Someone asked the other day why dust in a bag is considered bad but powdered matcha is considered good, even premium. In other words, if whole or broken leaves are supposed to be better, why is matcha an exception? Great question, and one to which I flippantly answered: “Marketing and tradition!” Well, that question deserves a better answer, so it was time to go info diving into the depths of the Internet.

What’s Matcha

Matcha is a Japanese green tea made of finely ground gyokuro leaves. The processing, a key determiner in the final product, is different from making gyokuro in that the leaves are not rolled. They are steamed as usual to halt oxidation and then thoroughly dried, creating what is called “tencha.” These green dry leaves are then ground to a powder that is the consistency of talc and are then called “matcha” (sometimes spelled “mattcha”). This processing also preserves the flavor and health-enhancing properties in this tea.

Izu Matcha (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Izu Matcha (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

You should use 2g (1/2 level teaspoon) for 120 to 180cc (4 to 6 ounces) of hot water. A bamboo whisk is often used in matcha preparation as the most efficient way to mix the powder thoroughly with the hot water and to create a froth.

Matcha is the highest grade of Japanese tea, according to their grading system:

  1. Kukicha — (lowest) made from twigs and stems of the tea plant and historically given to children and seniors.
  2. Bancha — rather low in quality and usually not sold by specialty tea companies.
  3. Sencha — growing in popularity so there is now a very wide range from superb Japanese sencha to Chinese and Viet Namese versions that have uneven results.
  4. Gyokuro — a wonderful, labor-intensive tea made from leaves that are shade-grown for part of the year. It is only produced in small quantities each year, relative to other teas.
  5. Matcha — The highest grade and used during the famous Japanese Tea Ceremony.

What’s Tea-dust-in-a-bag

Irish Breakfast tea, usually bagged. (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Irish Breakfast tea, usually bagged. (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Bagged teas have been vilified by tea drinkers far and wide, myself included, and several myths persist about them:

  • They are filled with floor sweepings.
  • They are filled with only stale tea.
  • They are filled with only the cheapest grades of tea.
  • They cause excess waste.

The reality of teabags:

  • They are filled by machines where whole leaves go in one end and filled bags come out the other (well, almost — but the process does start with whole leaves, not floor sweepings).
  • They come in quite a variety of shapes and sizes, including round, square, flo-thru, and pyramid sachets.
  • They are filled with a full range of teas —  green, oolong, white, and black.
  • Not all tea types are suitable for bagging, with such premium teas as Ti Kuan Yin being a prime example, plus I haven’t seen any decent pu-erhs in teabags.
  • The stale bagged teas are the lower quality ones, but most are freshly made and, since demand is high, they don’t hang around long enough on store shelves to get stale.
  • The waste issue is addressed with bags made of material that will compost and generally seems a bit of an overdone concern anyway.

Bottom Line

The big question was why matcha was considered premium while teabags (the kind filled with fine dust) were not. From what I can see here, it is very likely what I said up front: marketing and tradition. But I have to add in one more item: variety. The range of bagged teas is wide and includes teas just a premium in quality as matcha, but the cheap, stale, low-end teas drag down the reputation of the higher-end bagged teas, such as those carried by Harney & Sons, Typhoo, PG Tips, Barry’s, and Taylors of Harrogate.

I stick to my personal preference to steep even these bagged brands loose in the pot (I cut up the bags and dump the tea dust into the pot) and swear it makes a difference in the taste. But we cannot diss bagged teas just because they are in bags.

A Selection of Reviews on Our Blog of the Finer Bagged Teas

About Some Popular Tea Brands

See also:
Have Bagged Teas Gotten a Bad Rap?
A Tasty Bagged Green Tea?
5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Bagged Tea
Mixing Loose Tea and Teabag Teas
The Growing Popularity of Matcha
Types of Japanese Tea
Tea Bags Revisited
Tea Review: English Tea Store’s Izu Matcha

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