Matcha tea has gained so much popularity in the last few years, that it is unlikely to enter a boutique coffee shop and not see it on the menu. You can find it even at Starbucks (Matcha Green Tea Latte). But what is matcha tea? It is a tea made from finely ground leaves of the Camellia sinensis tea bushes, but these have to be specially grown and processed. The plants are covered for twenty days in order to block direct sunlight. During this period, the plants produce more theanine and chlorophyll. Only the best leaves are harvested, and right after this, they are steamed for 15-20 seconds (in order to stop the oxidation process). The stems and veins are removed before drying them out. The grinding process follows, and this is also a very important process: the grinding stones can’t become too hot or the aroma is altered, so it takes about 1 hour to grind 30 grams of matcha. The way it is consumed is also different from the green tea: the powder is consumed along with the liquid, it does not get filtered and thrown away. This means you consume 100% of the processed leaf, versus about 35% of substances that get dissolved in water when brewing green tea infusion.
The Benefits of Matcha Green Tea
1. Reduces Cell Damage and May Prevent Chronic Disease
Matcha is renown for its antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals, unstable molecules that the body produces as a reaction to environmental and other pressures. Some claim that matcha has about 130 times more antioxidants than green tea, but these claims are based on a study made with low-quality green tea1)Determination of catechins in matcha green tea by micellar electrokinetic chromatography. When comparing to good quality green tea, matcha contains about 10 times more antioxidants. Including matcha in your diet may reduce cell damage and prevent chronic disease.
2. Boosts Brain Function
Matcha is rich in L-theanine and caffeine, a combination that seems to be great for the brain. Studies have shown that this combination helps improve performance on cognitively demanding tasks 2)The combined effects of L-theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood3)Effect of Green Tea Phytochemicals on Mood and Cognition. L-theanine is an amino acid that boosts the alpha waves in the brain, inducing a state of calmness and relaxation at the same time with a state of mental clarity and alertness. The results are comparable to those of meditation and yoga practice. And the best part is that this comes without the crash in energy levels that normally follows caffeine consumption.
3. Boosts Immunity
The main antioxidant in matcha green tea is a special catechin called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCg). “Antiviral activities of EGCG with different modes of action have been demonstrated on diverse families of viruses, such as Retroviridae, Orthomyxoviridae, and Flaviviridae and include important human pathogens like human immunodeficiency virus, influenza A virus and the hepatitis C virus. Furthermore, the molecule interferes with the replication cycle of DNA viruses like hepatitis B virus, herpes simplex virus, and adenovirus.”4)Anti-infective properties of epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a component of green tea
4. Helps prevent cancer
More and more studies link matcha (especially EGCg) to cancer prevention and even to tumor regression. For now, these are only animal tests and some tube-tests, so there’s a long way to go until we have concluded human test results.5)Green tea extracts decrease carcinogen-induced mammary tumor burden in rats and rate of breast cancer cell proliferation in culture 6)Epigallocatechin-3-gallate inhibits photocarcinogenesis through inhibition of angiogenic factors and activation of CD8+ T cells in tumors 7)Inhibition of liver cancer cell proliferation and migration by a combination of (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate and ascorbic acid
5. May Improve Heart Health
Epidemiological data and results from many clinical and experimental studies have shown that catechins inhibit oxidation, vascular inflammation, atherogenesis, and thrombogenesis, and favorably modulate plasma lipid profile and vascular reactivity, suggesting a wide spectrum of beneficial effects on vascular function. This means that including matcha in your daily diet may help protect you from a heart attack or stroke 8)Green Tea Catechins and Cardiovascular Health: An Update.
6. May Help You Lose Weight
Green tea is known for its ability to enhance weight loss. If you check the label on a weight loss product, chances are you will see it contains some form of green tea extract. The main property of matcha (and green tea) is that it increases fat burning processes. A small study (with 12 men) showed a 17% increase in fat oxidation during exercise 9)Green tea extract ingestion, fat oxidation, and glucose tolerance in healthy humans.
7. Protects Your Liver
Studies link consumption of matcha green tea to be helpful in preventing liver disease and also a decrease in enzyme levels that indicate liver damage. There are studies done on diabetic rats 10)Matcha, a powdered green tea, ameliorates the progression of renal and hepatic damage in type 2 diabetic OLETF rats, but also more recent studies done on humans 11)The Effect of Green Tea Extract Supplementation on Liver Enzymes in Patients with Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease that suggest that matcha is linked with a decreased risk of liver disease.
Types of Matcha
There are three main types of matcha:
- Ceremonial Grade
- Standard Grade
- Cooking Grade
As with any traditional Japanese products, there are many details building up a great quality result. Some of the most important things that determine the type of matcha obtained are the number of shade days, time of harvesting, whether it was the first harvesting from a plant or not, how careful were the stems and veins removed, the speed of the grinding stones (for very low-quality matcha different types of faster machines are used).
In order to be ceremonial grade, there needs to be a minimum of 15 days in the shading process, the leaves need to be carefully de-veined and de-stemmed, and the grinding process needs to be slow but generating very small particles.
Standard grade is decent quality powder you can consume as tea, while the cooking grade is intended for making matcha icecream, powder over cookies or even put in all sort of cookies.
How to Prepare Matcha Tea
The flavor of matcha depends very much on the quality of the powder used, so it is very important to purchase high-quality matcha powder. The powder needs to be a vibrant dark-green color and be very fine. It is also very important to store it correctly, in opaque recipients, as it will degrade very quickly if stored glass containers and exposed to light.
The preparation process is also important. The Japanese developed a ritual for matcha tea preparation, and they have been practicing it for centuries. The matcha tea ritual is a bonding experience of mindfulness, respect and a focus on the now. Nowadays you can find more and more articles and Youtube clips teaching you how to prepare match with a blender, a milk frother, but I find those methods as so far away from the Zen associated with matcha that I don’t even want to try them out. You can also try with a spoon or a fork, but you will not obtain the smooth texture and the foam. I would suggest getting a proper matcha set – it’s not a big investment, and it makes a huge difference. This is a decent hand-made whisk at a great price.
Here are the steps you need to follow:
- pour some hot water in the tea bowl to heat it up, and also move the whisk around to soak the tips. Pour out the water.
- put one or two scoops of matcha powder
- add about three tablespoons of hot water. The water needs to be at about 80° Celsius (176° Fahrenheit). Using boiling water will burn some of the nutrients of the tea and it will also taste bitter.
- move the whisk in circles until all clumps are gone
- add more water (about one-third of the bowl). Hold the handle of the whisk using your thumb and index finger and move the whisk in a zig-zag pattern until nice foam forms at the surface. You can press the big bubbles in order to break them.
- enjoy the matcha straight from the bowl
Where to Buy Matcha Tea
It is important to buy matcha from a source you trust. If you want a good quality, make sure it is from Japan (not China), especially from the Uji, Kyoto region. If you get to consume matcha regularly, you will try different types and choose the ones you like most. For the beginning, I would recommend one of these three:
The Bottom Line
Matcha is made from the same plant as green tea, but since you consume the entire leaf, it packs in a lot more antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds.
Studies link matcha to a variety of health benefits, ranging from improved brain function, focus, and clarity to decreasing the risk of heart and liver disease.
And best of all, it is tasty and easy to incorporate into your diet.