Ever since I visited Japan I have been fond of this powdery green tea that is called matcha. In the West flavors like strawberry, chocolate and vanilla are most commonly used. But in Japan, everyone seems to be pleased by the flavor of matcha. Like really really pleased, anytime, anywhere. They even have matcha flavored KitKat (not joking).
Luckily for me, matcha is also becoming increasingly popular here in Europe and elsewhere around the world. Trendy coffeehouses are putting matcha lattes on their menus, bakeries are offering matcha flavored cheesecakes and occasionally you can even find the ever so popular matcha ice cream.
But aside from it being a great new ingredient for making indulgent treats, matcha is also being acclaimed to have unparalleled health benefits. Somehow that seems too good to be true. Could matcha really be the best of both worlds? I am not a big fan of labeling something as a ‘superfood’ (especially not when it’s also a super-expensive-food), so my love of matcha left me wondering what the hype is all about. Let’s dive into it and find out if this green monster’s yumminess is not its only superpower!
What is matcha?
Matcha is a special kind of green tea in powdered form, which is traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies. In contrast to other green teas, matcha is put directly into the water and then gently stirred with a bamboo whisk, called a ‘chasen’, to create an appealing brightly green substance. If anything it certainly does look healthy!
What makes it so special?
Matcha is made from the leaves of the same kind of plant that other green teas are made of; the Camellia sinensis. However, the bushes that are used for producing matcha get a special treatment. They are shaded for 3 weeks prior to the harvest, which serves two main purposes: it promotes the production of the amino acid L-Theanine, and it helps to increase the level of chlorophyll in the leaves, which is a powerful antioxidant that also gives the leaves their vibrant color.
Apart from the growing method, matcha tea is also special because you ingest the whole leaf while drinking it, as opposed to just drinking the water in which the leaves are steeped. Apparently, research has shown that because of this, the concentration of the antioxidant EGCG (Epigallocatechin gallate) in matcha is up to 137 times higher than in regular green teas. (source)
Why does this matter?
While that all sounds very nice, we now come to the important part: what are the actual benefits of these special properties of matcha? It appears that a fair amount of research has been conducted on the benefits of matcha. Going through some of the study reports, I found that matcha is suggested to provide some pretty amazing effects on our health. Of course, I am not a scientist and I can definitely not vouch for the accuracy of these findings, but I thought some of these perks were pretty cool, so I’d like to share them with you:
It is supposed to make you feel energized and relaxed at the same time
This is apparently thanks to the high levels of L-Theanine in matcha. This amino acid is said to balance out the negative restless effects of the caffeine, without affecting the benefits like a boost in concentration. On top of that research has shown that it increases the activity of alpha brain waves, which means it has a calming and relaxing effect, without making you feel drowsy. (source)
It should be great for detoxing and cleansing your body
The potent antioxidant chlorophyll is said to take on toxins, carcinogens and free radicals in the body, that you might have obtained from certain foods, polluted environments, medicines or herbicides, and to prevent them from doing damage to your cells. It is also said to help control food cravings, combat candida infections and help alleviate body odor and intestinal discomfort. (source)
It may help to fight diseases and keeps you looking radiant
As mentioned matcha tea contains high concentrations of the antioxidant ECGC. This antioxidant’s free radical scavenging activities not only said to protect your cells from damage, but research also suggests that it might help to prevent and combat cancerous growth. (source) And the cherry on top is that is also said to battle the free radicals that stimulate the formation of fine lines and wrinkles of your skin that is caused by overexposure to the sun. (source)
So I guess that explains why matcha is often labeled as a superfood and why there are tons of recipes for green powerhouse smoothies that promise to make you healthy and glowing in a sip!
I can’t say I have experienced all of these benefits firsthand, but drinking a cup of matcha tea in the morning does make me feel focused and ready to kickstart my day, without giving me the frantic feeling of wanting to do everything at once followed by that dreaded caffeine crash. The effects of matcha feel much more subtle, balanced and natural and don’t wreak havoc on my energy level like coffee does. And apart from that, I think matcha is just super yummy and it makes the perfect indulgement to start off a productive day, so I will be sticking with this green friend for a little while longer!
Where to start?
Are you keen to give it a try? Here are my tips for the shortest route into matcha wonderland.
Get the good stuff
While matcha is grown in different places, the highest quality matcha is produced in the southern part of Japan. If you’re planning on drinking matcha tea to enjoy all of the benefits, make sure to buy high-grade Japanese matcha, usually marketed as ceremonial grade matcha, as this kind of matcha should contain the highest level of antioxidants. If on the other hand you’re only after that distinctive flavor and want to make delightful matcha cakes, lattes, and baked treats, a culinary grade matcha will do just fine.
For making traditional matcha tea scoop about 1 teaspoon of matcha powder into a small cup. First, add a little amount of water and whisk it gently but properly until all clumps have dissolved. You can use a bamboo whisk, but I find a small regular whisk or a milk frother works fine as well. After whisking you can add the rest of the water (about 1/4 cup in total) and whisk until you see it turning that beautiful vibrantly green color with a foamy layer on top.
Keep it cool
Matcha should be handled with care to ensure that the beneficial qualities are preserved. If you don’t plan on opening the container, you can keep it in the freezer. Once opened it can be refrigerated, but it should preferably be used within a couple of months. Always make sure to keep it sheltered from heat and light.
Try different combo’s
Matcha has a slightly bittersweet taste of itself. If the traditional matcha serving style is just not your cup of tea, try out some other options. Matcha combines very well with plant milk for making lattes (either iced or hot), in all sorts of baked goodies, in homemade coconut protein bars, or in banana nice cream! Be sure to check out my favorite recipe below.
Vegan matcha latte
- ½ tsp matcha powder
- ¼ cup water
- ¾ cup plant milk of choice
- ½ tsp rice syrup (or any other sweetener)
- Sift the matcha powder into your cup to remove any clumps.
- Add the water to your saucepan and bring it to a simmer (about 70 °C / 158 °F).
- Pour the hot water into your cup and whisk until the matcha powder is fully dissolved.
- Now add the plant milk into your saucepan and heat it until it starts to simmer. Meanwhile, add in your sweetener and stir until it’s dissolved, you can add more if so desired. If you like a foamy layer on your latte, you can use a milk frother.
- Add the hot plant milk to your cup with the matcha and stir until it’s combined.
- Enjoy your matcha latte!
Note: you can also make this as an iced latte by skipping the heating of the water and plant milk and adding a few ice cubes after step 5.
So let me know if you have tried matcha and what you’re thinking! I would love to know if any of you have firsthand experience with the benefits of this green goodness, so leave me a message below.
Love and light,