Matcha is everywhere these days. It has gained an almost cult-like following, winning over coffee enthusiasts with the popular incarnation that is the matcha latte. Although people in the West may be newly interested in its distinctive flavor and vibrant color, it has a deep cultural tradition and exhibits many health benefits.
What Is Matcha?
This special form of green tea directly translates to “fine green powder.” Unlike traditional tea preparation where you only drink the liquid after steeping the tea bag, matcha preparation involves whisking whole ground tea leaves into hot water. By consuming the leaves in liquid form, you actually absorb more antioxidants and nutrients than you would drinking a regular cup of green tea. Growers and tea farmers shade the young leaves of the first harvest for about three to four weeks before picking them. This practice contributes to the inherent sweetness during the brewing process. Post harvest, the dried leaves are ground into a fine powder.
Steeped In Tradition
Matcha is often the centerpiece of a Japanese tea ceremony. Traditionally, people prepare matcha by pouring the powder into hot water and whisking it with a bamboo whisk. Drinking it from the tea bowl allows you to simultaneously sip the tea while inhaling the aroma. Because it is not soluble, matcha powder suspends in water; therefore, people should consume it immediately after preparation.
Traditionally Involved In Meditation
Traditionally, Zen Buddhist monks consume matcha prior to meditation, as it is a calming stimulant. One cup of matcha has one-third of the amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee. Instead of giving people the jitters, it creates a sensation of mental alertness and deep relaxation. Because of this, some people refer to matcha as “liquid meditation,” working to help people concentrate during long meditation sessions. In the West, however, it’s more of a trend and not consumed for meditation purposes.
Some Powders Are Better Than Others
Matcha has a strong, mildly bitter taste that some people may equate to an umami flavor profile. For this reason, some manufacturers sweeten powders to improve palatability. Instead of traditional matcha powder, it becomes a matcha mix, where the first ingredient may be “sugar.” It’s possible for some powders to contain powdered milk as well, making it like a hot chocolate packet. These processed, sugary powders eliminate all of matcha’s health benefits. The easiest comparison is that traditional matcha is like raw cacao powder and processed powders are like sugary cocoa powder. Both varieties come from the same plant, but the health benefits get lost during all of the processing.
Matcha Keeps You More Alert Than Coffee
As stated earlier, matcha does not contain as much caffeine as coffee. The average cup of matcha contains 70 milligrams of caffeine, whereas an average cup of coffee contains 120-150 milligrams of caffeine. The alertness doesn’t come from caffeine; rather, it’s because of L-theanine, which is an amino acid that raises dopamine and serotonin levels. Additionally, matcha helps people remain more focused and relaxed throughout the day.
You Can Incorporate Matcha Into Meals
Matcha has made its way into both beverages and meals, including sweet and savory dishes. You may be familiar with baked goods that contain matcha, but chefs incorporate matcha into soups, stir-fries, puddings, and even guacamole (matchamole). Because of its assertive umami flavor, matcha can be a unique component in numerous culinary preparations.
More Antioxidants Than Green Tea
By drinking matcha, you ingest the pure tea leaf in powdered form. That means that it contains more antioxidants than a regular cup of green tea. Some studies found that matcha exhibits more antioxidants than blueberries, pomegranates, and acai berries. Matcha also contains catechins, which counteract the effects of free radicals from UV rays, pollution, and airborne pollutants.
While matcha lattes can be delicious, the sugars and milk may counteract the health benefits. Casein, the protein in milk, binds to catechin in matcha and inhibits the health benefits. Just keep that in mind as you move forward with your love for matcha.