Matcha, sencha, and green tea—what’s the difference between them, and why should it matter to you?
Matcha and sencha both fall under the larger umbrella of “green tea.” They’re both grown from the same tea plant—Camellia Sinensis—and up until about a month before they’re harvested, both matcha and sencha teas are remarkably similar.
However, it’s that final month that sets matcha apart from its green tea cousin, sencha. Matcha distinguishes itself with unique growing environments, specialized refining methods, overall fineness of the powder, and distinctive preparation and cultural significance.
Grown in the Shade
A month before it’s harvested, tea farmers cover select matcha plants with a series of dense burlap sacks or screens to block out almost all of the sunlight from reaching the delicate tea leaves.
This lack of light forces the tea leaf to adapt: the leaves broaden and flatten out to drink in as much precious sunlight as possible. The plant also packs more chlorophyll into every leaf to maximize photosynthesis in this light poor environment.
Finally, the lack of sunlight helps maintain the amino acids in the delicate leaves that would otherwise breakdown in the harsher sunlight.
These changes in the size, texture, and quality of the leaves gives matcha tea its vibrant jade color, finer-grain powder, distinct health benefits, and refined natural sweetness and umami taste.
Matcha also never comes in a loose leaf variety. While sencha leaves are often steeped and then removed to brew green tea and may also come in a coarser powdered form, matcha is always exclusively prepared by whipping matcha powder and hot water.
The Big Difference
The fine grain of the matcha powder, it’s bright color, and pleasant taste all lead to matcha being used in the formalized tea ceremony “Chanoyu.”
This final and most important cultural difference is what gives matcha its status atop the green tea pyramid. Because while sencha and matcha are both green teas, only matcha powder goes through the rigorous processes that transforms it from a drink to an art form.