By Dr. Mercola
One of the most in-demand drinks on the planet, green tea is outrageously good for you. You may have heard about its benefits, such as increased ability to lose weight and combat heart disease.
The interest lately is so hot that an exodus from the coffee camp to a mass of matcha groupies has made matcha "the drink" of choice during New York Fashion Week for the past few years.1
The trend is gaining ground for several reasons. One is that matcha may be even more beneficial for your health than regular green tea. Plus it tastes good.
Compared to green tea, matcha has been described as having a "grassy" flavor and slightly bitter tinge. Powdered matcha is often prepared as a latte-type drink, served with milk and either honey or stevia, but I'd suggest leaving out the milk and honey if health benefits are what you're after.
Matcha, which means "powdered tea," besides being authentically green, has several fundamental differences that set it apart. First of all, regular green tea involves soaking the leaves, loose or in a bag and then discarding them. When you drink matcha, you're drinking the actual leaves, which are ground micron fine.
Tea, Green Tea and Matcha History
All tea varieties, including white, green, oolong and black tea, grow from a plant with the botanical name Camellia sinensis, which originated in Southwestern China.
Tea as a diffusion was discovered by chance nearly 5,000 years ago, when tea leaves blew into the steaming cup of water set before Chinese Emperor and botanist Shen Nong. The same process has been used for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Japanese monks visiting China carried tea leaves home, inspiring the concept of ceremonial tea and infusing itself into the Japanese culture by around 805 A.D. Small tea-growing operations improved for several hundred years until around the mid-1500s, when the matcha process was established. The Fit Foodie wrote:
"Matcha preparation involves covering green tea plants with shade cloths before they're harvested, which triggers the growth of leaves with better flavour and texture.
The leaves are then hand harvested, steamed to stop fermentation, dried and then aged in cold storage to deepen the flavour. These dried leaves are then stone-ground into a fine powder."2
How to Make the Superlative Cup of Matcha Green Tea
Another difference between regular green tea and the matcha variety is how it's traditionally prepared. The matcha process is actually much simpler, as an Epoch Times article describes:
"Regular tea is made from soaked leaves, while matcha is made from ground, whole leaves. It is usually prepared the traditional Japanese way. The tea is measured with a bamboo spoon, called a shashaku, into a heated tea bowl, known as a chawan.
Hot water (about 70 degrees Celsius [150 degrees Fahrenheit]) is then added to the bowl. The tea is whisked with a special bamboo whisk, called a chasen, until it becomes smooth with froth on top."3
There are several consistencies, depending on how you like it:
- Standard matcha tea is a mix of 1 teaspoon of matcha powder with 2 ounces of hot (not boiling) water.
- Usucha, which is a thin mixture, is simply less, or one-half teaspoon with 3 to 4 ounces of hot water.
- Koicha is a thicker concoction that is sometimes used for Japanese tea ceremonies. It's made with 2 teaspoons of matcha in about 1 ounce of hot water.
You don't really need the little bamboo whisk to mix a good cup of matcha. A small conventional whisk will work. Just stir it briskly until a foam appears on top and voilà, it's ready to enjoy.
Undoubtedly, more health benefits are made available because the whole leaf is consumed, not just steeped for a few minutes and then pitched.
Matcha Tea Nutritive Qualities
A cup of matcha green tea using one-half teaspoon of powder contains around 35 milligrams of caffeine, which is slightly more than is found in a cup of regular green tea.
Further, while green tea also contains high amounts of antioxidants, matcha has even more. In fact, it contains as many antioxidants as you might find in 15 times the amount of pomegranates or blueberries.4
Studies indicate that 1 cup of matcha may provide the antioxidant equivalent of 3 cups of regular green tea and as much as 137 times more antioxidants than low-grade green tea.5
Matcha contains protein and is an excellent source of vitamins C and A, fiber and iron. 6 Studies show it has the ability to fight bacteria, viruses and fungi, such as staph infections, hepatitis B and Candida albicans.7
Clinical Studies, aka What Drinking Matcha Green Tea Can Do for You
While studies on matcha are still fewer than those for many other foods, interest is expanding and so are the studies on its health benefits. Animal studies, for instance, suggest matcha tea may decrease the risks of both kidney and liver damage, and also reduce blood sugar and triglyceride levels.8
Antioxidants protect your cells and tissues from free radical damage. Matcha also contains high amounts of catechins, such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which in extensive studies has been found to fight inflammation, help retain the integrity of your arteries and repair your cells.9
One of the hallmarks of tea, especially green tea, is its ability to soothe, calm and relax while at the same time increase alertness.
The slow photosynthesis process produces high amounts of L-theanine, the amino acid that gives matcha green tea its matchless flavor and increases alpha waves in your brain. There are also indications that matcha can influence diabetes. Organic Facts reported:
"Matcha tea may prove valuable for maintaining healthy metabolism in diabetic individuals. Antioxidant-rich matcha tea aids in reducing the levels of triglycerides … and hepatic glucose content in the diabetic individuals.
An investigative research conducted on diabetic subjects administered with matcha tea has shown that matcha exerts inhibitory action against the renal and hepatic damage by restraining the accumulation of advanced glycation end products in the kidneys."10
This provision may not only help your brain fight stress signals, but also alters the caffeic effects of the tea while you're drinking it. Compared to coffee, matcha tea drinkers have reported a slight "buzz" that lasts longer than what they receive from coffee, which sometimes even causes drowsiness after drinking it.11
L-theanine is also purported to step up the "feel good" chemicals in your brain, leaving behind better memory, improved mood and higher concentration capabilities.12 According to one study:
"Tea also contains a unique amino acid, L-theanine that may modulate aspects of brain function in humans.
Evidence from human electroencephalograph studies show that it has a direct effect on the brain ... L-theanine significantly increases activity in the alpha frequency band which indicates that it relaxes the mind without inducing drowsiness …
These data indicate that L-theanine, at realistic dietary levels, has a significant effect on the general state of mental alertness or arousal. Furthermore, alpha activity is known to play an important role in critical aspects of attention."13
Matcha Tea and Heart Disease
People who drink regular green tea have up to a 31 percent reduced risk of heart disease compared to those who don't drink it at all, so those who drink matcha tea are provided with even more protective compounds.
An intensive clinical review on heart disease throughout the world showed multiple causes, such as smoking, and a relation to other serious diseases such as hypertension and obesity. However, green tea may positively affect cholesterol levels by inhibiting oxidation of LDL particles. (Only the small, dense LDL particles, which are easily oxidized, may trigger heart disease.)
"Catechin-rich fractions significantly prevented endothelial cell induced LDL oxidation," researchers concluded, making its consumption a possible way to lower your risk of heart disease.14
Can Matcha Tea Help With Weight Loss?
Studies show green tea can increase your total calories burned, as it increases your metabolic rate and has been shown to boost selective fat-burning potential by as much as 17 percent. In one study, scientists noted that weight loss from drinking green tea went beyond just the effects of caffeine and may have something to do with catechin polyphenol content:
"Green tea has thermogenic properties and promotes fat oxidation beyond that explained by its caffeine content per se. The green tea extract may play a role in the control of body composition via sympathetic activation of thermogenesis, fat oxidation or both."15
In another review, green tea consumption was reportedly shown to promote fat oxidation in humans at rest and prevent obesity and improve insulin sensitivity in mice. Researchers concluded:
"Acute (green tea extract) ingestion can increase fat oxidation during moderate-intensity exercise and can improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance in healthy young men."16
Other Ways to Enjoy the Benefits of Matcha Green Tea
Besides drinking matcha green tea as a hot beverage in a cup, you can sprinkle the powder in other foods, like smoothies or kefir, to get the same benefits and flavor. You can also make a latte using matcha green tea powder mixed with hot water, a teaspoon of powdered stevia and coconut milk. For a refreshing cold drink, just add ice and maybe a few sprigs of mint.
Like so many foods grown in today's soil, some of the ground green tea is grown on may be contaminated with pesticides, fungicides, fluoride and heavy metals. Matcha tea can be purchased at most health food stores or groceries, but make sure to look for the organic variety. While it may be more expensive, it's well worth it to get the highest quality.