Lattes, ice cream, cookies, and candies are the latest delicacies to contain the infamous ingredient known as matcha. Though more commonly consumed as tea, matcha is increasingly being used to make drinks and desserts because of its unique flavor and incredible health benefits.
If you have made matcha tea before, you know that it doesn’t come in a traditional teabag. This is what makes matcha, matcha. Instead, it is finely ground powder of green tea leaves that is whisked into hot water.
Matcha has a long history and has been used in Japanese tea ceremonies for centuries. A tea worthy of ceremonies comes with a set of standards and involves greater preparation and processing before being used. There are also different grades of matcha and specific teaware to be used.
To really appreciate this tea's sophistication, taste, history, and benefits, you need to know more about it. We’ve answered the most common questions about matcha tea so you, too, can feel the love for this vibrant green drink.
How is matcha tea produced?
You can’t use just any green tea leaves to make matcha! Instead, the leaves must be grown in the shade for three to four weeks. The shade slows the growth of the tea, which triggers chlorophyll levels to increase. With more chlorophyll, the leaves turn a darker green and produce more of an amino acid called theanine. After three to four weeks the leaves are harvested, and the stems and veins are removed.
After they’re harvested, they are rolled up before drying. When the tea leaves are rolled first, it creates what is known as gyokuro tea. Alternatively, when the leaves are laid flat, they will crumble and become tencha. Tencha is the stage of the leaves before it becomes matcha (which is finely ground). You can brew tencha leaves; however, it is a more pale green and has a more mild flavor, and is traditionally prohibited from being used in a Japanese tea ceremony.
To make matcha, tencha is stone-ground, which is a slow process. The process of grinding must ensure the leaves are kept at a low temperature. If they were to heat up, it would impact the quality and alter the tea. The leaves are milled for about an hour until it forms a powder as fine as powdered sugar. This powder is then used to make matcha tea.
How long have people been drinking matcha tea?
Matcha tea has origins in China. During the Tang Dynasty in China, green tea leaves were first formed into bricks, making them easier to store. When it was time to drink, the tea was roasted and muddled, creating a powder that was then added to hot water.
Chan Buddhists used powdered tea as a part of their rituals which was documented in their Chan monastic code in 1103. This method of using powdered tea continued for centuries, and by 1279, people began to whip the powder into the hot water creating a more frothy drink. This powdered green tea was brought to Japan in 1191, along with Zen Buddhism. Then on, it became an essential part of the monasteries as well as the upper-class society.
What is the highest grade of matcha tea?
When it comes to tea grades, there is no official regulating party that determines the quality of matcha. It is often commercial labeling and is not recognized in Japan despite many sneaky marketing tactics.
The lowest grade of matcha is cooking grade. This is cheaper and often used as an additive. It can be added to desserts or sweets for a complimentary flavor, its green color or for its health benefits.
The other grade you will often see is premium grade. This is perfect for making a cup of matcha and is balanced in flavor. The tea leaves are younger, which makes the flavor more subtle. This grade is typically used by those who drink matcha on a regular basis.
The highest level of matcha tea is called ceremonial grade. Though Japan doesn’t officially recognize this grade, it is said to be high enough quality to be used for ceremonies. The flavor notes between premium and ceremonial are so subtle a new drinker likely wouldn’t notice. The most significant difference is the texture, as it creates a much thicker, frothier cup of matcha. The other differentiator is the price. There is a lot more involved in producing matcha, and the price reflects that. As a result, buying premium matcha tea costs more than generic green tea.
How do I make matcha?
Matcha is one of the most expensive teas you can get, so going to a café or local Starbucks will cost you much more than a basic cup of coffee. Fortunately, it is easy to prepare at home. This is why so many people choose to make matcha at home, saving both time and money.
The first step in making matcha is purchasing high-quality matcha powder. Like any other cup of tea, you will need hot water. If you are a tea enthusiast, you know that different types of tea are best with specific temperatures. Modern-day tea kettles will allow you to set the temperature accordingly. For matcha, it is best prepared with water at 176F. However, if you prefer a more mild flavor, you can lower the temperature to 158F.
The majority of us don’t have fancy settings on our kettles, so instead, set your kettle to boil as usual. Then, after it has come to a boil, let it sit so the temperature drops. Excessive heat will kill the flavor and many nutrients found in the tea, so it is better to wait until the water is warm before adding your matcha powder.
Typically you will add 2 to 4 grams of matcha (roughly 1 to 2 teaspoons) to 2 ounces of hot water. For a thinner tea, use less matcha, and for a thicker tea, use more.
The final step is whisking the two together. Traditional matcha is mixed with a bamboo whisk known as a chasen. This is different from simply stirring as it allows the powder to suspend in the water while also preventing it from getting clumpy. If you don’t have a bamboo whisk, you can still make matcha. You can put the hot water and powder in a jar with a lid and shake it, use a milk frother or add your matcha to a smoothie and blend.
A traditional cup of matcha is served in a bowl known as chawan. You can fill it with hot water first before pouring in your tea to heat your bowl. This will also keep your tea warm as you drink it. If you don’t have a tea bowl, a mug will work just fine.
If you prefer milk and sugar in your tea, you can add them. Matcha pairs very well with dairy and sweeteners, as it cuts the drink's bitterness. Just note that adding dairy and sugar can reduce some of the gut-healing health benefits.
What are the health benefits?
Many of the benefits of green tea, including matcha, come from its unique chemical composition. The composition is affected by the age of the leaf, the drying process, and how the tea is grown (e.g., shade or indirect light). Research has examined the composition of matcha and found that it contains theanine, vitamin C, and amino acids. Typically, the higher quality tea (and higher price tag) possess higher levels of amino acids and antioxidants than a lower grade tea. Matcha has natural antioxidants because it is rich in plant compounds called catechins.
Antioxidants are great for your health because they stabilize damaging free radicals that cause disease and cell damage. One study found that the catechin and antioxidant level was roughly 137 times greater in matcha than other forms of green tea. So, by drinking a regular cup of matcha, you could lower your risk of chronic diseases like cancer.
The tea has cancer-preventing compounds that have displayed promising abilities in test tube and animal studies. This is partially due to a catechin called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG).
A test-tube study found that the EGCG within matcha killed prostate cancer cells, whereas other studies found EGCG fought against skin, lung, and liver cancer.
Matcha is great for your liver! Not only can it prevent liver cancer, but it can help maintain proper liver health and function. We need our liver to be healthy as it flushes toxins and processes nutrients. One study consisting of 80 individuals with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease provided subjects with 500mg of green tea extract or a placebo. Following 12 weeks of this, the study revealed that liver enzyme levels were reduced in those who took the green tea extract. Liver enzymes are a marker of liver disease, meaning they can help prevent damage.
The health benefits of matcha can be furthered thanks to its ability to help with weight loss. Green tea extract is one of the most popular weight loss ingredients and has a fat-burning effect. Research has found that it increases fat burning by speeding up your metabolism and increasing energy expenditure. In 2009 a review of 11 different studies found that green tea helped with weight loss.
A healthy weight is necessary for a healthy heart. Matcha can maintain heart health by helping you lose weight and by reducing LDL cholesterol levels. LDL is known as bad cholesterol, and matcha has been found to prevent its oxidization. This can ultimately help prevent heart disease. Unfortunately, heart disease is very prevalent, with a third of deaths over 35 years old being caused by it. When you have a healthy diet and live a healthy lifestyle, matcha may play a role in protecting your heart.
This frothy green tea also works wonders for brain function. One study examined the mental performance of 23 individuals who consumed a cup of matcha tea or a bar containing 4 grams of matcha. The control group had a placebo tea or bar. The researchers found that matcha improved memory, attention, and reaction time. These effects are not simply a side effect of caffeine (though it does help), as another study found that daily consumption for two months had a significant impact on the brain function of seniors.
Lastly, matcha is also considered a natural probiotic that will increase the good bacteria in your gut and decrease the bad. Some have compared the drink to a multivitamin with amino acids, antioxidants, and probiotics.
Does matcha tea powder go bad?
Like other teas, matcha has a shelf life. You can think of it like a bag of freshly roasted coffee, freshest upon opening but gradually losing its flavor over time. The shelf life of matcha powder is about a year if the bag is unopen however is only about a month if open. When you open the bag, the matcha is exposed to humidity, heat, and air, which gradually deteriorates the benefits and flavors. To know how long your matcha will last, it is best to read the label, and if you are nearing the expiry date, it may be time to get creative with some matcha recipes.
Can I cook with matcha powder?
Matcha makes a delicious addition to baked goods with its unique flavor and health benefits. You can also add it to smoothies, oatmeal, popcorn, or make matcha noodles. If you are looking for a festive green recipe, matcha also acts as natural food coloring. A Google search will reveal plenty of delicious recipes containing matcha.
Matcha is an excellent way to start your day, but it isn’t the type of tea you want to drink before laying on your millet pillow at night. Because it contains caffeine, it may disrupt sleep if you drink it late in the day. You can buy caffeine-free matcha powder; however, it is important to note that it may go through a chemical decaffeination process that strips the drink of its health benefits. If you want caffeine-free matcha, look for one that uses a water decaffeination technique.