The world runs on caffeine, at least first thing in the morning. If you’re like most westerners, getting a personal IV to drip your morning coffee right into your bloodstream isn’t totally out of the realm of possibilities. It might be hard to believe, but a good portion of the world wakes up perfectly fine without relying on any coffee whatsoever. In fact, hot tea is the drink of choice throughout much of Asia. And for millions of people one special form of tea stands out above the rest: matcha tea.
What is Matcha?
Predominately grown in Japan, matcha is a form of green tea you’ll never find inside a tea bag. Instead of being infused in water like other teas, matcha is actually finely ground into a powder that you dissolve in your cup. This produces a jade green drink bursting with antioxidants and a slightly sweet, earthy flavor.
Highly valued for its alert and calming properties, matcha is so valued in Japanese culture Buddhist monks traditionally drink it to prepare for their focused meditation sessions. Best of all, all the nutrients of tea are found within the leaves, which is why matcha has long been considered an ‘elixir for health’ throughout East Asia.
Where Does it Come From?
Japanese tea farmers claim the secret to their subtly sweet matcha comes from its shade grown origins. Unlike other green teas, the leaves used to make matcha are covered with heavy shade cloth three weeks before harvesting. Blocking out sunlight prevents the leaves from getting scorched and brittle while also encouraging the plants to grow long, thin leaves with a bold flavor that’s perfectly suited for matcha.
After harvesting, these leaves are briefly steamed, then dried and aged for six months, after which they reach their peak flavor. Next the leaves are stone ground into a fine powder easily dissolved for making tea.
The way matcha leaves are harvested changes the quality grade the tea gets. Only the youngest, most delicate leaves are harvested for top-grade ceremonial matcha, while older, coarser leaves found farther down the branches are used for lower culinary grade matcha perfect for baking or stirring into smoothies.
The History of Matcha
Tea drinking has been sacred in Asia for over 4,000 years and started with the legendary Chinese leader Sheng Nong. The story goes Sheng sat below a tea tree next to a boiling pot of water and tentatively tasted the brew after a few leaves fluttered in. He liked the result so much he soon spread this new drink throughout his homeland.
By the Tang Dynasty of China, tea surged in popularity and was transported around the country in the form of dried bricks. Within a short amount of time, the process of brewing powdered green tea grew popular with Chinese monks who cultivated their own tea shrubs and carefully harvested only the best leaves for their meditation brew.
By the beginning of the 12th century, Chinese powdered tea made its way to Japan through the travels of the monk Eisai, who eagerly claimed his special tea was the “elixir of the immortals’. The popularity of green tea surged in Japan and was named matcha. The Japanese warriors, called ‘Shogun’, even drank matcha before going into battle in order to achieve sustained energy. At the same time, the revered tea ceremony of Japan (‘chado’) began to be practiced by Zen monks as a meditative way to center them. Matcha became accessible to the Japanese masses after the invention of more efficient processing methods in 1738. Soon after, the general public was enjoying their green tea and the health benefits it contained.
Today, matcha remains popular throughout Asia and millions of westerners are waking up to the wealth of health benefits that a cup of matcha can provide. When you start your morning with matcha, you’ll be sure to notice a difference in how the rest of the day goes.
Health Benefits of Matcha
Most people know green tea is supposedly good for them, but few realize just how beneficial it is to consume the entire tea leaf like in matcha. The Japanese people have long been some of the healthiest and longest living in the world, and they are also regular matcha drinkers. Is this a coincidence, or is matcha the secret source of their longevity?
Recent research indicates that it’s certainly a factor. Matcha is renowned for its incredible levels of nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. A serving of matcha will fill you with Vitamins A, B, C, E and K as well as plenty of trace minerals. If you need more evidence, some of the top benefits of drinking matcha are listed below.
- Powerful Cancer Fighter: Matcha is full of Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a phytochemical that helps your body fight off cancer through its powerful antioxidant effects against free radicals in your body. EGCG has also been found to inhibit the growth of tumors and cause death to cancer cells quickly. Likewise, the polyphenols in matcha may help prevent cancer cells from spreading throughout your body. Finally, matcha has been found to be a good source of cancer prevention, as it has been found to reduce the risk of developing bladder and colon-rectal cancers.
- Loaded with Antioxidants: All types of green tea are loaded with antioxidants, but nothing can compare to the incredible levels found in matcha. Just one cup of matcha has as many antioxidants as 10 cups of regular tea and more than 60 times the amount in spinach. These antioxidants help your body find and destroy free radicals from the blood stream. This leaves your body healthier and even gives your skin a radiant glow.
- Slow Release of Caffeine: Early risers, rejoice! Matcha contains plenty of caffeine to get you going, and it comes without the negative side effects that coffee often has. At 35 grams of caffeine per cup, matcha contains half the caffeine in a cup of coffee. However, matcha also contains L-Theanine, an amino acid that changes how your body processes caffeine. Instead of absorbing it into your bloodstream within minutes, L-Theanine causes caffeine to be slowly released throughout your body, meaning you’ll feel the effects for hours without any risk of getting jittery. For this reason, a single cup of matcha can leave you feeling refreshed, focused and alert, all without a caffeine crash at the end.
Which Matcha Tea Powder Should You Buy?
Once you decide to try matcha in your daily routine, choosing what kind to buy can be tricky. The price point for matcha can change considerably depending on what quality you get, with the top tier ceremonial-grade brews going for more than $50 per ounce. If you plan to drink your matcha the traditional way (dissolved in hot water) it’s worth paying more for ceremonial grade. If you plan instead to mix your matcha into smoothies and baked goods, you can get away with buying culinary grade, a form of matcha made from coarse leaves that don’t dissolve as well in water. Not only are these blends more cost-effective, they also are designed to add rich flavors and plenty of nutrition to whatever creation you choose to cook.
When it comes to storage, unopened packets of matcha should be kept in cool, dark places far from heat and light. Opened packets should be used quickly in order to enjoy the maximum freshness. For this reason, many people prefer to buy matcha in smaller servings.
How to Make Matcha Tea the Traditional Way?
Brewing matcha is a time honored tradition in Japan and at the center of the ancient Chinese tea ceremony. In our fast-paced society, few things are better than taking the time out of your day to slowly and deliberately brew a perfect cup of matcha. The process may be more nuanced than sticking a tea bag in water, but after a few attempts you’ll be sure to master it and make perfect matcha every time.
To make matcha the traditional Japanese way, you need some specific tools to brew the lightest, frothiest tea. Below is the equipment needed to make a traditional cup of matcha:
- Tea Bowl: Traditionally shallow and ceramic, must comfortably hold four ounces with room for stirring.
- Tea Whisk: Made from flexible bamboo bristles in order to whisk the powdered tea into jade green foam.
- Tea Spoon: Carefully proportioned to measure the powdered matcha into the tea bowl.
- Tea Strainer: Matcha is carefully poured into this strainer before brewing in order to sift out any clumps that formed.
The 5 Steps
Brewing your matcha should be a calming, relaxing process, so don’t stress yourself out before you start. In essence, all you are doing is adding water to tea in a perfectly optimized way. Take your time and enjoy the tranquility of the procedure, remembering that too much concentration is unnecessary.
- Take your matcha tea spoon and sift one and a half spoonfuls through the tea strainer and over your tea bowl.
- Carefully sift through the powder in order to break up any clumps that form.
- Heat filtered water until just before boiling and carefully add two ounces to your bowl. Be careful not to use boiling water because it will create a bitter aftertaste for your tea.
- Keeping the bowl secure, quickly whisk the matcha for about forty seconds using a back and forth motion that forms an ‘M’.
- Once the tea is fully dissolved and a deep green layer of froth has been created, your matcha is read to be enjoyed.
Drinking one to two servings of matcha a day is perfectly healthy, and you can add more if your body adjusts well to that amount. There is no known health risks from drinking too much matcha, but some people find that it can slightly unsettle their stomach when they drink it when hungry.
A Note On Taste: Matcha has a naturally bitter taste that can be hard for some people to handle. If you need a way to combat this natural flavor, consider drinking it with a small sweet, like is done during traditional tea ceremonies. You can also mix sugar into your matcha and brew it with milk in order to make a sweet latte.
The total body benefits of starting a daily matcha ritual can’t be overstated. Switch out your coffee for this antioxidant-filled green tea, and you will soon find yourself alert and focused without experiencing any of the jitters from coffee. Matcha tea is a delicious traditional drink that has withstood the test of time for thousands of years, and after you feel the effects on your body you’ll start to understand why.