We see these questions pop up a lot: What is the difference between sencha and matcha? And, if matcha is powdered green tea can I just grind up some sencha at home? We will try to clarify some of these concepts!
What is the difference between matcha and sencha?
While sencha is a loose leaf tea, matcha is a finely stone-ground powder.
Matcha originated in Japan around the 7th century, when it was brought from China where drinking powdered tea was popular at the time. While Japan spent a good amount of time and effort perfecting powdered tea, which eventually resulted in Chado — matcha tea ceremonies, China has long forgotten about powdered tea and was only drinking loose leaf tea.
Loose leaf tea in the form of sencha was popularized in Japan only during the 17th century, as a simple alternative way of drinking tea. Read more about the sencha history in our article History of Senchado.
So can I just grind up some sencha to make matcha at home?
The answer is no. The textures of the two teas are not the only thing that makes them differ. In fact, they are grown in completely different conditions and require different processing methods. Grinding up sencha (even if you are able to produce as fine as a powder as matcha requires) will only result in sencha powder. This will in no way be matcha.
Differences in processing matcha and sencha.
Tea bushes for sencha are grown under direct sunlight.
In the meantime, the tea bushes for matcha production are shaded for several weeks before harvest. High grades of ceremonial matcha practically see no sun. This method helps for the tea bushes to stack up on theanine and chlorophyll which gives the resulting tea a natural sweetness, antioxidants, and umami.
You can tell apart good and bad quality matcha by the amount of bitterness it has. Good quality matcha has a high level of natural sweetness. Another difference is the deep green color that tea powder should have, thanks to the stored chlorophyll in the tea bushes. Low grade matcha will most likely be a murky swamp color rather than a vibrant green.
Sencha tea is picked stem, shoot, and a few open leaves. For matcha, only the newest top couple leaves are picked.
After harvest both matcha and sencha teas are quickly steamed to preserve the bright green color. After drying, sencha is pressed and then ready to be consumed.
For matcha, the tea leaves are further inspected with all the hard parts, like stems and veins, being removed. Then the carefully selected leaves undergo a unique stone-grinding process. Thus matcha powder is made.
And although both sencha and matcha are rich in antioxidants and have a variety of health benefits, when we consume matcha we get a fuller spectrum of these nutrients. This is because matcha is ground up and when we drink it we are consuming the whole leaf. On the other hand, when we brew sencha there is a limit to the nutrients that leave the tea leaf into the brew. Check out the following blog posts to see how you can consume more nutrients when enjoying sencha: