Matcha green tea 101: Beginner’s Guide
Matcha green tea is so tasty and you hear lots of its health benefits. This will cover all the benefits and facts about matcha – Matcha green tea 101!
Table of Contents
What makes it “matcha” green tea?
Matcha green tea is getting so popular now – you see matcha green tea everywhere. The bright green “matcha” is in a latte, ice cream etc. What’s matcha? What’s the difference from typical “green tea“?
- High-quality green tea
- Matcha is 100% green tea leaves in a fine-ground powder form
- Both matcha and green tea are derived from the same plant, “Camellia Sinensis”
- It is the only form of green tea in which the entire leaf is consumed
It is different from regular green tea, where the leaves are infused in water, then removed. Ingesting the entire leaf provides a greater amount of caffeine, antioxidants, and theanine (which is not present in coffee and only found in very small amounts in most types of tea) than typically found in green tea.
Match green tea processing
All tea, black, green, and oolong, starts out from the same Camellia sinensis tea plant. Matcha is made from the same Camellia sinensis, yet it’s grown differently from regular green tea.
How Matcha is made
Farmers build structures around the plants to shade them, 20–30 days before harvest to avoid direct sunlight. This increases chlorophyll production (makes them bright green) and L-theanine (the amino acid that helps induce a state of wakeful calmness, reduces stress and promotes relaxation without sedation, and enhances umami).
Once the tea leaves are picked by hand, the tea leaves are quickly steamed to stop oxidation and dried. Workers then remove stems, twigs, and veins. Finally, the leaves are ground up into a fine powder slowly not to generate heat.
- For “gyokuro”, the stems and the main leaf veins are removed, and the leaves are rolled.
- For “matcha”, remaining leaf veins are removed and the leaf pieces are dried flat (“tencha”).
What’s “Gyokuro” tea?
Gyokuro (“jewel dew”) is one of the highest grades of Japanese tea, a shaded tea. While gyokuro is shaded for approximately 3-4 weeks, kabuse-cha (“covered tea” in Japanese) is shaded for approximately 1 week. While most sencha is from the Yabukita, cultivar of Camellia sinensis, gyokuro is often made from a specialized variety such as Asahi, Okumidori, Yamakai, and Saemidori.
What happened to those stems and veins removed?
They become kukicha (twig or stem tea), a lightly creamy, nutty tea that is low in caffeine (because there are few leaves).
Why is matcha so expensive?
Genuine matcha is very expensive because it is extremely labor and time intensive to make, and “tencha” are required. The finest matcha comes from Japan. All others are actually just green tea in powder form – inexpensive “matcha” at your local shops.
- First harvest
the first flush (The most valuable or first harvest of tea), is in May, and the second harvest in June to July. Sencha may be produced from either the first or second picking, while bancha is the second picking.
- Extra labor to shade the plants
For some very high-end teas—such as gyokuro, tencha (the base tea for true matcha), and kabusecha—tea plants are shaded for several weeks before the leaves are harvested for the first time (first flush).
- Hand plucking the leaves
- Removing stems and veins (“tencha”)
- Slow, stone grinding (for matcha)
Traditionally, the leaves are ground by granite stones in the dark to protect the nutrients, which takes about 3 hours to produce 30 g of matcha to avoid generating heat.
- Limited quantity
Flavors & Colors
Though it’s made from the same leaf, you might say matcha is sweeter than regular green tea. You may notice a “grass” smell and taste, especially if you use a lot of the powder.
Good quality Matcha is vibrantly green in color, often described as jade green, and lower qualities tend to have a more yellowish/brownish hue.
The vibrant green color is due to the shade growing process that promotes the overproduction of chlorophyll, which is what gives the tea plants their natural green color.
When it comes to matcha, price does matter. Based on a variety of factors (color, flavor), matcha has grades from the highest grades to the lowest. Higher grade matcha not only taste better but fuller the nutritional value is.
The difference between each matcha grade has to do with the location of the leaves on the plant. The top stalks are turned into a ceremonial grade of matcha, while the leaves in the middle or bottom are perfect for culinary or industrial use.
However, there are no regulations on matcha. So many matcha marketed as healthy beverages may actually be culinary grade matcha and lack the health benefits of higher quality matcha.
1. “Premium” or “Ceremonial” grade
Ceremonial grade has one purpose only – drinking. The highest-grade is grown and harvested in Japan under the most pristine and hand-picked conditions. This grade is produced from the youngest tea leaves. It has a brilliant green color, rich aroma, fine texture, naturally sweet and a distinct taste. Traditional tea ceremonies use this grade.
2. ‘Usucha’ (thin-tea)
It offers a strong balance of premium characteristics (color, aroma, effects) while being lower cost and with a marginal bitterness. This is traditionally considered unsuitable for the tea ceremony. The added bitterness comes from a higher tannin content (i.e. polyphenols which are good for our health).
Culinary or food-grade isn’t a low-quality tea by any means. This is simply made different from ceremonial grade – for baking and cooking: smoothies, cookies, cakes, soba, and ice cream. The bitterness is usually because the leaves used are more mature, and harvested later in the season. The rich chlorophyll and amino acids like L-theanine are still present but with a greater tannin and catechin content.
5 subgrades of culinary-grade
- Premium: an everyday use that pairs well with blended drinks.
- Cafe: It has a very robust flavor, great for baking and cooking.
- Ingredient: It is mixed with older tea leaves that have stronger flavors and a thicker consistency. It’s ideal for using in recipes that contain dairy products.
- Kitchen: It is produced with the least amount of delicate leaves with a darker green and bitterness. It’s great for large-scale brewing or trying new recipes.
- Classic: the most commonly available of the grades, and it has a strong flavor for cooking and drinks.
It holds the same high-antioxidant qualities of premium grade. This grade has a yellowish tone and high levels of acidity. Additionally, it’s ideal for health products like vitamins and supplement powders that are mixed with water or made into shakes. Beauty products like facial masks, cleansers, and toners also utilize industrial-grade matcha since the high levels of antioxidants brighten dark spots, skin tone, and ward off harmful UV rays.
Matcha vs Green tea
It comes from the same tea leaves, but how they are processed, taste, the amount of health beneficial contents are different.
|ECGCs: catechins||134 mg||63 mg|
|Polyphenols: Tannins||99 mg||7mg|
|Amino Acids: L-Theanine||45 mg||3 mg|
|Process||destemmed and deveined and then steamed shortly after harvest to halt oxidation.||artisanal methods (sun-drying, basket-firing, or pan-firing) or modern methods (oven-drying, tumbling, or steaming)|
|Form||Fine ground powder||In tea bag|
|Color||Brighter green||Brown and dull|
|Preparation||Whisked in a bowl w/ water under 175° F, or added smoothies/baked goods||Infused in a pot/cup|
boiled to 212° F, which destroys its nutritional benefits.
|Taste||Grassy, sweet, intense||Light, delicate|
|Cultivation||Japan||80% in China|
How to whisk matcha
Tools: a matcha/soup bowl (wide and deep), bamboo whisk, and measuring scoop (or teaspoon).
- Put 1 teaspoon matcha powder in a bowl.
You can adjust the ratio of matcha powder to water:
- For a thinner tea, reduce the powder to a half teaspoon (1 gram) and mix with 3–4 ounces (89–118 ml) of hot water.
- For a thicker tea, combine 2 teaspoons (4 grams) of powder with just 1 ounce (30 ml) of water.
- Heat 2 oz. water (~2/3 cup) just under boiling, around 160-170 degrees, and add it to the bowl.
- Using a bamboo whisk, stir a few times to make sure all the clumps are off the bottom and side, then whisk very briskly back and forth in a straight line for about 20-30 seconds (trying not to scrape the bottom of the bowl with the delicate bamboo prongs). Then whisk in a zig-zag pattern to calm the waves and create delicate “microfoam”.
How to enjoy matcha
You can enjoy matcha more than just drinking it. The powder form makes it easy to add to your favorite food and drinks enhancing health benefits.
- Matcha lattes
- Protein smoothies
- Baked goods: bread, muffins, cake
- Ice cream
- 18 Matcha desserts: BuzzFeed
- 17 Matcha drinks: oh, how CIVILIZED
- 26 best matcha dessert: Sincerely kale
- Matcha dessert recipes: Epic Matcha
- Matcha drink recipes: Epic Matcha
Complementary food with matcha
Surprisingly, match green tea goes well with many food items. Try figuring out what goes well with matcha!
- Strawberry, coconut, banana, mango, kiwi
- Red beans
Milk obviously compliments well with matcha green tea. Try non-dairy milk alternatives like oat milk to add more nutrients.
Caffeine content in Matcha
- Matcha vs green tea: Matcha contains 3 times more caffeine than green tea
- Matcha vs coffee: Coffee contains more caffeine than matcha. Cold brew contains a few times more caffeine than regular brewed coffee.
While the difference in caffeine is minimal, the type of caffeine in tea and coffee is different since the body metabolizes it differently.
While the caffeine in coffee is quickly released into the bloodstream, the caffeine in matcha is slowly released. This is because the caffeine molecules in matcha (and green tea) bind to the catechins. As the catechins break down, caffeine enters the bloodstream slowly over a 6-8 hour period. This process also prevents adrenaline and insulin spikes, which prevents the dreaded caffeine crash and drop in blood sugar.
Benefits of Matcha green tea
Though there seem to be a lot of health benefits in mathca, it’s important to note that much of these researches aren’t from clinical trials, largely from population-based studies: where researchers look at groups of people who drink green tea and compare their health outcomes to groups that don’t drink it. Matcha is even less studied than brewed green tea.
It’s nearly calorie free, matcha boosts metabolism and burns calories. At the same time, matcha doesn’t put any stress on the body. It doesn’t raise blood pressure or heart rate, making it a safe alternative to questionable quick fixes or pharmaceuticals with side effects.
High in antioxidants
Antioxidants help stabilize harmful free radicals, which are compounds that can damage cells and cause chronic disease. A single cup of matcha contains 137 times more antioxidants than a cup of a brewed tea bag.
Matcha contains catechins (the most potent and beneficial out Of all antioxidants) and is especially high in EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate, particular catechin), which is recognized for its cancer-fighting properties.
“Polyphenols” (Antioxidants) might help with inflammation like arthritis slowing the breakdown of cartilage (the tissue that cushions your joints) that arthritis can cause. It can also regulate blood sugar, reduce blood pressure, boost metabolism, and prevent signs of aging.
Calms the mind and relaxes the body
While L-Theanine (a rare amino acid) is common in all tea, matcha may contain up to 5 times more of L-Theanine than common black and green teas. L-theanine increases alpha wave activity in the brain, which may help induce relaxation and decrease stress levels.
Rich in fiber, chlorophyll and vitamins
Provides fiber, vitamin C, selenium, chromium, zinc, and magnesium.
Boosts brain function
Matcha contains a more concentrated amount of caffeine than green tea, packing in 35 mg of caffeine per half teaspoon (about 1 g) of matcha powder. Caffeine helps improvements in attention, reaction time, and memory.
L-theanine in Matcha, which alters the effects of caffeine, promoting alertness and helps to avoid the crash in energy levels that can follow caffeine consumption.
Prevents heart health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in people over the age 35. Studies show that drinking green tea reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke by reducing levels of total and “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.
Matcha is especially high in epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a type of catechin with powerful anti-cancer properties. A study found that the EGCG helped kill off prostate cancer cells and was effective against skin, lung, and liver cancer.
Prevents type 2 diabetes
Matcha is rich in polyphenols (antioxidants), which can regulate blood sugar and reduce blood pressure.
Matcha is high in fiber, which can aid in healthy digestion.
Helps protect the liver
The liver is vital to health: flushing out toxins, metabolizing drugs, and processing nutrients. Some studies found that matcha helped prevent damage to both the kidneys and liver by reducing liver enzyme levels. Elevated levels of these enzymes are a marker of liver damage.
Studies found that drinking green tea decreased the risk of liver disease. However, liver problems have been reported in some people who drank high amounts of green tea daily.
Better dental health
A cup of matcha tea a day might help keep your teeth in good shape. This could be because the fluoride helps keep a healthy level of acid in your mouth. The water you use to make your brew may have fluoride in it, too.
Bone health is important for your fitness and mobility, especially as you age. Green tea may increase bone mineral density, in turn lowering your risk of developing osteoporosis.
Is it ok to drink matcha daily?
Matcha green tea is safe to drink when consumed in moderation. It’s best to stick to 1–2 cups per day and look for certified organic varieties to take advantage of matcha’s many health benefits without risking any side effects.
What are Matcha tea side effects?
Drinking matcha may also increase your exposure to contaminants like pesticides, chemicals, and even arsenic found in the soil where the tea plants are grown. Choose organic and drink it in moderation.
Matcha doesn’t appear to cause significant side effects, but high doses of matcha provide you with large amounts of caffeine. Like coffee and other tea, matcha also contains caffeine. Caffeine may cause upset stomach, suppressed appetite, and caffeine-sensitivity, headaches, diarrhea, insomnia, and irritability.
Should you be concerned about lead in matcha?
There’s concern about lead content in matcha, because we consume the ground green tea leaves directly rather than in bags. Green tea is like a sponge for lead. However, it doesn’t appear to be absorbed into the water, even if lead is found in the leaves used in green tea bags.
However, the tests showed that the 6 popular matcha brands:
- Encha Organic Matcha
- Rishi Teahouse Matcha
- Teavana Imperial Matcha
- Kirkland Signature Green Tea
- The Republic of Tea Double Green Matcha Tea
were not contaminated by lead or other metals, and also did not contain pesticides. For now, the matcha currently sold in the US seems to be clean and safe.
Conclusion: Matcha green tea isn't just sweet nor tasty. Lots of health benefits you could enjoy. Why not enjoy more? Now you know it's not just bright green powder!
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