Matcha has taken the world by storm, capturing minds and palates with its rich history, unique preparation methods, and purported health benefits. It is a green tea powder that can be drunk warm or cold and added to smoothies and baked goods.
It is made from special tea leaves (called tencha) that are shade grown to build up Umami. The leaves are stone-ground into the fine green powder that is known as Matcha.
Matcha isn’t just the latest tea fad or coffee replacement. Its roots extend back nearly a thousand years, to a time when dynasties ruled China and Shogun clans ruled Japan.
In the Tang Dynasty (spanning 618 – 907 AD), Chinese monks began using green tea leaves to create a brick of tea powder that they could easily transport and trade with one another. This is believed to be the earliest form of matcha that exists on record and the first step towards today’s incredibly popular tea drink.
Towards the end of the 12th century, a Japanese Buddhist monk named Eisai introduced matcha to Japan after studying Zen (“Chan”) Buddhism in China. He would establish a unique set of traditions for matcha that would define it’s future and give it a distinct Japanese identity.
He cultivated the special matcha plants found in the Uji region and devised a shade contraption to place over tea fields, which reduced the amount of sunlight they received and helped them produce high-quality, vibrantly green matcha powder. It is this method that is still used to this day to produce some of the finest ceremonial matcha in the world.
The Zen Buddhists of the time deeply cherished this potent green tea for its ability to assist in their meditation efforts. It was also favored by the Samurai who valued it for its long-lasting energy and endurance and was a key element in their martial arts training.
Whether you’re using matcha in green tea lattes or in savory dishes like kobe beef, it adds a vibrant, savory, natural sweetness to your food and drinks. It also offers a boost of umami, the rich savory flavor found in foods such as miso soup and bone broth. This flavor comes from the shading process that tencha (the raw leaves used for matcha) undergo prior to harvest, which increases their levels of l-theanine and umami.
The type of water you use to prepare your matcha also impacts its taste. Spring or filtered water brings out the subtle flavors of high quality matcha. Boiling water, on the other hand, can give it a bitter flavor.
You can enjoy matcha on its own or paired with milk or other ingredients for a variety of recipes. Ceremonial grade matcha has a bold, complex flavor that can be enjoyed alone or as part of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Culinary grade matcha, which may have stems and veins left in or be a mix of culinary and ceremonial grades, is a great choice for making green tea ice cream or baking.
It’s a good idea to choose organic matcha so that you can be sure you’re getting the highest quality product possible. Since you’re ingesting the whole leaves in powdered form, it’s important that the growing process is done with the environment and your health in mind.
Matcha tea is nutrient dense with a host of potential health benefits. The plant compounds in matcha green tea—especially those known as catechins, particularly epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)—have been shown to boost cognitive function, according to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology in 2017. The tea’s L-theanine content may promote relaxation and calmness, while also improving alertness and performance. In addition, the drink’s caffeine may help increase focus and enhance cognitive abilities, particularly when it is consumed without sugar or milk.
In terms of heart health, the EGCG in matcha tea can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce triglyceride and total cholesterol counts, lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke. Additionally, it can help you maintain a healthy weight and manage your blood glucose and blood pressure.
Matcha is also a great source of vitamins and minerals, containing vitamin C to fight off colds and flu, magnesium to improve bone and muscle health, and a wealth of B vitamins for energy. Plus, it has phytochemicals that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Matcha is a finely powdered green tea, which makes it different than instant tea (which is chemically-altered to dissolve instantly in water). Matcha is best used for whisking into hot water, and it is often mixed into lattes, smoothies, and other culinary applications.
Matcha, like all true green teas, contains the amino acid L-theanine and the alkaloid caffeine. But a key difference is that the leaves for matcha are shade grown, which boosts chlorophyll production and enhances the naturally occurring levels of both L-theanine and caffeine.
In addition to its unique taste, the high quercetin content in matcha may help lower cholesterol levels and prevent cardiovascular disease, while also helping to reduce inflammation and tumors .
To make a cup of matcha, preheat a tea bowl and moisten the chasen (tea whisk). Sift 1 teaspoon of matcha into the tea bowl and add approximately one teacup of hot water. Whisk vigorously, starting at the bottom of the mug and moving in a “W” shape back and forth until the matcha starts to froth. Whisk continuously to avoid any early clumps. Enjoy!