Is Matcha Tea All It’s Cracked-Up to Be?

Dating back to the 1100s, the powdered green tea known as matcha was part of ritual tea ceremonies for Chan and Zen Buddhists in China and Japan. Green tea was brought to Japan from China by a Zen Monk named Eisai. It’s said he’s the first person to grind green tea into powder and drink it, and is famously quoted as saying that matcha is the “elixir of the immortals.”

Is Matcha Green Tea All It's Cracked-Up to Be?

Like all green teas, matcha originates from the camellia sinensis plant. But it’s unique since it’s the only variety of green tea that’s grown in partial shade, consumed in powder form rather than tea leaves, and enjoyed in smaller quantities — more like espresso — rather than a full mug of tea.

Matcha Tea Benefits

1. Matcha tea is high in antioxidants.

Since matcha powder is dissolved in water, drinking it means you’re ingesting the entire leaf (unlike a tea bag that’s soaked in water and removed). This process means that matcha is higher in beneficial phytochemicals (plant compounds) and antioxidants than other green tea.

2. Matcha tea helps with memory and improves concentration.

Matcha is high in the amino acid L-theanine, a unique compound that’s known to provide a feeling of calmness and alertness at the same time. The caffeine in matcha (about 68 mg per teaspoon of powder) has been shown to help with alertness and concentration. Together, L-theanine and caffeine help improve attention and memory, while filtering out distractions.

3. Matcha tea may reduce cholesterol.

Studies show that the catechins in green tea are associated with a reduction in total and LDL cholesterol levels (no significant effect on HDL cholesterol or triglyceride levels was found) and that people who drink two cups of green tea per day have lower cholesterol levels, and can reduce their risk of death from cardiovascular disease up to 33%.

4. Matcha tea is a potent cancer fighter.

Matcha contains very high levels of anti-cancer catechins, such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). In fact, EGCG from drinking matcha is 137 times greater than the amount of EGCG available from commercial bagged green tea. In multiple studies, EGCG has been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

How to Make the Perfect Cup of Matcha Green Tea

There are two ways to brew matcha: thick (koicha) or thin (usucha). In both versions, the powder is whisked until there are no lumps, and no residue remains on the sides of the cup.

For Thin Tea

Use 1/2 a teaspoon of matcha green tea powder and whisk it with 2-3 ounces of hot water until frothy. The water should be hot but not boiling; aim for 70–85 °C (158–185°F).

For Thick Tea

Use 1 teaspoon of matcha green tea powder whisked into 1 ounce of hot water. This version does not produce froth. Since it’s made with more powder, it contains more caffeine.

Matcha lattes (matcha with foamy milk) are also gaining popularity at many tea shops. But note that studies show that when you have milk with tea, you may absorb less of the beneficial catechins. In addition to brewing tea, you can also cook with matcha. It has popped up in recipes for granola, pancakes, smoothies, pudding and baked goods. Of course, a match-infused brownie is nowhere near as healthful as a cup of properly brewed tea.

A Matcha Tea Buying Tip

You can find matcha green tea powder at specialty supermarkets or online. Look for Japanese matcha rather than Chinese matcha, since the former is reported to be better quality. You’ll notice that the price tag will reflect that difference. An ounce of Japanese matcha can be four times more expensive than Chinese matcha. In addition to the powder, you’ll require a small tea cup, a teaspoon and a bamboo whisk (chasen). Matcha has a pleasant grass-like flavour (it’s a leaf, after all), and may be a hint bitter. Some people enjoy it with something sweet on the side.

Editor’s note: Since it contains caffeine, you can go overboard on matcha. Also, there’s a number of medications that interact with green tea, so check with your pharmacist before you brew.

About the Writer

Cara Rosenbloom

Cara is a Toronto-based registered dietitian, writer and recipe developer. She’s the co-author of the best-selling cookbook Nourish: Whole Food Recipes featuring Seeds, Nuts and Beans (Whitecap, 2016) and writes a health column for the the Washington Post.

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