You've seen it in stores, you've seen it at coffee and tea shops, but you may not be that familiar with matcha. It's just green tea, right? Well, yes and no. It's not just green tea, it's green tea (to paraphrase Spinal Tap guitarist Nigel Tufnel) turned up to 11.
What Exactly Is Matcha?
Matcha is made from the leaves of the green tea plant (Camellia sinensis). It is cultivated using centuries-old farming techniques, where the leaves of the plant are partially covered from sunlight for several days to several weeks prior to harvest. This increases the chlorophyll content and gives the leaves their vibrant green hue. It also bumps up the amino acid content of the leaves, particularly L-theanine.
Once harvested, the leaves are steamed and air-dried; these leaves are called tencha. If the tea leaves are of superior quality, they are then de-stemmed, de-veined, and stone ground into a fine powder. This final product is matcha.
Matcha is traditionally used in the Japanese tea ceremony and is found in many other Asian dishes.
What Are The Health Benefits of Matcha?
Green tea has been hailed as an antioxidant-rich superfood, yet, a cup of green tea only captures a handful of the health benefits of the tea leaf. Since matcha is the entire tea leaf that can be dissolved in water or other liquids, you get all the healthful nutrients. You'd have to drink ten cups of green tea to get the same benefits as one cup of matcha.
And what benefits they are! Matcha tea isn't just high in antioxidants, it blows other antioxidant powerhouses, like pomegranate, goji, and blueberries completely out of the water, with not just double the antioxidants, but up to ten times the free radical-fighting power.
Matcha is rich in a particular type of antioxidants called catechins, particularly epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which help to combat free radical damage from stress, UV light, and other chemicals. EGCG is a powerful zinc ionophore, which means EGCGhelps shuttle zinc across the cell membrane into the inner cell where it can effectively offer immune supporting effects.
As previously mentioned, matcha is rich in amino acids, especially L-theanine. This amino acid promotes a sense of relaxation, calmness, and well-being. This may explain why Japanese monks would consume matcha during long periods of meditation to remain calm yet alert.
Matcha is also used in detoxification, due to its high chlorophyll content, and given that it provides a calorie-free energy boost, is used to promote weight loss.
How Do I Consume Matcha?
Traditionally, matcha is served as tea, whisked in a bowl; the flavor is described as grassy or vegetal and very intense. However, matcha can also be added to a latte, smoothie, or other blended drink. It can be mixed with cereals and yogurt in the morning, and it has been used to cook with in Japanese and Chinese cuisine for many generations. You can even use it in desserts!
What Kind of Matcha Do I Want?
Matcha comes in different grades based on quality; it goes to reason that you'd want the best matcha possible, but that is also going to be the most expensive kind. Ceremony grade matcha, which is reserved for high profile tea ceremonies, will set you back around $50 for a 15-20 servings. Easier to find and still potent is classic grade.
The matcha you usually find in lattes or used for cooking purpoes to be cafe grade or kitchen grade. Of the two, cafe grade is a bit better, but also a bit more expensive. Both offer tremendous health benefits.