What is matcha?

Mar 20, 2019 | What is...

What is Matcha?

Julia Franckh

The hype is as real as “eat your greens”. From matcha flavoured ice cream to matcha in protein powder, it’s have you had your matcha today?

Matcha is powdered green tea. Rather than your typical looseleaf or teabag, where the camellia sinensis leaves are steeped in hot water to extract the flavour, matcha is a smooth green powder made from steamed, dried and then stone ground tea leaves and whisked together with hot water.

There is an art to preparing matcha which is cherished in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. Because of this there is a difference between ceremonial and culinary matcha: the ceremonial kind is high-grade made from cultivated leaves and buds, while the culinary kind is usually a mix of different matcha powders.

Apparently, you can tell the difference in matcha quality by three main factors (along with various other factors I will leave to the experts):

  • Color: the more vibrant the green, the fresher and high-quality it is because of the chlorophyll (green pigment) in the leaves, yet if the color is quite dull, it’s typically lower-grade.
  • Packaging: because matcha is a such a fresh product it needs to be stored in airtight tins, meaning that any matcha you buy in bags or wrapped in foil isn’t stored correctly and will oxidise fairly quickly (spoiling the taste).
  • Origin: Just like wine, you can gauge the quality by the region the matcha comes from: high-grade matcha will typically come from Uji, in Kyoto, and Nishio, in Aichi (according to wellandgood).

Do I (Julia) like it?

The jury is still out on this one. As matcha is not water soluble the process of making it is rather tedious: I never manage to smoothly whisk the matcha in water at 70°C, with the special little bamboo whisk (called a chasen). So it’s always a little lumpy and results in mouthfuls of little powder balls when sipping.

But in reality I just haven’t spent enough time learning how to make a cup of matcha. Also high-grade matcha is quite expensive ($30-$40 for 30g), so I tend to stick to steeped green tea.

How do I give it a try

Making a cup of matcha requires a certain level of skill (that I do not have at this time) and there is a wide spectrum in the quality of matcha. If you would like to give it a try I would suggest sticking to the basics and ordering a cup of matcha at a traditional tea house or a matcha latte at a local coffee shop, rather than an iced vanilla matcha tea latte at Starbucks (which includes a lot of syrup).

If you would like to try it at home you can also use a handheld frother instead of the special bamboo whisk to make things easier.

Should I buy in to the hype?

If you don’t like to drink a lot of coffee (like me) but are still looking for a caffeine fix, matcha has more caffeine than black tea but still slightly less than a cup of coffee.

What does the research say?

According to Dietz et al. (2017) matcha increased attention and reaction time an hour after consumption in comparison to participants that ingested a lower amount of matcha or took a placebo. But they only had 23 subjects in their study, so that seems to be a rather small sample size.

There are a lot of positive benefits of drinking green tea and as matcha is a more concentrated form of green tea these same benefits seem to apply, such as decreasing the level of bad cholesterol (Zheng et al. (2011)) and increasing fat burning during moderate forms of exercise (Venables, et al. (2008)) – but in this study they only studied young healthy males.

Major take-aways

Not sure if I buy into the hype due to the taste and impracticality of making a cup, so I tend to stick to my typical cup of tea.

However, matcha tea is traditionally tied to a meditative practice as it is an excellent way of slowing down and dropping into the moment. When we become mindful of the preparation, pause to notice the color, the scent, the taste and think about the landscape and artisans who cultivated this nourishing cup of tea, the benefits go way beyond the nutrition label.

This week’s “what is” was requested by the lovely Hannah. This post is part of the what is… Wednesday series.    A free weekly series explaining various trending topics.

References

– Dietz, C., Dekker, M., & Piqueras-Fiszman, B. (2017). An intervention study on the effect of matcha tea, in drink and snack bar formats, on mood and cognitive performance. Food research international, 99, 72-83.

– (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2019, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-benefits-of-matcha-tea#section6

– O’Connor, A. (2013, May 23). What’s in Your Green Tea? Retrieved March 15, 2019, from https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/23/whats-in-your-green-tea/

– Quinn, S. (2017, June 01). Matcha: Is this cult green tea really that good for you? Retrieved March 15, 2019, from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/nutrition/matcha-is-this-cult-green-tea-really-that-good-for-you/

– Tellekson-Flash, W., & Tellekson-Flash, W. (2016, November 01). How to shop for and find the best matcha. Retrieved March 15, 2019, from https://www.wellandgood.com/good-food/how-to-buy-matcha/slide/5/

– What Is Matcha? (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2019, from https://www.teatulia.com/tea-varieties-101/what-is-matcha.html

– Venables, M. C., Hulston, C. J., Cox, H. R., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2008). Green tea extract ingestion, fat oxidation, and glucose tolerance in healthy humans. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 87(3), 778-784.

– Zheng, X. X., Xu, Y. L., Li, S. H., Liu, X. X., Hui, R., & Huang, X. H. (2011). Green tea intake lowers fasting serum total and LDL cholesterol in adults: a meta-analysis of 14 randomized controlled trials. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 94(2), 601-610.

 

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