Matcha seems to be everywhere these days, from lattes to cheesecakes to cookies. But the bright green tea is not a mere trend; in fact, it’s been around since the 12th century. Read on to learn more about this tea and how drinking matcha can be good for you.
What Is Matcha?
Some people use the terms green tea and matcha interchangeably but they aren’t the same. While matcha is indeed a form of green tea, the way the two are made is markedly different.
Green tea is made by steeping leaves in water; the leaves are then discarded so you end up drinking their essence. Matcha, on the other hand, is made up of ground-up tea plants mixed with water; the plant becomes part of the drink. It’s the difference between having vegetable broth and the actual vegetables—instead of just drinking the water that tea leaves were steeped in, you take in the nutrient-rich leaves themselves.
Matcha tea plants are grown in the shade so as to increase their chlorophyll production—thus giving them that distinctive bright green color—before being harvested, dried, and stone-ground into powder. This powder is then mixed with hot water. Traditionally, a teaspoon of matcha is mixed with a third of a cup of water at a very specific temperature (less than a boil), whisked with a bamboo brush until frothy.
Matcha Health Benefits
Green tea has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to aid in digestion and to treat various ailments. In more recent times, studies have investigated the benefits of green tea and proven that traditional medicine is right after all: There is certainly a link between the drink and improved health.
The health benefits are mainly due to green tea’s powerful antioxidant activity; it has been fond to be the best source of catechins, disease-fighting compounds that are more powerful than Vitamins C and E. Since matcha is much more potent than green tea, you can expect it to pack a more powerful health punch, giving you supercharged benefits.
Some of the green tea, and therefore matcha, health benefits are:
- Decreases risk of hypertension. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine looked into the effect of drinking tea on 1,507 Chinese subjects who were newly diagnosed with hypertension. Researchers concluded that habitual consumption of green tea or one year reduced hypertension risk by 46% to 65%.
- Helps prevent heart disease. According to a 2016 review, the compounds in green tea can reduce the amount of LDL, a.k.a bad cholesterol. Having too much LDL can lead to a blockage in the arteries, which in turn ups the risk for heart attack and stroke
- Increases alertness without increasing jitteriness. Matcha has more caffeine than other types of teas (and slightly less than coffee, depending on the type of coffee) so it can give you that caffeine buzz. The best part? Matcha caffeine doesn’t give you the succeeding crash you may get from coffee. Matcha contains the stress-reducing amino acid L-theanine, which means it can perk you up without giving you the shakes.
- Can increase productivity. Need to meet a pressing deadline? Matcha may just be what you need to stay focused and productive. A 2017 study published in Food Research International suggests that matcha tea, with its mix of L-theanine, the polyphenol epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), and caffeine, can improve attention, reaction time, and memory.
- May prevent cancer. EGCG, matcha’s powerful polyphenol, was found to kill off prostate cancer cells in one 2008 test-tube study, while other studies have also found the compound to be effective against other types of cancer, from breast to lung cancer. It’s important to note that studies so far have been mostly limited to test tubes so there is still no conclusive evidence backing the effects of matcha on human test subjects but the research so far has been promising.
The best quality matcha comes from Japan. It should feel smooth and should have a slightly sweet taste; grainy matcha that has a yellowish tinge isn’t made from the best leaves. Because of the laborious process to make matcha, the good-quality kind is usually pricey. If you find cheap matcha powder, it may have been mixed with sweeteners to give it a more pleasant flavor.
Aside from giving you the abovementioned health benefits, matcha may also help alleviate your stress, and not because of its compounds. Matcha has traditionally involved meditation; the very act of making tea and sitting still to sip it can be calming. So, take a break from a busy day, make yourself a cup of matcha, and savor the stillness.