A Green tea is not surprisingly one of the most popular beverages in the world! It might once have been unique to Japan and China, but in the last few decades, it has experienced a massive boom and spread around the world. Now, you’ll find green tea in literally every supermarket, restaurant, and café in the U.S. And many more places around every other country in the world.
There is no doubt that green tea offers a lot of health benefits—everything from weight loss to decreased oxidative stress to better mental clarity. However, there is one type of green tea that has become particularly popular in the last few years: matcha.
Most people don’t know the difference between matcha and green tea, which is why we’ve put together this article to give you all the information you need to set the record straight.
Matcha is made from the same Camellia sinensis (tea) plant from which green tea (and black, white, and oolong teas) is derived. This the growing process is slightly different to produce matcha.
For about 20-30 days before the tea leaves are harvested, they are covered as a means of preventing direct sunlight hitting the plant. Interestingly enough, this triggers an increase in chlorophyll, which in turn increases amino acid production. You can recognize matcha because of its darker-than-usual green leaves, the result of the increased chlorophyll..
Green tea leaves are used to make the tea via infusion, but matcha leaves are actually ground into a fine powder and added into the tea itself. The whole leaf powder is ingested, rather than just an infusion. This means that there is a higher quantity of nutrients in matcha. You get more caffeine, polyphenols, catechins, and other antioxidants per cup of matcha than you would with regular green tea.
The flavor of matcha is very recognizable: it tends to be bitterer and “grassier” than regular green tea. For this reason, it’s usually sweetened and has milk added as a means of cutting the bitter, green flavor. In the last few years, it has become highly popular in smoothies, recipes, and desserts.
Benefits and Side Effects of Matcha
There are lots of benefits to drinking green tea, and the fact that matcha has a similar (higher, in fact) nutritional content means that you get all those benefits and more. There have been few human studies into the benefits of matcha specifically, but the benefits of this tea include:
- Can have a lower blood sugar levels (source)
- Lower triglyceride levels (source)
- It lessen the cholesterol levels
- Decrease the risk of kidney and liver damage
- More effective immune system, with better resistance to fungi, bacteria, and viruses (source)
- Higher antioxidant content (up to 137 times what you’d get from low-grade green tea) (source)
- Better elimination of toxins and free radicals (source)
- Protection against heart disease (up to 31% reduced risk of cardiovascular problems!) (source)
- Effective more for weight loss, thanks to the high EGCG content, which targets belly fat for elimination
- Best for relaxation, thanks to the L-theanine in the tea (source)
- Good alertness without the drowsiness that follows caffeine, the result of the L-theanine
- Enhanced brain function (source)
- Higher production of “feel good” neurochemicals
- Reduced age-related cognitive decline (source)
Of course, as with anything, there are always going to be side effects. Drinking matcha tea or eating matcha powder in your food can have its downsides.
Contamination risk. You’re ingesting the whole tea leaf, so there may be contaminants, pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides, as well as heavy metals from the soil. Organic matcha is safer, but there is always a risk of ingesting contaminant when consuming whole-leaf matcha.
Excessive plan compounds. More antioxidants and plant compounds aren’t always better. Matcha contains three times more antioxidants than green tea, and studies have linked matcha consumption with liver and kidney toxicity symptoms, as well as nausea. Drinking more than 2 cups of matcha per day can lead to some long-term side effects!
As you can see, it’s vital that you drink matcha in moderation. Just like anything else in life, too much of a really great thing can be bad for you.
Preparing Matcha Tea
When you make your usual cup of green tea, you typically pour hot water over the leaves in order to infuse it with the flavor of the tea. Making matcha is very different, however.
Remember that matcha is made from the whole green tea leaves ground into a fine powder, and that powder is added directly into the water to make the tea. To prepare it the traditional Japanese way, you use a bamboo spoon (shashaku) to measure the powder into the heated tea bowl (chawan). Then, you add water heated to around 70 degrees into the bowl. This powder is mixed into the water with a bamboo whisk (chasen) until it becomes smooth with a frothy top.
- Standard matcha is made using one teaspoon of matcha powder for two ounces of water.
- Usucha, a thinner variation of matcha tea, is made with half a teaspoon for three to four ounces of water. The flavor of this thinner tea is far less “grassy”, similar to green tea.
- Koicha, a thicker variation of matcha tea, is made with two teaspoons of matcha powder in one ounce of hot water. Traditionally reserved for Japanese tea ceremonies, and it must be made with higher-grade matcha powder.
And the good news is that you don’t need all the fancy Japanese equipment to prepare a great cup of matcha tea. All you need is a mug, hot water, matcha powder, and a whisk.
First, start off by pouring the hot water into the mug, then add in a teaspoon of matcha powder. Use the whisk to stir it until the powder combines with the water and a nice layer of froth forms on top. Once you’re sure the tea is smooth, you can enjoy it like any regular cup of tea.
Matcha green tea is excellent for your health, and it offers all the same benefits of green tea!