In Japan, you can’t walk into a grocery store, café, or bakery without seeing countless green tea products, especially green tea matcha — green tea’s early leaves ground into a fine powder form. These ingredients are everywhere, and matcha has become the darling of the tea world in American cuisine and coffee shops. There are good reasons to celebrate the arrival of this versatile and glow-worthy herbal trend.
Green Tea Matcha’s Early Beginnings
Green tea matcha, like many other teas, stems from the evergreen shrub Camellia sinensis, and its roots run deep in Japanese and other Asian cultures. Leaves are grown in the shade to minimize oxidation, enhance chlorophyll production, increase the presence of the amino acid L-theanine, and enhance the deep green color in the leaves. After the leaves are picked, they are dried and ground into a fine powder called matcha. Since the ground leaf is left in the tea as opposed to steeping the tea leaves in water and removing them, green tea matcha is more concentrated in caffeine and antioxidants than green tea, and is also more perishable. Everyday, lower-grade matcha teas tend to have a more bitter aftertaste and are a duller green than the higher-grade matcha teas, which are famous for their historic ceremonial uses in Japan. Once you get a taste for green tea matcha, you can generally detect the higher grades by their almost-neon-green hue, more balanced flavor, and higher price tag. There are two different ways to prepare matcha: usucha is a thin matcha paste and generally what you find in your tea cup, while koicha is a much thicker and stronger paste (and not for the faint of heart). Whether green tea matcha is on your list of things to try or if you’re still on the fence about its real health benefits, consider the following benefits of integrating this super-food-level ingredient into your daily spread: 1. Delivers powerful dose of antioxidants Powdered form of early green tea (leaves) i.e., matcha, boast a greater concentration of several of green tea’s components, most notably EGCG, which is the antioxidant-rich, phytochemical that has been the topic of intense research of its protective activity against cancer, heart disease, liver disease, and even viruses. “What is exciting about green tea/EGCG is its multiple, whole body health benefits and complementary mechanisms of activity,” says Certified Nutrition Consultant & Educator Cathy Cohn, founder of Better Living Through Nutrition. Higher grade green tea matcha tea powder has a vibrant green color, and a smoother, less bitter taste than lower grades. Lindsay Keach Bronstein, founder of Feed Health, recommends looking for grades one (“first” pick) or two (“second” pick) and corresponds with how early in the day the leaves were harvested (the earlier, the better). “Because matcha is made from ground whole green tea leaves, you get two to three times the antioxidant power from drinking matcha over traditional brewed green tea,” says Bronstein. 2. Calms the nerves Chlorophyll, which is highly concentrated in green tea matcha, helps the body to regenerate red blood cells, supports detoxification, and also calms the nerves. This action is compounded by the presence of the amino acid L-theanine, which according to a study published in Biological Psychology helps alleviate stress by inhibiting “cortical neuron excitation” and reducing heart rate. 3. Boosts mental clarity Some people choose green tea matcha over coffee because of its ability to perk up the mind with a more sustained release of caffeine, which also aids in reducing the “jitters.” Matcha has about twice the amount of caffeine than regular green tea, though amounts vary depending on source and preparation. On average, a teaspoon of matcha powder contains about 70 mg of caffeine per teaspoon i.e., one-third of the caffeine in a cup of coffee. L-theanine, the protein whose calming properties help mitigate caffeine’s more agitating effects, helps relax the mind while keeping it alert (by inducing alpha-frequency brain waves); additionally it boosts mood, and improves focus, concentration, and overall cognition. 4. Keeps heart disease at bay A meta-analysis from Scientific Reports on the many b enefits of green tea presents evidence that those at risk of high blood pressure and heart disease may benefit from a daily dose of green tea matcha, which has been shown to significantly reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, as well as boost “good” HDL cholesterol while stifling “bad” LDL cholesterol. 5. Protects against diabetes Matcha-specific research shows that the tea helps protect against kidney and liver damage in type-2 diabetic animal models due to its ability to increase glucose tolerance, improve fat metabolism, and deliver that characteristic high dose of antioxidants. Other studies have found that green tea flavonoids, the tea’s pigment or phytonutrients, also exhibit insulin-enhancing activities. 6. Promotes healthy joints A daily dose of green tea matcha may also keep your bones strong and your joints moving smoothly. Study participants inflicted with rheumatoid arthritis showed significant improvement in disease activity after including green tea in their daily diet for six months, with increased bone metabolism, reduced bone loss, and slowed degeneration of joints. High EGCG content is once again the primary preventive mechanism, with antioxidant potential that is 25-100 times more powerful than vitamins C and E. 7. Helps fight cancer Eliminating cancer recurrences is at the top of many medical researchers’ to-do lists, and green tea may be an important catalyst in helping achieve this goal. Japanese patients who combine anticancer drugs with daily consumption of green tea have shown significant reductions in cancer recurrences. Additional in vitro experiments have demonstrated synergistic anticancer effects on multiple human cancer cells, with an average 70.3 percent reduction in tumor volume. 8. Speeds up metabolism It’s no secret that obesity has become a plague of the Western world, much of which is diet related. If you’re looking to speed up your metabolism or maintain weight, consider replacing your sugar-laden drink of choice with a cup of matcha tea, which according to a National Institute of Health study promotes fat oxidation and increased energy expenditure over the course of a day. 9. Freshens breath Have you spotted green tea gum or toothpaste in the grocery store and wondered, why green tea? In addition to the catechins in green tea that help prevent oral cancer and prevent oral disease, green tea — matcha included — also reduces the bacterial activity that contributes to bad breath. 10. Tastes delicious If you haven’t tried green tea matcha, you’re missing out on a unique flavor that I can only describe as a creamy earthiness. M atcha Source, deemed Los Angeles’ “first Matcha-teria,” gives the best articulation that I’ve come across, describing it as having a “full bodied, creamy vegetal taste, with an occasional astringent note.” In addition to the traditional tea, there are lots of ways to consume matcha. Samantha Finkelstein, RD of Nerdy Girl Nutrition, reminds us that, “It’s all about balance; megadosing matcha will probably not provide any benefits, but moderate amounts may be a nice way to supplement a balanced diet and lifestyle.”
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Integrating Green Tea Matcha Into Your Daily Routine
Matcha can be an expensive commodity (due to its perishable qualities), but a little can go a long way with consistent use. In addition, there are no real negative side effects in consuming, though the presence of caffeine does make it mildly diuretic and could potentially be dehydrating in excess. Quality of tea is also important. According to a literature review in Chinese Medicine, tea plants have an affinity toward aluminum and an over consumption of green tea may increase aluminum levels in the body. Cohn notes that it’s important to seek out reputable companies that carefully source their teas from less contaminated areas and also test the raw materials for lead levels. Nutritionist Kim Denkhaus also advises us to watch out for added sugar. “Many companies are trying to take advantage of the green tea matcha trend, and selling sugar and matcha blends, which significantly reduces the cost of matcha, and significantly increases the sweet taste. One example is Starbucks Green Tea Latte which is a blend of sugar and ground Japanese Green Tea,” she says. There are no real “best ways” to consume, but Holistic Medicine Practitioner Marisol Kim is still partial to the traditional hot tea, which invokes health benefits along with a sense of ceremonial presence. “The process of making tea is an experience. We live in a coffee culture, but tea culture is a lot more about enjoying and being present with a cup of tea. It helps us slow down and recharge,” says Kim. Looking for a great recipe to get you started? We suggest this nutritious and delicious Matcha Latte Recipe from nutritionist Rachael Walker of The Cupboard. You might also try adding green tea matcha tea into your morning smoothie or whipping up a batch of matcha tea brownies — the sky’s the limit Lauren Faggella is a freelance writer and burgeoning multimedia storyteller, specializing in education, the intersection of culture and social activism, and technology. She is big on integrating awareness and balance into her daily grind, and is an advocate for sustainable energy and local agriculture. Fiction writing and photography are her two (other) loves. Submit your story or essay to Buzzworthy Blogs