matcha.

People with heart conditions or anxiety disorders should also avoid it.

Which is healthier matcha or green tea?

Drinking green tea is generally considered to be healthy but not quite as healthy as matcha since it has many more antioxidants.

Why is matcha so popular?

Matcha is a healthy alternative to coffee and other energy drinks. It provides a gentle energy boost and helps improve focus.

It’s also a trendy superfood that can be added to all sorts of recipes, from smoothies to desserts.

How do I store matcha powder?

Matcha powder should be stored in a cool, dry place. It’s best to keep it in an airtight container to prevent it from going bad.

The shelf life is approximately 1 year or so.


Matcha is a type of green tea that has many health benefits. It’s rich in antioxidants and can help boost metabolism.

Green tea lattes and matcha tea are popular ways to enjoy this beneficial superfood.

The matcha powder is more versatile than green tea leaves or powder and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.

It’s important to buy a high-quality powder to get the most benefit from it. Matcha powder is sold at most health stores, Asian grocery shops, and online.

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.