Matcha: A Healthy Advantage
Green tea is well known for its health benefits. But did you know it also comes in a more nutrient-dense powdered form? Matcha (from the Japanese words Matsu, meaning ground or rubbed, and cha, meaning tea) is a powdered Japanese green tea full of nutrients and antioxidants. Unlike regular green tea where the leaves are steeped in hot water and then thrown away, with matcha you are basically consuming the entire tea leaf.
But That’s Just the Basics. There’s So Much More.
Japanese monks introduced matcha to Japan in the late 12th century as traveling tea cakes which they used for energy and mental clarity -- important for long days on the road and for meditating. Over the next few hundred years, the monks developed the beginnings of what we see today in the Japanese Tea Ceremony. In these early years producing good quality matcha was extremely labor intensive (and still is to some degree), so matcha was reserved only for royalty, visiting dignitaries, and high Samurai, certainly not for the general populace.
Today matcha is available to everyone, matcha lattés can even be found in vending machines in Tokyo! The harvesting and processing methods of Japanese matcha, however, remain gentle and focused. Matcha is unique in that fields destined to become matcha are shade covered 2 to 4 weeks before harvest. Shading forces the chlorophyll to rise to the top outermost leaves, which are gently picked at the desired time. The leaves are lightly steamed to prevent oxidation, and then de-veined and de-stemmed (Japanese women used to de-vein and de-stem the leaves using chopsticks). Finally, better grades of matcha are stone-ground into a fine powder between traditional granite stones. It takes one hour of slow stone grinding to produce a one-ounce tin of matcha. Cheaper quality matcha is frequently pulverized instead of stone ground, losing many of the desirable nutrients and leaving a bitter taste.
When processed in a traditional and gentle manner, matcha retains the majority of its antioxidants and nutrients. General consensus is that one cup of matcha has the nutrient value of about 10 cups of regular green tea. When offered samples of high-quality matcha, customers often sip the tea and then come back a few minutes later asking, “What is this tea again? It makes me feel great!”
The feeling they are referring to comes from L-theanine, an amino acid naturally found in matcha that has been shown to enhance mental focus, calmness, and an overall sense of wellbeing. While matcha does contain caffeine, the antioxidants and L-theanine mitigate caffeine’s negative effects while providing a sustained lift of energy.
Good quality matcha should be strong tasting but smooth with sweet vegetal notes. Matcha is traditionally drunk with hot water, but many recipes are made into lattes - hot or iced, frappes, blender drinks, adding agave syrup or honey, or add to yogurt and ice cream like Dr. Oz. There are many ways to have your matcha, take a tin home, and discover your way.