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Matcha vs Coffee: How Do They Compare?

The great debate continues on.

by Suzette Hammond | July 28, 2022

I’m not gonna lie, friends; I absolutely judge a cafe based on whether it has matcha on the menu. It could be a matcha latte, or an iced drink, or it could even be (gasp!) a freshly whisked matcha, served traditional style, straight up. Always a welcome surprise.

But in some form or fashion, matcha really needs to be on that menu for me to take the place seriously. Why? Because matcha is everywhere now, in the same way that chai staked out a permanent spot back in the early aughts. Matcha is having a moment, and for good cause.

Matcha is a powdered green tea from Japan, with centuries-old origins in ceremonial tea gatherings for social enjoyment. The Japanese tea ceremony, which centers around the preparation of matcha, is called chanoyu. The idea of the tea ceremony is to create an opportunity to pause, enjoy good company, and appreciate the smaller details of daily life - not unlike the purpose of enjoying a cup of hand-poured coffee, no?

For this chat, we will compare matcha with coffee - espresso, specifically - to better understand the place that matcha could have in your everyday beverage rotation. For coffee fans, matcha can be a really accessible in-point for getting into tea in a way that few other teas can offer. If you’re not ready to dabble with matcha just yet though, not to worry - here at Trade we’ve got you covered with customized coffee subscriptions and equipment you need to maintain your morning ritual.

Matcha: A Tea for Espresso Lovers

For starters, being a powder makes matcha inherently different from leaf tea when it comes to preparation needs - it’s actually much more similar to coffee, in this sense. And this really comes through when we compare the two beverages side by side.

One of the most notable harmonies between matcha and espresso is the texture and viscosity. Matcha is a tea for espresso lovers. Both matcha and espresso have a similar body and weight, with their luxurious caramel sauce consistency. They’re also commonly enjoyed in similarly sized servings. A classic serving of matcha is about two ounces, which correlates to the popular double espresso.

So, for coffee drinkers who just can’t get into the lighter, watery nature of brewed tea, matcha could be a perfect option, providing that weightier, tactile familiarity.

How Matcha is Prepared vs Espresso

The similarities between matcha and espresso extend to how both are often enjoyed during the day, too. Imagine taking that afternoon coffee break or pausing during the morning rush to sip an espresso and enjoy a little baked treat. Or the slowness of enjoying a pour over at home. It’s a moment of pause, of respite. Matcha is that, too. There’s a lovely ritual in gathering the essential utensils for making matcha and putting all the busyness aside to savor those brief sips of fresh, vibrant tea.

However, equipment is a critical difference between how matcha is prepared vs espresso. Many coffee preparations have manual options (i.e., no actual machinery really involved, beyond a kettle and a good grinder), but espresso is unique. True espresso involves using steam to extract an intensely flavorful brew through finely ground coffee beans. In a cafe, this is the function of the espresso machine; at home, one might use a home espresso machine or a stovetop Moka pot.

Matcha, however, is totally, completely manual, and lovingly so. The matcha tea powder is gently sifted through a fine-mesh strainer to remove lumps, like sifting cake flour. A couple ounces of hot water (around 180F) is poured over the matcha tea powder. Then, a hand-carved bamboo whisk is whipped through the water to blend the tea and create an airy, emerald-hued foam. No steam involved.

A pause for a cultural note here: matcha is traditionally served in a bowl. It seems a bit odd the first time you encounter it; why is this little mouthful of liquid in a bowl that easily holds 14 or 15oz? The answer is in how matcha is prepared. It’s whisked to create a fluffy foam, sort of like eggs, and the larger bowl allows for this motion. That doesn’t mean you can’t serve it in a smaller cup, though. I’ve enjoyed matcha at plenty of cafes that serve it in a classic demitasse cup, like an espresso. It just needs to be prepared in something larger to achieve the correct consistency.

A frequently asked question surrounding this topic is whether you can pull a matcha shot on an espresso machine or use it in a Moka pot. I would definitely not recommend it; the temperatures of both methods are way too hot for matcha. The tea naturally dissolves anyway and truly doesn’t benefit from using steam equipment. One last point on this question: never mix your coffee equipment with your tea equipment. Coffee oils and aromas are tricky to thoroughly remove, and they will transfer to the tea, creating a not-so-nice ghost of old coffee flavor in your tea.

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The Finer Details: How Grind Impacts Matcha and Coffee

Both coffee and matcha require precision when grinding to yield the best flavor, but let’s get into some of the finer details of how grinding impacts quality.

Of course, water temperature, brew time, and skills of the brewer all influence how any cup of coffee will turn out. But essentially, the different types of coffee brewing methods are rooted, more or less, in how coarsely or finely the beans are ground. One can’t make proper espresso, for example, by using coffee that’s been coarsely ground for a French press because the grind is totally opposite. So for coffee, it really starts with matching the correct coffee grind size to the intended brewing method.

Matcha is also ground, but not by the consumer or barista - thankfully so! Because it’s incredibly difficult to do! Matcha is traditionally ground between rotating, hand-carved granite wheels, which slowly pulverize the leaves into an ultrafine powder. The wheels move so slow, in fact, that it takes a whole hour to produce a mere 30g of matcha powder. (that’s about one small retail container of tea.) Matcha can also be ground using stainless steel ball mills, which produce a slightly coarser grind.

The texture of even the finest ground coffee compared to matcha is noticeably different. The grounds for Turkish coffee - an ancient brewing method where the coffee is boiled several times in a small kettle - are about 100-200 microns in size.1 Matcha is much, MUCH finer - just 5-10 microns, comparable to the texture of talc or eyeshadow. When whisked into the water, matcha will essentially dissolve, whereas Turkish coffee always leaves a silty pool at the bottom of your cup.

Luckily, we don’t have to worry about achieving that level of precision ourselves to make a good bowl of matcha - it’s already done for you!

Winner of The Biggest Caffeine Buzz?

Plenty of folks turn to espresso and matcha for the energy boost. And if you’re one of those folks, let’s dive right into probably the biggest question you’re here for: who’s the winner of the biggest caffeine buzz?

The winner here is espresso!

When it comes to caffeine level, matcha ranks considerably lower than coffee. Matcha has about 25mg of caffeine per 1g serving (although it’s worth noting that most servings of matcha are about 2g of tea; the difference has to do with how much powder is scooped).3 Espresso, on the other hand, has about 63mg of caffeine per each one-ounce shot.4 And as we mentioned earlier, a serving of matcha is traditionally about two ounces. If one used 2g of tea powder, that would be about 50mg of caffeine - still less than a single espresso, which is important to note if you're either limiting your caffeine intake or craving an extra boost.

However, you might be feeling the effects of that matcha shot for several hours more than espresso, and in a more pleasing, less jittery way. Why the difference?

Well, as mentioned in our coffee vs tea exploration, green tea contains the amino acid L-theanine, whereas coffee does not. And L-theanine affects the way we absorb and utilize caffeine. It encourages the production of alpha brain waves, the long, slow-wave patterns seen in states of deep concentration or calm and peacefulness. These states of calm alertness mirror those during meditation, for example. All the while, our brain is absorbing the caffeine more slowly than without L-theanine. Thus, with matcha green tea, we avoid the dreaded post-caffeination crash.

So you might say that a matcha brain is a happy brain! In fact, the ancient roots of matcha are found in Buddhist monasteries, where Japanese monks brewed green tea to help them stay alert and focused during long periods of meditation.

Botany of Matcha vs Coffee

While there are many similarities between how they’re enjoyed as a beverage, when it comes to the plants they come from, the botany of matcha vs coffee is quite different. Coffee (Coffea arabica) is a tropical plant. We make espresso and other coffee beverages by roasting and grinding the coffee bean, one of the inner seeds of a cherry-like fruit produced by the coffee tree.

The tea plant (Camellia sinensis), on the other hand, is semi-tropical and grows in many areas of the world, not just the tropical zones. Six categories of tea are produced from this one plant, including green tea, white tea, yellow tea, oolong tea, black tea, and dark tea, and they are each very unique. Matcha is a type of green tea, and nearly every detail about its production is totally different from other green teas.

The details of matcha tea production are beyond the scope of our chat here. For now, let’s just say you couldn’t take any old green tea leaf, grind it into a powder, and call it “matcha” in the same sense of the word. Matcha is truly a special tea!

Beverages: Anything Espresso Can do, Matcha Can do, Too!

One of the things I personally love about matcha is how playful this tea can be. Just as espresso transformed American coffee into a creative landscape of new flavor combinations, matcha also seamlessly blends into beverages. When it comes to beverages, anything that espresso can do, matcha can do, too! Check out some of these examples:

Enjoy Americanos? Coffee fans enjoy this espresso + water combo as a lighter alternative. You can make one with matcha, too. Simply add an additional 6-8oz of water to your double shot of matcha after whisking, and you now have a thinner drink, more like regular brewed tea.

Matcha latte, anyone? A matcha latte is made the exact same way as a traditional caffe latte. Just substitute the double shot of espresso for a double shot of matcha. The caramel-like texture of a smoothly blended matcha shot will combine beautifully with freshly steamed milk. Pro-tip: matcha goes really well with alternative milks, with oat milk being a fan favorite.

Cold brew? Yep, matcha can play this, too! Since matcha is a fine powder that essentially dissolves, you don’t really need to “brew” it like you would cold brew coffee which requires an overnight slow drip process for cold brewing. Just add matcha powder to cold filtered water and enjoy immediately or refrigerate until you’re ready to tea up.

The amount of tea is totally to taste for cold brew, as matcha doesn’t really over-steep or get too strong. You might want to try 2g (about 1 tsp) in 12-14oz of water and see how you like that strength. You could also just add a little teaspoon to your water bottle, give it a good shake, and off you go!

Tea shouldn’t be intimidating, not even deeply revered and intricately cultural teas like matcha. When we see expressions of matcha today in Japan, it’s often in forms just like this - vibrant, contemporary cafe culture, as well as in traditional teahouses and ceremonies. It’s not viewed as weird or disrespectful at all to enjoy matcha in beverages or sweet treats. So even if you’ve found your perfect coffee match, don’t hesitate to get started on your own matcha journey – that is, through the lens of a drink you already know and love very much, your friend coffee!

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