Thoughts on the Term “Matcha”

Izu Matcha (ETS Image)
Izu Matcha (ETS Image)

I don’t claim to be an expert on tea. I’ve learned a few things in the years I’ve been writing about it, but just enough to make me realize how much more there is to learn. From the time I learned of matcha, I was under the impression that it was a powdered green tea from Japan. Which is true. Once upon a time, matcha was used mostly in the Japanese tea ceremony, but these days it’s become more widely used here in the West in recipes, foods and, of course, for drinking.

What I had not run across until quite recently was the use of the word “matcha” to describe something other than a powdered Japanese green tea. The first time I saw the term used this way was in the case of something known as Green Coffee Bean Matcha. This, as the name indicates, is a product made from green coffee beans rather than tea, one that’s powdered and that actually bears a rather strong visual resemblance to the aforementioned matcha tea.

More recently I ran across something with the rather understated name of Miracle Matcha. At the product’s Web site, it’s said to be the “highest grade white tea matcha” and to possess “3 times the antioxidant level of green tea.” Which are just a few of the many claims made for this seemingly miraculous elixir, which lays it on quite thickly with a listing of health benefits.

But are either of these products actually deserving of the term “matcha”? Well, it’s hard to find a definitive answer to that, though my gut feeling is that they are not. Dictionary definitions seem to be a bit sparse for the word, perhaps because it is Japanese. But of course Wikipedia, which seems to have an opinion on just about everything, has weighed in – for whatever it might be worth. They define matcha as “also spelled maccha, refers to finely milled or fine powder green tea.” No mention, however, of matcha used to describe anything other than Japanese green tea.

In an attempt to clear matters up I thought I’d turn to a few books on the reference shelf, but to no avail. Both The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook and The Tea Drinker’s Handbook include entries on matcha but neither one references the possibility that the term can be used to describe anything but Japanese green tea. I don’t claim any expertise on the matter but I’d wager that those who are using (misusing?) the term in such a manner are perhaps attempting to cash in on the popularity of the real thing.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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3 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Term “Matcha”

  1. Pingback: The Best of the English Tea Store Tea Blog in 2013 | Tea Blog

  2. Aariq

    So, the definition doesn’t mention anything about it being Japanese tea, but it’s a Japanese word–isn’t that enough? It’s like if I said I’m going to eat some elote, people would know I’m talking about corn on the cob Mexican style (with chili, lime, mayo, etc.) and not American style (butter and salt).

    Also, the coffee thing is definitely messed up. Coffee is not “cha” in any language.

  3. You are right, there is a lot of “abuse”; however “mo cha” in mandarin means “tea powder” hence it is a product description which does not necessarily refer to Japan exclusively; this is in line with my ideas : the specialty teas need some “structuring” and frame work of references , just as the specialty coffee people do for their gourmet coffees, but sofar I have not found anybody available to invest time and competence …am sure, though, that this day will come,

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