Matcha (抹茶) is a precious part of Japan’s history and living tea culture. It is finely ground green tea powder which, instead of steeping, is whisked into water, ideally with a fine layer of froth adorning the surface. Prepared in the traditional style, matcha is an intense and unique drinking experience, and its effects are many times stronger compared to the same volume of regular steeped tea.
The tea plants used for matcha are covered from sunlight a few weeks before the harvest, which introduces changes in the young top leaves, giving their taste the mellowness and richness that matcha is known for. After being processed into green tea, the leaves are destemmed and deveined and then ground up with stone mills into very fine, bright green powder.
Regular powdered green tea that didn’t go through the special steps is often also sold as matcha, but it nearly always tastes very bitter and has a yellowish or otherwise dull color, and it doesn’t froth very well. Genuine high-quality matcha indeed has no real substitute; granted, the cheaper powdered teas can be put to excellent use in other drinks and foods, and they work quite alright mixed with a bigger amount of cool water.