An introduction to matcha

by Tim W. Shaw November 02, 2021

An introduction to matcha

Matcha is a distinctively flavoured green powder that can be used to create hot beverages, smoothies or added to food. It comes from Japan and is traditionally prepared in a small bowl with a bamboo whisk. In recent years the popularity of matcha has spread across the world and it's now found in supermarkets, tea rooms and coffee shops throughout the UK. Because of its unique flavour and superfood status, it's now featured in recipes for anything from smoothies and chilled drinks to cakes and crepes.

Fast facts about matcha

  • It is made from high-grade, whole green tea leaves, which are milled into a fine powder.
  • To enhance the chlorophyll levels in matcha, leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant are grown in shade for thirty days before harvest.
  • Matcha provides higher levels of nutrients than standard green tea because the powder is consumed in the drink.
  • It contains catechins which are powerful antioxidants.
  • Matcha contains caffeine and theanine, so it's advisable to only drink it before 6pm.
  • It is recommended to have a maximum of two cups a day.
  • Matcha can be combined with other beneficial ingredients to produce valuable products like Planet Paleo's pure collagen matcha latte.

What is matcha?

Green MatchaMatcha is a fine, vividly green powder made from high-grade green tea leaves. Unlike a cup of green tea, when you make matcha, the tea powder stays in the beverage and is consumed along with the liquid. The unique cultivation and processing methods create higher concentrations of caffeine, chlorophyll, nutrients and antioxidants.

Only the best quality tea leaves are used to make matcha to ensure the purest flavour. Plants destined to become matcha are placed under covers to keep them from direct sunlight for thirty days before harvest. As a result, they produce higher levels of chlorophyll which gives the tea its vibrant green colour.

Matcha first reached Japan in the 12th Century. Zen monk Eisai travelled to China and was fascinated by their use of powdered tea. He observed its use in ceremonies and as a key ingredient in energising and healing practices. He was so impressed he took tea seeds with him when he returned home to Japan.

The tea produced from Eisai's seeds was considered to be the highest quality available in Japan. Because it was only grown in limited quantities, matcha was seen as a symbol of luxury and status. Later, in the 1500s, Zen students and masters combined various elements of other tea ceremonies to create the current one that can still be witnessed in Japan today.

What does matcha taste like?

Matcha has a flavour that is as fresh and vibrant as its colour. The dominant taste is similar to iron-rich greens like spinach or kale. In lattes or other more dilute drinks, it is deliciously smooth with a mild savoury edge.

Does matcha actually taste good?

Matcha is one of those tastes that shouldn't work so well but, incredibly, does. If you drink it in higher concentrations, the flavour intensifies; It becomes more potent and reminiscent of sea vegetables like nori or kombu.

What makes matcha taste bad?

The hotter the water you use to make your matcha, the more intense the flavour will be. Also, the stronger you make your cup, the more it will remind you of strong green tea. There is a bitterness that comes through with the hints of tannins and caffeine. If you don't like this intensity of taste, use less powder or try cooler water.

Does matcha taste like grass?

In some drinks and recipes matcha does have a slightly grass-like flavour. It's often described as vegetal or herb-like. However, many people really enjoy this fresh flavour and it can offer a unique spin to some of your favourite recipes.

Ultimately, your matcha experience is an intensely personal one, some people love the taste and add it to everything, others prefer it disguised by more familiar flavours.

Matcha vs green tea

Matcha vs green teaMatcha and green tea come from the same plant, but the end products are vastly different. To make green tea the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant are harvested, dried and steeped in boiling water. The resulting brew is strained to remove the leaves.

While you can buy green teas made from both high and low-grade leaves, matcha is only ever produced from those of the best quality. Plants destined to become matcha are placed under covers to keep them from direct sunlight for thirty days before harvest. As a result, they produce higher levels of chlorophyll which gives the tea its vivid green colour. 

This process of ‘shade-growing’ also changes the chemical make-up of the tea and boosts the potency of the active ingredients. When ready, the leaves are picked, steamed then dried. Once they are dry, they are ground into a fine powder. 

This powder is then added to hot water or milk to make a drink or even used in smoothies or recipes. Because the matcha powder stays in the drink or food, it provides higher levels of nutrients than standard green tea:

 

A cup of matcha (237ml)

 A cup of green tea (237ml)

Caffeine

280mg

35mg

Calories

4.5 – 6 (Not including additional milk or sweeteners)

2.45

Catechins

605mg

188mg

EGCG

26.26mg – 35mg

0.08mg-0.1g

L-Theanine

97.5mg

9mg

Protein

1,445mg

3mg


These values vary depending on the quality and strength of the tea but indicate the difference in nutritional value. 

Catechins - Catechins are antioxidant substances found in tea, berries and cocoa. One of the catechins present in matcha is known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG); it's rarely found in such high levels in other foods and has also been linked to anti-inflammatory properties.

L-Theanine - The amino acid L-Theanine has been found to support relaxation and reduce stress levels in some study participants.

When is the best time of the day to drink matcha?

As you can see, matcha contains a considerable amount of caffeine and theanine. Those who are sensitive to stimulants may find it powerfully, energising. As a result, it is advisable to only drink it before 6pm.

Benefits of matcha

Because matcha is ground from the whole tea leaf, its beneficial ingredients are concentrated and wholly ingested. This means that while matcha shares many beneficial characteristics with green tea and green tea extract, in most cases it is more powerful.

Currently, the studies conducted with matcha have been small scale or involved mice participants; however, the results have given strong indications of a range of excellent benefits.

Reduced cell damage from free radicals

Matcha and CellsFree radicals are linked to several signs of ageing and many diseases and chronic conditions. They are caused by instabilities in the atoms of some substances and can inflict oxidative damage on cells (Villines, 2017). This damage occurs naturally over time, but they can be accelerated by lifestyle choices such as smoking and diets high in fried foods.

A 2016 study observed mice who were given small amounts of matcha alongside a variety of different diets. The results showed that oxidative stress caused by a diet high in fat could be reversed by regular intake of matcha (Xu et al.)

These antioxidant properties mean that matcha may also be able to prevent oxidative damage to skin cells and reduce the appearance of wrinkles. The direct application of EGCG to the skin has been described as seeming to be a “fountain of youth for skin cells”.

Improved brain function

Matcha and brain tennis playerMatcha contains high levels of caffeine which is a known nootropic. These are substances that improve brain function without causing adverse effects.

The combination of caffeine and other natural ingredients in the matcha have been found to improve attention, memory and reaction time. Research published in 2017 found that regular intake of matcha drinks and snack bars developed significant attention and thinking speed improvements.

Protects main organs like heart and liver

Matcha and heart

In a 2016 study of patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, green tea extract was found to significantly lower the levels of enzymes that indicate liver damage. Other studies have found that green tea can reduce low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) and triglycerides. LDL cholesterol is often referred to as 'bad cholesterol'. If the level of bad cholesterol is out of balance with your good cholesterol, it can increase your risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Has potential to support weight loss

In 2008, researchers observed that taking green tea extract alongside exercise increased fat burning by up to 17%. Another study linked it to an increased expenditure of energy and oxidation of fat in 24 hours. However, the European Food Safety Authority states that there is not yet enough evidence to demonstrate a clear link between matcha and weight loss.

Promotes regular bowel movement

Matcha is rich in caffeine, which has been found to stimulate contractions in your intestines and colon. This can help to keep you regular and may even ease constipation, but it could also give you a shock if you're not expecting it.

Choosing your matcha

Organic Matcha Field

Thanks to its popularity, there are now numerous matcha products and brands to choose from. While this is great for customers, there is a vast difference between high-grade and low-grade matcha. Each of these suggestions will help you understand what to look for and ensure that you're only ever drinking the best:

Opt for products that have been certified organic - Any compounds or chemicals in the soil can build up in the leaves. Because matcha contains the whole leaf, it's known to accumulate high levels of heavy metals, pesticides, and fluoride. Organically farmed matcha has had to meet many rigorous standards and may reduce the risk of ingesting these substances.

Cup of MatchaChoose ceremonial-grade powder – This is a powder that's been made from the first harvest of tea leaves. This means the taste is slightly less intense and there is a higher concentration of nutrients. If you're on a budget or want to buy lots of matcha to use in your cooking, you can opt for the cheaper culinary grade, but for making teas or lattes, it's got to be ceremonial.

Look for other awards and third-party certifications – Some matcha brands include details of awards and analysis that have been conducted on their products. It's great if you can find one that will share a screening of contaminants with their customers. However, currently, only very few companies do this.

Only buy matcha from tea grown in Japan – The best matcha comes from areas in Japan that have the ideal climate and centuries of experience of the processes involved in the perfect harvest. Nishio City and Uji are considered to be the best match producing areas and are responsible for 80% of Japan's matcha production.

Conclusion

Matcha is a nutrient-rich form of green tea that offers an incredible range of health benefits. Best taken in the morning, it is the perfect beverage to start your day with purpose and focus.

Whether you enjoy its unique flavour or not, it is so versatile it can be eaten or drunk in a variety of enjoyable ways. With such incredible benefits, matcha is destined to become a regular part of our culture and daily routine.

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An introduction to matcha



Tim W. Shaw
Tim W. Shaw

Author

Tim W. Shaw writes extensively about CBD oil, cannabis and other groundbreaking food supplements. He and his wife share their home with two daughters and a lifetime’s collection of books.


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