One minute? We were all happily sipping on our green tea. The next? Matcha appeared in the spotlight – a nutritious, delicious and antioxidant-rich green tea powder (that’s supposedly superior in every way).
Influencers raved about it.
Cafes frantically placed orders.
And tea lovers eagerly sampled it.
To many, it seemed as if matcha rose to fame overnight.
But matcha tea dates back thousands of years, all the way to the 7th – 10th centuries in China and Japan. According to legend, matcha was introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks (but the exact details of its history are still a little hazy). But hey, what we can widely agree on is that matcha tea has a long and rich history.
So, what are the health benefits of matcha tea? How is it different from green tea? And why is everyone banging on about it?
What is Matcha?
If you said matcha is the same thing as green tea, you’d be wrong. But you’d also be a little bit right.
Both beverages come from the Camellia sinensis plant (in fact, black tea comes from this plant too, but that’s a story for another day).
The difference between matcha and green tea is how they’re processed.
Matcha is made by taking the whole leaves of the plant and grinding it into a fine powder, which is then whisked into hot water or milk. Green tea, on the other hand, undergoes various processes (such as drying the leaves). Then these leaves are then steeped in hot water.
We think Louise Cheadle (co-author of The Book of Matcha) puts it perfectly. Green tea “is a bit like boiling spinach, throwing away the spinach and just drinking the water, you will get some of the nutrients, but you’re throwing away the best bit.”
That’s why many avid tea drinkers think of matcha as a concentrated version of green tea – higher in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and caffeine.
Now we know what you’re thinking: but what about the flavour?
Matcha has been described as grassy yet sweet (a lot of tea drinkers choose to soften the flavour with milk or sweeteners, like honey).
If you can think back to the dirty spinach water example, you’ll see why people claim matcha has a slightly richer, stronger flavour. You’re actually consuming the leaves rather than steeping them. So it’s like green tea – only turned up a few notches.
The Health Benefits of Matcha Tea
Remember how we said matcha and green tea are processed differently?
Turns out, this is a major contributor to its nutrient profile. You see, the matcha plant is typically shaded during its growth period, which contributes to more biologically active compounds. This process has proven to increase chlorophyll, amino acid, caffeine and theanine content.
Tick, tick, tick and tick.
Matcha for Immunity
Now, it’s almost impossible to talk about the health benefits of matcha and green tea, without mentioning Catechins.
Catechins are a type of natural antioxidants, which are found in berries, cocoa and tea. Many researchers believe that the catechins (including epigallocatechin gallate – EGCG) is the reason for many of the health benefits of tea. EGCG’s are believed to have disease-fighting effects on the body, protecting the body against nasty bacteria and viruses.
Matcha for Heart Health
Eastern culture has linked tea to heart health for thousands of years (although this is with more anecdotal evidence than conclusive studies).
But in 2014, researchers analysed over 25 tea studies (with a total of 1476 subjects) to search for the link between tea and heart health (1). Interestingly, they found that the ingestion of tea over a period of more than 12 weeks resulted in a reduction of blood pressure. Green tea performed the best, with black tea running a close second.
Matcha for Mental Alertness
Because it’s a concentrated alternative, matcha has up to three times more caffeine than regular tea (which is similar to a cup of coffee).
The best news? Matcha is rich in an amino acid called L-theanine(2), which also contributes to attention and alertness. And this combination of caffeine and l-theanine provides a gentler release of energy (without the jitters and crash).
Matcha for Weight Loss
Now, we’re not huge advocates for crash diets and weight loss supplements. We’d prefer to encourage healthy, long-lasting lifestyles. But we couldn’t skim past Matcha’s potential to speed up metabolism.
In 2016, a systematic review (in other words, a review of a bunch of legitimate studies done over time) looked at whether EGCG increased energy, fat loss and metabolism(3).
The results found that green tea has the potential to increase energy and metabolism – however larger studies are needed to confirm this (gotta love science).
Now, it’s important to add that none of these studies should be taken as gospel. Many of them have been undertaken on green tea (which can be applied to matcha for obvious reasons – but it’s hard to draw any final conclusions).
So, the bottom line? Studies have shown a lot of positive early signs, but we can’t go around making bold claims about the magical powers of match tea.
Matcha Tea Side Effects
Just like it’s close comrades (green and black tea) matcha is safe and nutritious to consume. But remember: it has an impressive caffeine concentration, which when consumed in excess can lead to headaches, insomnia, irritability and all those unpleasant feelings.
Like many things in life, moderation is the name of the game.
How to Consume Matcha Tea
As matcha tea comes in a powdered form, it’s usually added to boiling water and whisked to help the compounds dissolve. Many tea drinkers add a dash of honey and milk to take the edge off (if you’re a first-time matcha drinker, you might find it to be quite strong).
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