Matcha vs. Tea Bags: What's the Difference?
Matcha green tea has exploded in popularity over the last decade, but is there really a difference compared to regular green tea bags?
Well, yes. The difference between matcha and bagged green tea is like the difference between chicken and chicken soup. One is a whole food while the other is only food-infused water.
With matcha, you are consuming the entire leaf. Matcha refers to green tea leaves that are finely-ground into a powder, which is then mixed into hot water to make tea. Unlike conventional tea bags, you are not merely steeping a cup of tea and then discarding the bag; you actually consume the tea leaves in their entirety. Nothing goes to waste, and all the benefits are consumed.
This whole-leaf tea means you are consuming more nutrients and antioxidants compared to conventional tea bags. Although both matcha powder and regular bagged green tea comes from the same plant (Camellia sinensis), their differences are due to their growing and processing methods.
Importantly, matcha can only be made from green tea that is harvested in the spring and early summer (and is typically grown in the shade), resulting in sweeter, milder flavors. On the other hand, tea bags contain leaves that have been processed later in the year (and exposed to plentiful sunlight), which results in more astringent, robust flavors.
This difference in harvest time and sun exposure results in vastly different flavors and nutrient profiles. Because matcha is consumed in its whole-leaf form, it cannot be made of late-harvest teas, as it would be far too bitter. Late harvest teas (processed in the fall or winter) are only appropriate for tea bags, because steeping the leaves in water produces a more mild flavor than consuming the leaf in its entirety. Matcha can come only from spring or early summer harvests in which the leaves are picked while still soft and mild, and therefore acceptable to be consumed whole.
And although both matcha and bagged tea contain naturally-occurring caffeine and various antioxidants, matcha green tea also contains a higher amount of the amino acid L-theanine, which has been shown to promote relaxed focus and concentration. Multiple studies have also shown that L-theanine contributes to improved task performance, reduced anxiety, and even enhanced immune function.
A relatively rare and unique type of amino acid, L-theanine is found in higher concentrations in matcha due to its growing process. Regular green tea bags are filled with tea leaves that have been grown in the sun, that when steeped, result in the yellowish-green liquid that we generally know as green tea. However, matcha is made of green tea leaves that are grown in the shade, resulting in a darker, richer, sweeter, and more deeply-colored shade of green tea. And, as it turns out, in a higher concentration of L-theanine.
Interestingly, L-theanine is also thought to be the cause of the “umami” flavor in green tea, which is a type of rich savory flavor also found in mushrooms and soy products. Because matcha is higher in L-theanine compared to conventional tea bags, the umami flavor is also more robust in matcha compared to regular bagged green teas. This makes it a highly versatile flavor agent that can be used in both sweet & savory dishes.
This special amino acid is also why monks have used matcha for hundreds of years to meditate without falling asleep. L-theanine provides hours of steady alertness without the jitters, while also imparting a mild calming effect on the body and mind. Thus, while the natural caffeine in conventional green tea bags may provide moderate energy, matcha’s additional benefit of L-theanine provides a steady focus balanced out by relaxation.
But you don’t have to be a monk to enjoy matcha. In fact, you don’t even have to meditate. You can use matcha just like you would coffee, except you don’t have to worry about the jitters because the L-theanine in matcha balances out its natural caffeine content. And with about half as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, it means you can reach for an extra cup, guilt-free.
Matcha makes an excellent morning latte, lunchtime study aide, and afternoon pick-me-up. In addition to making an instant cup of verdant tea, this versatile green powder can also be easily blended into many foods and drinks that you already enjoy everyday, including smoothies, baked goods, oatmeals, and yogurt.
Now that you know the difference and are eager to try out matcha, how exactly do you use it? Read our quick guide on preparing matcha for everything you need to know!
All of our matcha powders are shade-grown, organically-harvested, and sourced in the lush Kagoshima region of Japan for highest quality and best value.