No beverage holds the spirit of the Far East like Matcha does. Once exclusively a royalty and Samurai drink, nowadays Matcha holds a prominent place in millions of households, cafes, and restaurants, in Japan and all over the world. Some call it a trend, some claim it’s a hype. But the health benefits of the Japanese Green Matcha tea are extraordinary. Even if for no other reason than it weans you off that dreaded coffee fix.
Why Matcha Rules the Green Tea World?
Shaded from the sun for a few weeks before harvest, carefully ground with stone grinding wheels, Matcha is like no other tea. Unlike regular green teas that utilize the process of infusion (soaking the leaves and then disposing of them), the Matcha green tea powder is not removed before consumption. This means you are taking in the whole leaf, providing for higher concentrations of beneficial substances, minerals, nutrients…and antioxidants. In Matcha, the concentration of catechins called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is 137 times greater than the amount available from China Green Tips green tea. Studies show it is at least three times higher than in other regular green teas. (1)
The process of covering Matcha bushes 20-30 days before harvesting increases the content of Chlorophyll and L-Theanine. L-Theanine is an amino acid that makes the caffeine more balanced. This leads to the unique effect of drinking Matcha – while it may contain the same caffeine (24–39mg per cup) as other green teas and keep you alert, it does not induce nervousness. L-Theanine is responsible for the feeling of “calm alertness” that Matcha is claimed to deliver – calmness without drowsiness.
Matcha Tea Benefits: The Science Behind The Japanese Miracle Tea
Matcha is rich in antioxidants. Since we’ve all been literally bombarded with information about the beneficial effects of consuming foods containing these free radical eliminators, I won’t fall into explaining too much about it. But in short, the high concentration of catechins confers a number of health effects, including improved heart health, brain function, boosted immune system, cancer prevention. The purported superpowers of this so-called super drink include even weight loss and better oral health. There are many studies trying to prove or debunk any health claims made. We’re going through the most important benefits backed up by science.
Beneficial to Heart:
Studies show that the regular consumption of catechin-rich Matcha green tea can help lower LDL-cholesterol. The latter is considered one of the major risk factors for heart disease (2, 3). Claims have been made that it positively affects high blood sugar levels and that drinking green tea reduces the risk of heart disease up to 31% (4, 5,6, 7).
Oh! That slim figure you dream of?
Various studies suggest that Matcha has the potential to speed up thermogenesis – the natural process of burning calories that occurs in the body. A study featured in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that Matcha can increase the process from 8-10% to 35-43% of daily energy expenditure. Other research on humans shows evidence that Matcha green tea might burn up to 17% more fat (8, 9). However, a 2012 study denies the effects on weight loss stating in its conclusions that “green tea had no significant effect on the maintenance of weight loss”.
Reduces stress and improves mood
Beta brainwaves are associated with normal waking consciousness, they support a state of alertness, logic, problem-solving critical reasoning. Most adults operate at Beta. However, beta waves can also translate into stress and anxiety. L-theanine found in the Matcha leaves facilitates the production of alpha waves, which, on the other hand, induce mental relaxation and reduce stress levels. (10, 11) L-theanine also assists in producing dopamine and serotonin, related to mood enhancement, better concentration, and memory (12).
Better brain function
Matcha green tea can slow down the decline of age-related cognitive functions and even work to improve it, researchers suggest. With the addition that “long-term large-scale controlled studies are needed to further clarify the effect.”(13, 14).
Regular consumption of Matcha Green tea is believed to, potentially, lower the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (15, 16). That is because one of the most important active ingredients in Matcha tea – catechins, serve as possible neuroprotective agents.
Fortifies the Immune System
Matcha Green Tea is a good source of Potassium, Vitamins A & C, Iron, Protein, and Calcium. The antioxidants they contain in abundance (the catechins) have been shown to possess antibiotic properties, to promote cell strength and boost immunity. (17)
Since Matcha powdered green tea is effective at fighting bacteria, it has a role in maintaining oral health, either. It reduces the formation of dental plaque and controls bacteria growth. It also makes saliva less acidic, thus, lowering the chances of tooth decay. (18)
Anti-inflammatory properties help control periodontal disease. According to The University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Dentistry, green tea helps getting rid of bad breath.
According to the US National Cancer Institute, more than 50 studies trying to prove or debunk the link between tea consumption and cancer risk have been published since 2006. “The results of these studies have often been inconsistent”, it says “but some have linked tea consumption to reduced risks of cancers of the colon, breast, ovary, prostate, and lung.”
Is It All Moonlight and Roses?
No. All green teas contain trace amounts of lead and fluoride. Consuming the whole leaf (as in the case of Matcha Tea) means a higher concentration of lead goes into the body. Though the content of lead is still relatively low to cause any harm, be careful with dosage and, maybe, avoid it if you are in a more delicate condition like being pregnant.
Types of Matcha
Not all Matcha powder tea is created equal. You can enjoy several different grades of Matcha corresponding to different quality standards, subject to different harvesting practice and, of course, at a greatly different price.
This is the highest grade of Matcha tea. What is special about this grade is that it is the first harvest of Matcha tea for the year. Several weeks before harvest the precious Matcha bushes are covered with bamboo mats to protect them from direct sunlight. This increases the production of chlorophyll. When the time has come, only the 2-3 upper leaves are picked up, stored inside, away from sunlight, to dry. Then, carefully ground to delicate powder. It has the darkest vibrant green color of all grades. The taste is also distinctive and full, allowing for consuming it pure, with no additives or sweeteners.
This grade is a luxury, hard to find outside of Japan. It is usually used by the major tea schools and Buddhist temples in Japan, specifically for the tea ceremony.
Premium grade is definitely more affordable for the ordinary tea fan outside Japan. Though often considered to be “somewhere in between”, and not a true Matcha tea grade, it is still very good and much easier to find.
This is the least expensive grade of Matcha. It is the grade used as ingredient in foods and beverages ( smoothies, protein shake, latte, cakes etc.) You can also make Matcha tea out of it but need to add more powder (4 grams, one spoon – twice as much as Ceremonial) in the water. It is made from older tea leaves, which have stronger flavors. It also has a slightly bitter taste compared to “Ceremonial” grade. This is no issue if mixing it with food or milk to make a shake. But it’s not a bad idea to add some sort of sweetener if you decide to drink it pure.
There are also two types of matcha you need to know about:
Koicha (thick tea)
It has a sweeter flavor. To prepare Koicha you need to add a little water to form a thick green drink. It is exclusive for Japanese tea ceremonies.
Usucha (thin tea)
Usucha is less sweet and is whisked vigorously with more water to create a thinner, lighter tea. The type of Matcha tea they usually serve you at cafes or restaurants.
What to look for?
#Harvest: Tea plants are usually harvested 2 or 3 times a year. However, the first harvest in the spring boasts the best flavor. When you reach for the shelf to buy Matcha, check if the producer mentions the harvest on the label or packaging. If there’s no tea harvest statement than it is likely that the green tea powder is from a 2nd (summer) or 3rd harvest (fall), even if it says “Ceremonial”. Look for “Ceremonial” grade, first harvest.
Organic: Organic means that the tea is grown and harvested without the use of synthetic pesticides, insecticides, and artificial chemical sprays. As you’ve probably heard, you can’t simply wash off pesticides. While enjoying a cup of Matcha, you consume the whole leaf of the precious plant – toxins and pesticides along with vitamins and minerals. Choosing organic is important because it gives you some security about the lack of harmful chemicals and other toxins.
Rural Areas Plants: If possible, look for Matcha produced in rural plants, away from the pollution of big metropolitans.