and what you need to know.
It feels like Matcha has taken over the world (or at least Instagram) in recent years with the vibrant star appearing in everything from lattes and smoothies to macarons, cookies, cheesecakes and icecream.
I consider matcha to be one of the most astounding teas and a true sensory pleasure: from its vivid green colour, silky soft powder, to its savoury flavour and fulfilling mouthfeel. Not to mention the number of nutrients hidden within.
In this month’s blog I get to the bottom of matcha, covering the basics and telling you what you need to know if you want to include this nutrient powerhouse into your daily tea routine.
What exactly is matcha?
Authentic matcha is a premium Japanese green tea made from tea leaves from the Camellia Sinensis tea plant that have been shaded before harvest, then, after plucking, they are steamed, their veins and stems removed, and dried before being ground by stone mill into a fine powder. It can only be called matcha if it follows this process.
The highest quality matcha comes from the region of Uji, Kyoto - the oldest growing region in Japan and the birthplace of matcha. It was here they perfected the process of grinding tea into a powder, which was brought to Japan from China by Buddhist monk Eisai in the 12th century.
Why is it so good for you?
Matcha is the most nutrient-dense of all teas by a long way. There are two reasons for this:
Shading. Limiting the leaves exposure to sunlight triggers a chemical change in the leaf, resulting in an increase in the levels of the amino acid L-theanine and chlorophyll - and therefore the leaves’ deep green colour. (1)
Powder. When you steep a standard tea, you ingest the flavour and nutrients that are drawn out of the leaf into the water – and some are left behind in the tea leaves which are ultimately thrown out. With matcha, the entire leaf is ground into a powder which you then drink, so you are ingesting the entire leaf, and therefore all of its nutrients – none are being thrown away.
A nutrient powerhouse
All high-quality teas are a good source of antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and proteins; but here’s what makes matcha stand out from the rest:
- Matcha has around five times the amount of antioxidant Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) than other good quality loose leaf green teas (2). Research is showing us that EGCG may be linked with helping to prevent or improve cancer outcomes, boosting your immune system, supporting brain health, reducing cholesterol and supporting weight-loss.
- Matcha has the highest abundance of L-theanine – a clever amino acid found almost exclusively in tea* which has been shown to improve cognitive performance and mental focus, reduce stress and induce a state of calm. (3)
- Chorophyll, the reason why matcha is so GREEN, is Intensified during the shading process, and is thought to help detoxify your blood and reduce body odours.
- Matcha’s high PH level means it is alkalizing rather than acidic.
- Matcha has at least twice as much caffeine as other leaf teas, making it a great pick me up, as caffeine helps to improve focus and reduce fatigue; but you will want to be mindful of how much and when you drink matcha if you are sensitive to caffeine (like me).
- as in all teas, the presence of polyphenols (tannis) and L-theanine in matcha soften and counteract the effects of the caffeine so you are likely to feel its benefits for longer and not experience the ‘jitters’ like many do with coffee.
How to tell if you’re drinking a good quality matcha?
There is a big difference in the quality of matcha available on our shelves. Lower grade ‘culinary’ matcha is fine for cooking, but a high grade matcha is much more pleasant to drink and has a higher nutrient content (if stored properly). Here’s what to look out for to know if you have a high grade matcha:
- The colour of the powder will be a vibrant bright green
- The flavour will be ‘full and green’ and have a hint of sweetness
- The mouthfeel will be smooth
- Origin and harvest information is listed on the packaging. Reputable matcha retailers will always tell you the origin within Japan and the year of harvest. (Matcha is best used within a year of harvest as its flavour and nutrients start to diminish after that time).
If the powder is a dull olive green or has a yellow tinge and tastes very bitter and has a harsh mouthfeel, then it is a lower grade matcha.
How to prepare matcha
I always recommend preparing matcha in the traditional way so you can appreciate its full flavour and gain more complete experience of matcha. In saying that, there are alternatives if you find straight matcha a bit much for you. Here are my two favourite methods to prepare matcha.
Traditional whisking method:
Scoop ¼ - ½ teaspoon of matcha into bowl and add around 100mls of hot water (70-80°), whisk in a ‘M’ or ‘W’ shape until a foam appears on the top. Traditionally a chawan (matcha bowl), chakasu (matcha scoop) and chasen (bamboo matcha whisk) are used and matcha is sieved first, however you can use any small bowl and a small whisk or fork if you don’t have these utensils.
Add ½ teaspoon of matcha to 200mls of good quality cold almond milk (I use unsweetened) then shake or blend until the powder has dissolved and foam bubbles appear on the top. Pour into a cup (over ice optional) then sprinkle a little matcha on the top.
Adjust quantities to your taste and experiment with different milks for the frappe. You can also add matcha into your smoothie for an extra burst of nutrients.
Matcha can be an acquired taste to those of us who naturally prefer sweeter foods. If this is you, I encourage you to be open to this new tasting experience; be curious about what your taste buds can sense and give them time over many tastings to become familiar with matcha's flavour profile. It’s a nutrient powerhouse and if you are focused on your health, this is a tea that’s worth persevering with.
In saying that, while choosing high quality, heathful food and beverages is important for all of us, my advice where tea is concerned is to ultimately prioritise your sensory pleasure by choosing a tea who’s aroma and flavour you love.
Citations and notes:
* a small amount of L-theanine is found in mushrooms
1. 3. 4. Keating, Brian R. Long, Kim. (2015). How to Make Tea; The Science behind the Leaf. Lewes. Print.
2. The Camellia Sinensis Tea House. (2014) Tea, Histories, Terriors, Varieties, New York. Print.