As many people look to trim down know, tea is one of the most waist-whittling beverages around. It’s been shown to ward off cravings, boost metabolism, and blast away stubborn belly fat, after all. And although there are a million varieties of tea on supermarket shelves, when it comes to weight loss, there’s no question that matcha trumps the competition. And that’s because it has more than twice the amount of EGCG (a potent fat-burning antioxidant) as other brewables, including green tea. But there’s one major problem: You could be sipping a Chinese knockoff—and it’s possible you’ve been doing so for years.
After researchers discovered Japanese matcha was such an EGCG powerhouse, China began exporting their own version of the green tea powder. While slimming Japanese matcha is sweet, frothy, and nutrient-dense, it’s Chinese imitator is less potent, bitter in flavor, and packed with chemicals. In 2013, the environmental organization Greenpeace tested 18 random samples of Chinese green tea products and found that 12 of them—or 66 percent!—contained at least one pesticide banned for use on tea leaves. Thanks to Japan’s strict agricultural safety standards, this is something consumers don’t have to worry about when sipping the real deal.
Aside from the icky chemicals, what else differentiates Japanese matcha from Chinese products? For one, the soils in which the teas are grown are vastly different, which has a significant impact on a number of the powder’s properties. And while tea-powdering may have originated in China long ago, the farming techniques for matcha were perfected over several centuries in Japan. Growing matcha is no easy task; the complex process requires leaves to be shielded from the sun to preserve its rich green color. The leaves must also be steamed immediately after they’ve been picked to prevent oxidation. This ensures the powder will produce a drink with a sweet flavor profile. The so-called “matcha” being exported from China, however, uses a different, far less complex farming method. Not only are the Chinese leaves not generally grown in the shade, they’re actually pan-fried to stop the oxidation which slightly ferments the leaves. (Not good!) Because of this, Chinese matcha does not have the same vibrant green color or frothy goodness as the stuff from Japan and instead has a sandy texture and dull taste. Yuck.
If you haven’t knowingly tried matcha from both Japan and China, you may not notice the differences in taste or color, but you’ll definitely notice a difference in price. An ounce of Japanese matcha ranges from $26 to $32 whereas Chinese "matcha" tea can cost as little as $7. The price might be steep for the good stuff but your body will be sure to thank you later.