You've probably heard that green tea is good for your health. But have you heard about the way organic matcha green tea can work to help your body? If the answer is no, you're like most people. Despite its powerful effects, matcha green tea isn't as well-known as many other products.
What Is Matcha Green Tea?
Matcha Green Tea, or just 'matcha,' is a powder created from shade-grown green tea leaves. Matcha exclusively uses young leaves that have their stems and veins completely removed. The remaining parts of each leaf are then ground with a granite stone mill into a bright-green powder.
Unlike most teas, matcha doesn't need to steep for several minutes. Instead, the powder is dissolved directly into a hot liquid. Most people use water for this, but milk is occasionally added as well. Matcha has a thicker, almost soup-like texture to it rather than the watery broth style of most teas.
Why Is It Shade-Grown?
Matcha plants are covered a few weeks before harvest to prevent direct sunlight from reaching them. This slows the growth of the plant and encourages it to increase the production of chlorophyll and theanine. The first substance is responsible for the bright green color of matcha.
In most cases, matcha leaves are picked by hand to ensure quality, then laid out to dry. Leaves that are rolled up are formed into Sencha, one of the most popular styles of green tea.
The powder is often said to feel a lot like talc; it's definitely a powder, but it's fairly smooth and mixes well.
A Brief History Of Matcha
Matcha has existed since at least the time of China's Tang dynasty, which ruled between the seventh and 10th centuries. At this time, steamed tea leaves were formed into bricks, which were easy to transport and trade. When people wanted to use the bricks, they'd roast and pulverize a bit of them, mixing the powder with salt and water to form a drink.
Despite knowledge of the techniques, however, matcha didn't truly explode in popularity until the next dynasty. In the late 1100's, a Buddhist monk from Japan named Eisai returned to his home from China. He brought the methods of preparing powdered green tea and some of the best tea seeds he could find.
Most people soon agreed that Eisai's seeds produce the best tea leaves in Japan, but most of them couldn't actually try them. The seeds were planted on temple grounds in Kyoto, and since they are yet to produce new seeds, getting to enjoy any of the leaves became something of a status symbol.
Before, other monks began to try different methods of cultivation, eventually figuring out that shade-grown leaves produced the best results.
Matcha slowly began to spread from that point on, but it wasn't until the 1500s that it truly became associated with the tea ceremony, one of Japan's most distinctive cultural traditions. Between its use in temples and tea ceremonies, matcha was recognized as a luxury product where quality truly mattered.
This is one of the reasons that matcha leaves are still selected by hand. It is expensive, but this is an area where growers don't want to sacrifice quality.
The Grades Of Matcha
Most growers sort matcha into six levels of quality. All six grades can be produced by a single grower since they use different parts of the plant.
1. Ceremonial Grade
Ceremonial Grade is the most expensive form of matcha. It is typically reserved for special tea ceremonies and used in Buddhist temples. Despite the price tag - often more than a dollar per gram - most casual drinkers won't notice the difference between Ceremonial and Premium matcha.
This grade is made entirely from the youngest leaves on a plant. It should only be mixed with hot water; no other liquids or sweeteners. This grade has a naturally sweet flavor, but it's so mild that other sweeteners will easily overpower it.
Despite what some advertisements, Ceremonial grade matcha is almost never used outside of tea. There are a few reasons for this.
First, it's so expensive that it's just not worth using to coat other products, especially when most people won't even notice the difference between this and the next-lowest grade. Second, the delicate flavors are easily lost when it's mixed with other ingredients.
There's only one reason to mix ceremonial matcha into something other than tea: its health benefits. When mixed into a smoothie or other drink, it can be used as a healthy (if expensive) supplement alongside the rest of your diet. This is especially helpful if you're about to exercise and don't want to spend a lot of time on your meal.
2. Premium Grade
The mid-level grade of matcha, Premium Grade has the full nutritional value and is the recommended product if you want to add it to your diet and drink it on a regular basis. It only costs about half as much as Ceremonial Grade, and it's made with leaves from the very top of the plant.
The grades below this are all "lower" regardless of purpose. Note that "lower" isn't the same thing as "bad." All matcha is technically a premium product - it's the difference between good and great, not good and bad.
3. Cafe Grade
Cafe Grade matcha is the most popular type in restaurants. The leaves used aren't as delicate as those used for Ceremonial or Premium matcha, but that also means they have a stronger flavor.
This type of matcha blends well and can still be tasted alongside other ingredients, making it a top choice for mixed drinks.
4. Ingredient Grade
Ingredient Grade matcha is similar to Cafe Grade, but it's more appropriate for products containing dairy. If you're having matcha ice cream, smoothies, or lattes, you're probably having this grade. That said, this grade needs to be stirred well to stop clumps from forming. It's somewhat thicker than the top grades, and while that can be good in a mixed product, it's worth knowing about when you use it.
5. Kitchen Grade
At this point, you're well into the economical grades rather than the premium, healthiest grades. Kitchen Grade matcha has a strong, rather astringent flavor that's ideal for bulk brewing and being mixed with other food. Since it tends to be sold in bulk, some people suggest using this grade to experiment and create new recipes.
6. Classic Grade
The lowest grade commonly sold in stores. If you find cheap matcha, it's probably this grade. Like Kitchen Grade, Classic Grade has a strong and distinct flavor that works well on its own or with other ingredients. It's worth noting that even the lowest grades of matcha have significant health benefits. It's not as remarkable as the top grades, but even Classic Grade is better than normal green tea.
Beyond Tea, What Kind Of Products Use Matcha?
Matcha is a popular flavoring for almost anything that can be flavored. Companies sell candy, cakes, pudding, ice cream, biscuit sticks, milkshakes, smoothies, and more - all flavored with matcha.
On occasion, matcha is mixed into other types of tea. This is done for both nutritional value and flavor.
Is Matcha Better For Me Than Green Tea?
Yes. Studies show that matcha has significantly more antioxidants than regular green tea. Though, the opinion is divided on how big the difference is and what sort of benefits you can expect. Most agree, however, that pure matcha is generally better than products that are "matcha flavored."
In an article from NBC News, it suggests that 1 & 1/2 teaspoons of matcha are about right for most adults throughout a day. Others prefer to go by a 'cup' approach and suggest no more than five cups of matcha spaced throughout a day.
If you decide to start taking matcha on a regular basis, consider only mixing it with water. That will ensure you don't consume a lot of extra calories in the process.
Can Matcha Help Me Stay Alert?
Yes. As reported in an article for John Hopkins University, Matcha is a good source of caffeine with a normal cup containing about 70 mg of the buzz-inducing chemical. Does that sound like a lot? It is. Fortunately, it's not going to get you as wired as you'd think.
Matcha also contains significant amounts of L-Theanine, an amino acid that slows the release of caffeine through your body and produces an effect often described as an 'alert calm'. The trick here is that L-Theanine can relax the body without making you feel sleepy or drowsy - so you're awake, but not as energetic.
Many people find this more useful for their work and daily life than the buzz of coffee.
The EGCG Benefit
The most notable benefit of matcha is the presence of epigallocatechin gallate (try saying that ten times fast). EGCG is a catechin, one of the chemicals known to be responsible for the health benefits of many different foods. Things rich in catechins tend to be "superfoods," which have far more nutritional benefits than most things we eat.
EGCG, in particular, is known as the most effective anti-cancer polyphenol in green tea. It's not a miracle cure, but a diet rich in EGCG could help stop you from developing cancer in the first place.
Are There Other Health Benefits To Matcha?
Matcha is anti-cortisol, which means it stops the production and use of the stress hormones caffeine normally creates in the body. Matcha is also known to help regulate blood sugar.
The overall result of this is generally improved endurance, resistance to the effects of stress, and a generally positive mood. These effects are one of the main reasons why Buddhist temples (and people who want to meditate) are so fond of this product.
In simpler terms, matcha is a better, concentrated version of green tea, which is itself the most beneficial form of tea.
Can I Take Too Much Matcha?
Unfortunately, yes. Like most other healthy products, you can have too much of a good thing. Excessive consumption of matcha has been linked to issues like lead contamination, reduced absorption of iron, and liver damage when taken in conjunction with chemicals like acetaminophen. Matcha is stronger than green tea, so the negative side effects are more likely to occur.
In the amounts described above, matcha is safe and even encouraged. Past that point, overdoses are a real threat and should be treated as such.
Why Take Matcha As A Pre-Workout Supplement?
EGCG (described above) is known to improve the overall function of your body, with some studies suggesting the improvement goes as high as 30%. When you're getting ready to work out, that's a major benefit. Longer workouts mean more calories burned, more muscles strengthened, and in many cases, an easier time reaching your fitness goals.
Matcha is also known to reduce the amount of burn from lactic acid during exercise. In the practical sense, this means you can enjoy more intense workouts and more repetitions in one setting.
As an added benefit, matcha is easy to consume in tea or capsule form before workouts. That makes it easy to integrate into a pre-workout diet, which should include both carbohydrates and protein 30 minutes to 3 hours before your workout starts. Timing is key for this. If you don't take it at the right time, you won't realize the full benefits.
Why Matcha As A Post-Workout Supplement?
Surprisingly, matcha is just as good after your workout as it is before you hit the gym. There are a few reasons for this.
First, and most importantly, the antioxidant properties of matcha are helpful for getting rid of many toxins, heavy metals, and supplements you don't want in your body after you're done working out. Many of these substances are important in small quantities, but you don't want to overdose.
Also, the L-Theanine comes back into play. When taken after a workout, it can encourage quick recovery and a return to a calmer mood. You don't want to be so tired after a workout that you can't do anything else, and matcha is one of the best ways to limit the negative effects of exercise on the rest of your life.
(This isn't as important for people who have good endurance and aren't too tired after their workout sessions. If you're still pushing hard to reach your goals, though, the restful feeling afterward can help you stay motivated.)
Can Matcha Help Me Burn Fat?
Yes - or, at least, that's what studies are suggesting. The evidence on this isn't as conclusive as we'd like, but a 1999 study noted that green tea extract could lead to a measurable improvement in fat oxidation and energy expenditure. If you're trying to lose weight, both of those are great qualities.
There are some concerns about the long-term effectiveness of matcha for burning fat - but even if it doesn't do it directly, its support of exercise (see above) can lead to indirect weight loss. Regardless of its direct effectiveness, matcha is worth taking as part of a well-balanced diet when you're trying to lose weight.
What To Look For When Buying Matcha
Matcha isn't always sold in conveniently-labeled containers. You may need to buy it in bulk to get just the right amount. If that happens for you, here's what to look for when you're buying it.
#1: Look For Vibrantly Green Matcha
When it comes to matcha, you should always look for a blend that has a bright, spring green color to it. This indicates high levels of chlorophyll and theanine. Brightly-colored matcha also encourages the full, smooth flavor of the drink.
If the product you're looking at seems dark or dull, it's not one of the better grades. Kitchen Grade and Classic Grade matcha, in particular, tend to be distinctly darker than the other types. Your goal here is to avoid being tricked by sellers who want to sell cheap, lower-quality matcha at a premium price.
For extra security, try looking at matcha from many different sellers. This will help you develop a better sense for the hue you're looking for when buying matcha. Try to avoid packages that don't let you see the color until you buy them - unless you trust the seller, that's a risky move.
#2: Limit Your Purchases To Organic Matcha
When you're looking for a healthy drink, why undermine it with added chemicals? On many levels, organic matcha is the only way to go. In fact, you may not even find a non-organic version of the better grades.
Like many superfoods, matcha is at its best when it's as pure as possible. You don't want to serve cheap wine with a fancy meal or wear sweatpants with a tuxedo vest. Some things don't go together, so the more organic your matcha is, the better.
#3: Buy A Japanese Brand
Matcha has its origins in China, but today, it's Japan that has the best tea leaves for this particular product. Some people in China are trying to change that, but they've still got a way’s to go before they can become the dominant producers of matcha again.
#4: Buy Purposefully
Ceremonial and Premium matcha are meant to be consumed only as drinks, with no additives. The various culinary grades - which don't always have the same standards of quality - are a better choice if you want to mix matcha into smoothies, ice cream, or other products. Remember, there's a direct correlation between quality and health benefits in matcha.
That said, it's still worth buying lower grades if you want to experiment with adding matcha to other foods. Many people like to add it to soups, stews, or sauces. If you do, add the matcha at the very end. It doesn't need to steep or cook, so adding it right before serving is usually the best choice.
#5: Limit Your Purchases To Properly-Stored Matcha
The best matcha is stored away from heat, moisture, and light. Some people even prefer to store it in their refrigerator, rather than in the pantry or garage. Similarly, it should be stored in a well-sealed container.
Much like baking soda, matcha easily absorbs smells from other food - if you leave it out, it will change. Keeping it sealed is the best way to stop it from changing in ways you don't like. If you're buying in bulk from a store, make sure the store is storing it properly as well.
As part of this, many people recommend buying matcha in small quantities. This way, you can enjoy it at its freshest.
#6: Know Your Prices
Ceremonial Grade matcha is typically sold for $1/gram. The price can vary a little from there, but that's the most you should pay for matcha. Anything above this price range is overpriced, while anything too far below represents a lower quality than a store may want to admit.
It is possible to buy matcha online, but try to avoid doing this during summer. Exposure during transportation may heat the matcha more than we prefer.
Our Favorite Matcha Recipes
Now that you know what matcha is, how it's made, how it affects your body, and what to look for when buying, here are our favorite recipes that use it. These recipes work best with Cafe, Ingredient, and Kitchen Grades of matcha - don't waste Ceremonial or Premium on them.
#1: Matcha Yogurt Breakfast Bowl
Here's a great way to start your day. Strongly-flavored matcha is the best choice for this recipe since the other ingredients are pretty strong.
Start with 2/3 cup to 3/4 cup of your favorite yogurt. If you want to maximize your health benefits, get Greek yogurt - it has more protein than other types. Next, mix in 1 tsp matcha powder. Stir thoroughly to combine it with the yogurt.
Add just a bit of syrup or honey, to taste. Remember, you don't need to smother the flavor of the matcha - it's not particularly bitter, to begin with. If you are adding a sweetener, stir your breakfast again to incorporate it.
From there, add half an orange, peeled and sliced. You can also use a blood orange, strawberries, or any other fruit or berry you'd like to include in your breakfast. Fresh and organic fruit is better, but rehydrated fruit is acceptable if you don't have anything else.
Drop some chopped almonds, walnuts, or pecans over the rest. Eat immediately.
Soft Food Diets: You can blend all of these ingredients together to make a soft smoothie. Consider adding a little bit of ice (not too much!) to cool and thicken the mixture.
#2: Matcha Pancakes
Here's another great way to get matcha into your breakfast. This recipe is mainly for the health benefits - the cooking process and other ingredients tend to mask the flavor of the matcha, so go for at least Ingredient Grade. You'll need:
In a big bowl, thoroughly whisk the first five ingredients together. Once they're combined, add the dry ingredients and whisk about eight times. The batter should be lumpy when you're done.
Heat a cast-iron skillet on medium-low and coat it with a bit of butter. Add 1/4 cup of the pancake batter when the skillet is hot, and cook until the outer edges are try and the bubbles that appear have popped. Flip the pancakes and cook them for another minute.
Stack the pancakes and serve immediately with butter, syrup, whipped cream, and fruit.
#3: Matcha Glazed Brownies
Here's something a little more complicated than breakfast. This recipe is done in two parts.
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup melted and cooled butter
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat your oven to 350 and line an 8-inch pan. In a large bowl, whisk all of the dry ingredients together, then mix in the butter, the eggs, and the vanilla. Pour the mix into your pan and bake for 25 minutes. When the brownies are done, start on the next part. You don't want to pour the glaze on when the brownies are just out of the oven, so letting them cool while you make the glaze is the trick to success.
- 3 tablespoons melted butter
- 1 tablespoon matcha powder
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup powdered sugar
Whisk together all of the glaze ingredients. Pour it over the brownies while they're warm (but not yet cool) and allow the brownies to finish cooling.