The popularity of tea is really starting to heat up. Though coffee is still largely the preferred way to wake up in the morning and perk up in the afternoon, a recent report by the Tea Association of the USA shows that the national tea market has more than quadrupled in the past two decades, valued at just under $2 billion in 1990 to more than $11 billion in 2015.
While drinking tea may becoming more trendy in this country, the fact is that people the world over have been enjoying this healthy brew for centuries—globally, it’s the second most consumed beverage just behind water.
In particular, the ancient rituals of green tea and its cousin matcha have had newfound glory in the States, not only sipped straight from the mug but also a main ingredient in smoothies, lattes, ice cream, cocktails, and a range of creative foods like donuts, tiramisu, and even chicken liver mousse.
Wondering what the buzz is all about and just what is this substance called matcha? We break it down and discuss the differences between it and good old green tea.
More about matcha
One of the easiest ways to differentiate matcha is its appearance. Matcha is a type of green tea, but unlike the more common porous bags of leaves that are steeped, matcha is a finely ground powder that quickly dissolves in liquids. It’s made of specially shade-grown green tea leaves native to Japan and China.
To produce matcha, tea bushes are covered with tarp or bamboo mats for roughly ten days in the spring. Depriving the leaves of sunlight forces them to work harder to soak up the sun’s rays. Leaves then grow wider and produce a brighter green color as they fill up with chlorophyll to combat the lack of light. The result is a batch of tea leaves that are naturally more flavorful and nutrient-rich.
After the 10-day period, the leaves are steamed to stop fermentation and then air dried and stored to retain their bright green coloring. Next, the veins and stems are removed, and the leftover leaves are ground using a stone mill to create the fine powder known as matcha.
The nutrition and caffeine content of matcha
With traditional teas, like green tea, leaves are steeped in hot water to produce the drink. This only provides a diluted concentration of the nutrients inside the plant. When using matcha powder, however, the entire leaf is consumed and therefore beverages made with matcha reap all the nutritional and antioxidant values inherent in tea.
“Research shows that matcha contains at least three times the epigallocatechin gallate as steeped green tea. EGCG is the polyphenol known for its ability to slightly boost calorie burn and [has been] studied for its role in reducing cancer cell growth.”—USA Today
This produces a number of benefits:
- A nutrient-dense food. While concentrations of vitamins and minerals will vary between tea brands and blends, matcha tea generally contains some daily allowances of vitamin C, folic acid, calcium, and vitamin B2. While vitamin C provides immune support, calcium supports stronger bones, and B vitamins encourage metabolism and converting food into usable energy.
- A caffeine boost (but less than coffee). Matcha tea has enough caffeine to provide an energy boost, but contains less amounts than coffee (25 milligrams in an eight-ounce cup versus 75 milligrams in coffee). This can help to stave off the caffeine jitters and impending crash that comes from drinking too many lattes. Matcha’s caffeine content, combined with the additional nutrients and antioxidants, works to create more of a “relaxed awareness” than overdone buzz.
- Lots of amino acids. One of the best benefits of matcha is the amino acid content. Present inside are polyphenols that have been known to fight cancer and stave off heart disease and signs of early aging. In particular, the powder contains an amino acid called L-theanine that has been used to effectively treat anxiety and high blood pressure, and has been seen as a tool in Alzheimer’s prevention and increasing the effectiveness of cancer drugs. L-theanine also helps to slow the release of caffeine into the body. Slower caffeine absorption allows the body to use the stimulant more effectively and for a longer period of time; and the two compounds work best together to increase cognitive function and enhance mood.
Recipes using matcha tea
Don’t let the bright green color throw you off. Matcha is actually less bitter than other kinds of teas and can add just the right amount of sweetness and creaminess to drinks and foods.
Do one better than the barista with this healthful recipe that pairs matcha powder with hot water, coconut oil, vanilla extract, grass-fed gelatin, and your choice of nut milk. Combine all items in a blender and, in five minutes, you’ll have a warm drink full of healthy fats and tons of usable energy.
Iced Matcha Moringa Latte
If you like your caffeinated drinks iced, try this recipe. Adding moringa and chlorella powder to the mix provides a dose of protein and even more antioxidants while hemp milk makes it creamier and dates provide extra sweetness.
Matcha Coconut Macaroons
Cookies can get a matcha boost too with this creative idea. Whip up a batch of dough using egg whites, honey, sea salt, vanilla extract, and coconut chips, and then add matcha powder to the mix. The best part is, macaroons are naturally Paleo-friendly and gluten-free!
Raw Matcha Ice Cream Cake
If you go to Japanese restaurants just for the green tea ice cream they serve after your meal, you will love this dessert. Make raw matcha ice cream with the powdered tea, coconut milk, coconut cream, honey, and vanilla powder. And then pour over a gluten-free crust made of raw almonds, coconut oil, honey, and sea salt. Freeze and enjoy!
The lowdown on green tea
Green tea is a category of teas of which matcha is a part. Green tea is a part of the Camellia sinensis shrub, from which black tea is also derived, however green tea leaves are fresher. Instead of being dried and withered during the oxidation process like black tea, green tea leaves are baked in ovens and then steamed to preserve both the flavor and nutrients.
Types of green tea
Much like red wine has cabernets and merlots, green tea is a family of teas with a number of individual types. Different blends, preparations, and growing regions all play factors in developing each version. Here are just a few of all the options.
- Longjing or dragon well: A product of the Zhejiang province in China, longjing teas use whole green tea leaves that have been pan-fried. The name translates to “dragon well,” associated with its preparation that uses ancient wells containing a mixture of well water and rainwater.
- Genmaicha: Traditionally a Japanese beverage, genmaicha is brewed using green tea leaves and roasted brown rice, which helps to infuse sugar and starches into the beverage. Some genmaicha also adds matcha in special blends for a unique and delicious taste.
- Sencha: The most popular tea in Japan, sencha is made with whole steamed green tea leaves as opposed to un-fried leaves, like those used in traditional Chinese teas.
- Matcha: The main differentiation of matcha and other green teas is the use of entire leaves, which are finely ground into powdered form which is infused into hot water to make the beverage.
Health benefits of green tea
Green tea has been used for centuries as a homemade remedy for a number of ailments. Traditional Chinese medicine has used it to relieve headaches, help with digestion, and fight infections, among many other practical applications. Since green tea is comprised of 99.5 percent water, and has added nutrients, it also makes an ideal option for rehydration in most circumstances. Here are some of the other body-boosting benefits in every cup:
- Antioxidant powder: Like matcha, green tea is rich in antioxidants that help to eliminate free radicals in the body and relieve oxidative stress on cells. Oxidative stress has been linked to heart disease, premature aging, various cancers, and neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Cancer prevention: Flavonols like Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) can be found in dietary supplements and also in green tea. Due to a unique chemical composition, EGCG mirrors the benefits of antioxidants and has been linked to inhibiting the tumor growth of cancer cells in the stomach, liver, lungs, breast, and colon.
- Heart health: Green tea has been shown to complement the regulation of blood sugars, and contribute to both lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure. Drinking green regularly can assist in repairing the damage of a high fat diet.
Additional uses of green tea
Apart from a refreshing alternative to coffee and water, green tea can also be used as an everyday health hack. In particular, its natural properties are generally safe and free from aggravating and abrasive chemicals making it a very useful item for skin and body care. Over the years, green tea has been used as a topical acne treatment, odor eliminator, facial toner (try this DIY trick), wrinkle reducer, and sunburn and wound treatment.
A final word on matcha and green tea
Though they have ancient roots, green tea and matcha are becoming more and more widely recognized today in the fields of nutrition and medicine, as seen in this study from the University of Maryland Medical Center. Whichever one you choose—the more diluted green tea or a creamy matcha latte—you will be tapping into a long list of benefits that are just starting to boil over.