What is Malcha?
Malcha is the Korean pronunciation of the Hanja characters 抹茶 (matcha in Japanese, muocha in Chinese), directly translating to “powdered/ground down tea”.
How is “Malcha” different from “powdered green tea”?
The two are essentially the same – green tea leaves ground down to powder form.
All malcha is powdered green tea, BUT not all powdered green tea is malcha.
So what’s the difference?
Any type of green tea that is ground up can be qualified as “powdered green tea”. The green tea can be sun-grown, shade-grown, steamed, pan-fired, etc. As long as it is ground up into powder form, it can be called “powdered green tea”.
In order to qualify as “Malcha”, it MUST follow these rules:
(1) The green tea must be “연차” (yeoncha 碾茶 – “tencha” in Japanese). Yeoncha is made of tea leaves that are shade-grown (partially or fully), steamed and dried (some may roll or chop the leaves to make it easier to grind).
(2) The yeoncha must be ground to a fine powder with a stone mill.
Malcha will also foam well upon whisking. In Korean, we call this process of whisking and foaming malcha “격불” (khyuk-bool). In the photo above, one can see whisked malcha in the bowl on the top right (right of the bowl with the tin canister).
In order to produce such fine foam, two things are necessary: fine powder and technique. The latter is a skill that must be honed over time, through practice and experience.
The finest powder comes from tea leaves that are ground down slowly using a stone mill. While other methods (ceramic-ball milled, machine ground, etc.) are used to produce powdered green tea, the stone mill is what gets Malcha to this ultra-fine state, without destroying the essence or health benefits of the leaves. This is also the factor that limits the quantity that can be produced in a certain amount of time, making fine malcha such a high-priced commodity.
Like a great cup of latte, the smoothness and fineness of the foam at top can make all the difference.