6 Differences between Matcha vs Sencha

Matcha vs sencha is a comparison that is often made, but the two teas are actually very different.

In this article we are going to go through 6 major differences between these two teas.

We’ll take a look at how the teas are produced and prepared to find all the differences between Matcha vs Sencha. Without further ado, let’s get started! 🍵🍃🇯🇵

Matcha vs Sencha - detailed comparison video

What's the difference between Matcha vs Sencha 

Matcha powder

Matcha green tea powder was the original tea consumed in Japan, and is still the tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony.

In the 1700’s sencha began to overtake matcha as the most popular tea in Japan, and this is where the discussion between matcha vs sencha first began. Many people were tired of the strict rules and principles, and wanted a simpler way to prepare tea. 

Sencha 

First, let’s start out by talking about what sencha is. Sencha is the most common type of green tea in Japan, and it can take on a wide variety of different forms.

Even though sencha is seen as a “basic” tea type, producing this tea is anything but simple.

It is made from tea leaves that are steamed, rolled and dried. The dried leaves are then infused into warm water to create sencha tea. It's prepared by infusing the processed whole tea leaves in hot water.

Whether you are new to sencha, or you have been drinking it for a long time, I’d love to invite you to read the article 👉 Everything You Need to Know About Sencha. You'll discover all the secret of this superior green tea. 

6 Main differences between Matcha vs Sencha 

#1 Powder vs Loose leaf tea

The most obvious difference between matcha vs sencha is that matcha is in a powdered form and sencha is in a loose leaf form. This affects just about every aspect of the two teas, from the production to the health benefits and the flavor. Later we will discuss the difference in health benefits between these two teas but suffice to say that matcha is much more potent than sencha. You are consuming the entire leaf compared to just an infusion, so you will be getting a heavier load of nutrients in matcha vs sencha. 

The fact that the tea is in powdered form also affects the flavor and how the tea is produced, which we will also discuss later. When you powder the tea leaf, you concentrate the flavor and make it much more bitter. If you were to make sencha powder for example, it would be extremely bitter. There are special steps involved in the production of matcha to make it taste naturally smooth as a powder, all of which we will cover.  

#2 Growing of Matcha vs Sencha

The growing process of Matcha and Sencha has a lot of different answers. This is a question we get asked a lot, so we thought we’d put together a list to talk about all the different growing methods. If you're interested, we invite you to read the article 👉 How is tea made? Complete explanation by Tea Experts

Cultivar

Before a new tea is made, of course the plant must first be grown and harvested. This may seem simple, but there is actually a lot of thought that goes into it. First, the farmer needs to decide what type of tea plant to grow. 70% of the Sencha tea in Japan is from the Yabukita cultivar. This tea plant produces a broad spectrum of flavors from grassy, to sweet, to savory. It also produces some of the toughest leaves. This is important in Japan, as the winters can actually get quite cold here and tougher leaves are more resistant to frost. If the farmer is trying to produce a lighter or sweeter tea, they may use a more rare cultivar like Saemidori or Okumidori. 

This is a difference between premium matcha vs sencha. You may notice premium matcha has a wider spectrum of cultivars it is made out of compared to sencha. This is because of the enhanced bitterness we mentioned before. People tend to prefer these smooth and creamy flavors in a matcha, and this is difficult to accomplish with the more common Yabukita cultivar. While Yabukita is still the most common cultivar for matcha, the most popular matcha teas that we sell are all from the cultivars okumidori, gokou and saemidori. In other words, Yabukita sencha appears to be more popular than Yabukita matcha. 

These more delicate cultivars will require more labor, and may have a slightly smaller yield. In order for a farmer to grow these teas, they must be sure they can sell them for a higher price. After the tea plant is planted, it will then take 3-4 years before it can be harvested. You may often see younger tea plants growing alongside larger fields. This is a sign that farmers are making an investment for the future. 

Shading

What type of tea plant is grown is not the only decision that the farmer needs to make. Before the tea is harvested, the farmer needs to decide whether or not to shade the tea plant. Shading is perhaps one of the biggest factors when it comes to Sencha, but this is a big difference when it comes to premium matcha vs sencha. Sencha can be shaded, but matcha has to be shaded. Although shading is not necessarily a mark of high quality tea, the most prized teas in Japan all tend to be shaded. Kabuse Sencha, Gyokuro and Matcha are all shaded for a longer time, and these teas are noticeable for their intense sweet and umami flavors. 

When the tea plant is shaded, it retains higher levels of chlorophyll, caffeine and theanine. When the tea is exposed to sunlight in the final days before the harvest, it will produce more catechins. This decision comes down to taste preference. If the farmer wants to produce more of a sweet and savory Sencha like a Kabusecha, they will shade the plant for a longer time. If they want to produce a drier and slightly more bitter Sencha, they will leave the plant unshaded.

#3 Harvesting and Processing

Harvest

In Late April or early May, the tea plants in Japan are typically harvested for the first time. The last time these plants were harvested was likely in the fall of the previous year, so the plants have been able to store up nutrients for many months. The most desirable leaves are these light green ones on the top of the tea plant. This is a similarity in matcha vs sencha as they are both typically made from the youngest sprouts. Just as with the shading, sencha can be made from the youngest sprouts, but matcha has to be made from the youngest spouts.

These leaves are the most nutrient dense as well as the lightest and sweetest leaves on the whole plant. These tender young leaves are then harvested and brought directly to be processed. Once the leaves are picked, the farmers' work has only just begun! 

What separates green tea from black tea is that green tea is unoxidized while black tea is fully oxidized. Once the leaves are picked, the enzymes will begin to oxidize the leaf over time, leading to a more complex floral and even fruity flavor. In order to lock in the natural, grassy and vegetable flavors of the leaves, the leaves need to be heated within a few hours of being picked.

In China, these leaves would be heated in a large pan, but what makes Japanese Sencha unique is that the leaves are actually steamed. These leaves are steamed for only around 1 minute, but in that time the enzymes that cause oxidation are deactivated and the leaves are softened. This process is carried out for both matcha and sencha, but where the difference between matcha vs sencha arises is the decision of how long to steam the teas. This is a decision that only needs to be made by producers of sencha.

Additional steps for sencha

If the leaves are steamed for a longer time, the Sencha will become a Fukamushi or deep steamed tea. During this extra steaming time, the cell membranes of the leaf are broken down even further and more of the leaf is able to flow into the cup. These teas are famous for their incredibly vibrant green color and their smooth and round taste. This is a technique a farmer can use to soften their tea even further. Deep steamed tea leaves are also a little bit more brittle, and you may notice smaller leaf particles in the leaves. This increases the surface area of the tea and can lead to an even more intense brewing.  

After the tea leaves have been steamed, they then need to be dried. This is done in a series of small ovens (above) that bake the leaves over time at a lower heat. The humidity content of the leaves needs to be between 4-7% so that the leaves can infuse properly. While the leaves are still pliable, they can also be rolled into the proper shape. Japanese green teas are quite unique for these tightly rolled needle shapes. This is one of the reasons why the leaves need to be infused for a full minute. The leaves are so tightly rolled that in order to extract the flavor properly, they need to be in water for at least a minute. With Gyokuro, a special type of green tea, the leaves are even more tightly rolled. For this tea, we recommend a steeping time of 2 minutes, ensuring that these needle shaped leaves are fully opened up.

After lots of hard work, the Sencha is finally done. This loose leaf tea can either be packaged and sold as a single cultivar tea, or made into a blend. Tea blending is a very precise art, and takes a lot of skill. The idea is to blend multiple tea varieties together to capture the best aspects of each. The Gyokuro Sasa Hime is a good example of a successful tea blend. Mr. Sakamoto takes 3 distinct tea cultivars and crafts them together beautifully. The vegetal flavor of the Yabukita, the smooth, round and fruity flavor of the Okumidori and the light sweetness of the Saemidori all combine to create a perfectly balanced tea.  

Additional Matcha Processing

Matcha undergoes 2 additional steps that are not done to produce sencha and this is the major difference in the production of matcha vs sencha. The first difference is that matcha has to have its stems removed. The stems of the tea plant are not quite as sweet as the leaves and because the tea becomes more intense when it is ground into a powder, the sweetness needs to be maximized and the stems need to be removed.

After the stems are removed, now comes the second difference between matcha vs sencha, the grinding. At this point the leaves with their stems removed are referred to as “tencha” and they are one step away from being matcha. As we mentioned before, if you ground up sencha leaves to make sencha powder, it would be much more bitter than matcha so the stem removal process is very important. The tencha leaves are put into a large granite mill and ground into a fine powder.

Inside the granite mill there is a collection of grooves that force the tencha leaves outwards as they are slowly ground into a finer and finer powder. This process is very time consuming and it can take up to an hour just to produce 50 grams of precious matcha powder. This leads to a big difference in price between matcha vs sencha.

#4 Health Benefits

When you drink a bowl of matcha tea, you are consuming the entire leaf. When you drink a cup of normal green tea, you are drinking just the water soluble components of the outer leaf. This is a key difference between matcha vs sencha with regards to health benefits. As we have discussed earlier in this list, there are many things that matcha contains more of, due to the fact that you are drinking the entire leaf rater than an extraction. Matcha is essentially a superpowered green tea!

Antioxidants

Matcha has more antioxidants than a normal green tea. While the difference between matcha vs sencha antioxidants isn’t 140 times like some sources suggest, it is likely closer to 5 times. If you think about the preparation of the tea, this really makes sense, as most of the leaves are left inside the teapot when you brew a normal cup of green tea. 

Caffeine & L-Theanine

One difference between Matcha vs sencha that gets talked about a lot is the caffeine content. Caffeine is produced by the tea plant as a defense mechanism to protect itself against insects. When the tea plant is under a lot of stress, like during the shading process, it produces more caffeine. In addition to this, because you are consuming the entire leaf, you are getting all the caffeine inside as well.

Even though matcha is a high caffeine tea, with about 68mg of caffeine per serving of premium matcha, you won’t feel the same jolt as you do with coffee. This is because the caffeine is also combined with theanine. Theanine helps the body slow the absorption of caffeine, so rather than getting a quick jolt of energy and then a crash later on in the day, you may notice a long lasting calm alert feeling throughout the day. 

#5 Matcha is more expensive than Sencha

A good ceremonial grade matcha sells for between $1-2 per gram whereas a premium sencha sells for between 30-50 cents per gram. So why is it that matcha is 3-4 times more expensive than sencha?

There are a number of different factors that make matcha more expensive than sencha, and most of them have to do with the longer production process. The tea plant needs to be shaded for 3 weeks, whereas sencha can be unshaded or shaded for only one week. The shading process can be very stressful for the plant, and reduce the total yield. Also setting up and maintaining the netting can require additional capital and manpower.  

In addition to the shading, the removal of the stems requires additional machinery and manpower. Thankfully, the days where tea stems needed to be removed by hand are long gone. Now the leaves are rubbed against a surface to separate the stem from the leaf and then they are blown through a series of nets by fans. The leaf material is lighter than the stems so it drifts higher and can be collected at the top of the net. Even though this system is easy to automate, it still requires additional maintenance, labor and capital. All of these make matcha more expensive to produce.

Next we have the grinding of the matcha powder. The granite mills used to make premium matcha tea can cost thousands of dollars, and they still produce only 50 grams of matcha powder per hour. This greatly reduces the yield of tea compared to that of sencha and it makes it more expensive.

#6 Taste and Color

As we mentioned before, when you grind the tea leaf into a powder and mix it into water, it tastes completely different than a brewed tea. Matcha is a much darker green color and it is opaque, whereas sencha tends to be a yellowish green color and is translucent. 

The mouthfeel of matcha vs sencha also could not be more different. Matcha is extremely thick, almost like milk or cream whereas sencha is more like a juice. This is because the concentration of tea leaf in the water is much higher. Matcha also has much more of these steamed vegetable and seaweed notes compared to sencha.  

Of course the powdering doesn’t explain all the taste differences between matcha vs sencha. As we mentioned before, if you took sencha powder and compared it to matcha, you would find a huge difference in taste. The sencha powder would be very bitter and distasteful, whereas the matcha would be smooth and milky. This difference in taste comes down to the careful production of the matcha tea, which has been perfected over hundreds of years.

History of the two most iconic Japanese Green Teas 

Both Sencha and matcha have a long rich history. Matcha is actually the older of the two teas, but both have been enjoyed in Japan for hundreds of years. If you're interested in the history of Japanese tea, the article 👉 History of green tea in japan & Tea ceremony is made for you!

Matcha History

The consumption of powdered tea began in the Tang dynasty from the period of 618-907AD. During this time it was common to store tea in compressed bricks and then grind pieces of it into a bowl to prepare with hot water. This might be considered matcha by today's standards, but with a very loose definition of the term. The matcha we know today really originated in Japan.

There are records of tea being consumed in Japan as early as the 700s AD. At the time, monks from Japan would go on pilgrimage trips to China to learn about buddhism from the Chinese monks. They found that the tea helped them stay focused during long periods of meditation and eventually they brought some tea seeds over to plant on the temple grounds around the area that is now Kyoto. 

Japanese tea began in the temples but it later made its way into tea ceremonies. The modern Japanese tea ceremony as we know it today was an invention of medieval Japan and during this time matcha was the dominant form of tea. The use of matcha tea during the tea ceremony solidified it as a fixture of Japanese culture. 

Sencha History 

In 1738, a farmer by the name Nagatani Soen came up with an important discovery. At the time, tea was prepared according to a strict set of rules and principles, just like you see in the Japanese tea ceremony. There was a desire for a more simplistic method of brewing tea, but this was a bit more complicated.

Nagatani Soen found that by steaming the tea leaves and rolling them, he could lock in the flavor until they were ready to be infused. He could then prepare the tea leaves in a simple tea pot, and avoid the need for all the utensils required to prepare matcha. It was here that sencha tea was invented, which soon became the most popular type of tea in all of Japan.  

The home of Nagatani Soen was turned into a museum, and a nearby shrine was built in his honor. Larger tea companies from all over Japan fund the upkeep of this shrine as a way to pay their respects to the father of Japanese green tea. 

Does Sencha Powder exist?

Sencha powder does exist, but it does not taste the same as matcha powder. As discussed before, tencha leaves have been specifically designed to be powdered whereas sencha leaves are not. The main difference has to do with the removal of the stems. This is the big difference between tencha vs sencha. The stems are not as sweet as the leaves, and they will become distasteful when you grind them into a powder. This is why they are removed before making matcha powder. 

The stems are not as much of a problem when the tea is brewed like sencha. These stems, as well as the shorter shading period would really be noticeable if you ground the sencha leaves to make sencha powder. 

Which one should you choose between Matcha vs Sencha? 

The choice between matcha vs sencha can be a tough one. We thought we’d try to make your decision a little bit easier by laying out a short buying guide for sencha and matcha as well as a short brewing guide for the two. This way you know exactly what you’re getting into before making a decision!

Choosing the right sencha

Sencha is such a diverse category of green tea, but that means that there is a little something for everybody. If you like milder, drier Sencha, you should go for an unshaded one like the Sencha Isagawa. If you like lighter and sweeter Sencha, you should go for the Kasugaen Asatsuyu.

If you prefer these intense bold flavors, perhaps you may enjoy the Fukamushi-Sencha Murasaki. With Sencha teas being as broad as they are, they are difficult to get tired of. There are so many different flavor profiles that can be explored all at once through the same tea. 

Choosing the right matcha 

When it comes to choosing a matcha tea, it all comes down to what you are planning on using the matcha for. If you are going to preparing matcha plain, with just water, we recommend you check out some of our ceremonial grade matcha. After traveling around Japan for the past few years we have met with dozens of farmers and tried hundreds of different matcha teas. We have selected the best tasting ones we have found and we can share them all with you on our website nioteas.com. These high quality matchas will be the best for ceremonial matcha preparation.

If you are more of a matcha latte fan, we have a great matcha green tea latte you can try. This one is from Mr. Masuda, a talented farmer in Shizuoka. Even though this matcha is a bit more bitter, it is grown with love and care and without pesticides. Whenever you are drinking matcha, even if it is for lattes, it is important to make it from a matcha powder that was grown without pesticides.  

Brewing Sencha

Brewing time and temperature

Typically, a Japanese green tea like Sencha is brewed with 160 degree water for 1 minute. The lower temperature and shorter steeping time actually ensures that the sweeter components of the leaf are extracted into the water. At a tea shop like Saryo, this is taken one step further with an even shorter brewing time. The tea leaves are brewed for only a few seconds and then the tea is drained into a pitcher. 

Different flavor and taste profiles

The result is an even sweeter tea, with less of the astringency or bitterness. In Japan particularly, all aspects of the tea are appreciated. A green tea like Sencha can be described as sweet, savory, grassy, citrusy, floral, earthy, vegetal and bitter and sometimes all at once! This diverse array of flavors are celebrated, and Japanese tea farmers often blend tea leaves to capture multiple flavor profiles. 

Different flavor profiles of a tea can also be seen in later brewings. Once you brew the tea leaves once, you shouldn’t throw them out. Instead, you can use them 2-3 more times to make completely unique cups of tea. The first steeping tends to be the sweetest and most savory. This is because theanine is the easiest component to extract. The second steeping tends to be more grassy, vegetal or citrusy. This means that the catechins in the tea are starting to be extracted at a higher proportion. When steeping the tea a second time, you’ll want to use the same temperature water, 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit, but this time only let the tea brew for 20 seconds. With the first steeping, you are brewing it for longer to fully open up the leaves, but in the second steeping, the leaves are already open so it is easier to extract flavor from the leaves.

How to make sencha taste good

There are 10 golden rules to respect if you want to make the perfect sencha or any green tea. If you want to know more about these rules, we suggest you to read article 👉 How to make green tea taste good explained by tea experts

10 golden rules to respect if you want to make the perfect sencha:

  1. Buy Better Quality Sencha
  2. Use the right teaware
  3. Steep Briefly
  4. Be Mindful Of Water Temperature
  5. Be careful with Flavoring Add-Ins
  6. Cold-brew your Sencha
  7. Selecting a Sencha that tastes great
  8. Brew Sencha the right way and it will taste good
  9. Improve bitterness of Sencha
  10. Choose the Best Tasting Sencha

Preparing matcha

Do you want the perfect bowl of matcha? Then we advice you to read the article 👉 How to Make Matcha Green Tea in 4 Steps. With this complete guide, you'll be able to prepare foamy bowls of matcha! Always keep in mind that there are two different styles of matcha preparation, both of which can be used in the japanese tea ceremony. The first is more common and that is usucha or thin tea. The second is used in special tea ceremonies and that is koicha or thick matcha.

How to Prepare Usucha ("thin tea")

  • Step 1: Place the sifter on top of a bowl
  • Step 2: Add 1 teaspoon of matcha to the sifter 
  • Step 3: Push the powder through the sifter to get rid of the clumps
  • Step 4: Add just enough water to the bowl to form a paste (this makes it even easier to make sure there are no clumps)
  • Step 5: Add 2oz of water to the bowl (85 degrees C)
  • Step 6: Whisk the tea. Start by clearing off the sides and then whisk to create a foam. 

How to Prepare Koicha ("thick tea")

  • Step 1: Place the sifter on top of a bowl
  • Step 2: Add 2 teaspoons of matcha to the sifter 
  • Step 3: Push the powder through the sifter to get rid of the clumps
  • Step 4: Add 2oz of water to the bowl (85 degrees C)
  • Step 5: Mix the powder and water together in the bowl until a thick paste is created. Make sure you completely scrape off the sides of the bowl.
  • Step 6: Drink the matcha paste

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