While matcha (powdered green tea) a higher grade of tea than steeped tea, not all matcha is created equal. While thin matcha, o-usu-cha, is gathered from the top handful of leaves of shaded tea bushes at only their peak in the season, o-koi-cha (thick matcha) is gathered from only very tip-top leaves. When prepared you use a lot more of this very fine powder to make a paste-like tea, as opposed to the more liquidy–but already very thick and green–o-usu.

The way o-usu and o-koi are served in the tea ceremony also differ. In o-usu, everyone gets their own cup to finish to the last drop, whereas in the very, very thick o-koi-cha, everyone–or at least a good handful–of the guests drink from the same cup, taking three sips at a time. The tea master prepares it based on the number of guests receiving it, and normally you would try to adjust how much you drink so that everyone gets a fair amount without leaving anything leftover–which means that sometimes the last person much drink three large mouthfuls and enjoy both all the benefits of such strong tea as well as all the side effects of the additional caffeine.

Given the difference in price, people usually save o-koi-cha for special occasions (though this is considered “the true taste of tea” by many enthusiasts) and serve o-usu-cha for everyday matcha use (and here in Matsue, it really is everyday use). I only get to enjoy the thick stuff as part of my lessons, which happen to be late at night.