This powdered version of green tea is growing in popularity and boasts some serious health benefits.
If you’ve stopped in any boutique coffee shop lately, chances are you’ve come across matcha on the menu. Heck, even Starbucks offers an Iced Matcha Green Tea Latte. This powdered green tea powder—which traditional Japanese tea ceremonies (Sadō) are built upon—has seen a surge in popularity in recent years thanks to its purported health benefits and Insta-worthy appeal. But have regular green tea and coffee really met their match(a)? (Sorry—had to.)
What Is Matcha?
The best matcha hails from Japan, particularly the southern half of the country. What distinguishes it from how other green teas are grown is that the tea bushes (Camellia sinensis) are covered for several days prior to harvest to shade them from the sunlight. This is done to boost the plants’ chlorophyll levels, which turns the leaves a vibrant shade of green. Once harvested, the leaves are laid out to air dry and then finely milled into a delicate powder. It’s this powder that can then be whisked with hot water or steamy milk. The laborious process required to bring matcha to market is why this version of green tea tea is so much pricier than other teas.
What Are the Nutritional Perks of Matcha?
This drink has been hyped as an antioxidant powerhouse with serious health benefits. The rumor of off-the-chart antioxidant levels appears to be true: A studyconducted at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs determined that matcha contains at the least three times as much epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), the signature green tea antioxidant, than that previously reported in the literature for regular green tea. This makes sense: Regular green tea is made by steeping whole or crushed leaves in hot water, but steamy water can only extract so many antioxidants and other beneficial compounds. In the case of matcha, one consumes the entire powdered leaf, making the drink extra potent.
There’s a wealth of research suggesting that there could be several health benefits attributed to consuming more of the supercharged antioxidant EGCG. These include increased bone strength, improved aspects of brain functioning (like memory), reduced blood pressure, and favorable changes in cholesterol numbers.
Us runners will also be interested in EGCG’s potential to tame exercise-induced muscle soreness, which can obviously lessen the time you need to recover after an intense run. Taking in more EGCG may also help safeguard you against colds or the flu—which could be helpful to athletes during bouts of hard training that can suppress immunity.
In the interest of full disclosure, however, a significant amount of research has been conducted using EGCG extracts that provide huge amounts of the compound, which doesn’t necessarily translate into how much you’re consuming if you sip a cup or two of matcha or other green tea during the course of a day.
There’s more, though: A daily matcha habit may also help you torch more fat during your runs, according to an investigation in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Medicine; that may be thanks to the combination of catechin antioxidants and caffeine in matcha that could rev up our fat-burning engines. But much more research is needed before we can crown matcha as a bonafide ergogenic aid.
Matcha does have the obvious calming effect, too. The tea powder is especially rich in L-theanine, an amino acid that is believed to help increase feelings of calmness. FYI: Although matcha can contain more caffeine than regular green tea, it’s not likely you’ll suffer from any jitters because of the calming balance that L-theanine provides. So you may notice how the tea has a tendency to both calm and stimulate at the same time, giving you a “gentle buzz.” (Matcha contains about half as much caffeine as coffee, but you still may not want to make it a late-night drink in case it might interfere with sleep patterns.)
Some preliminary research suggests that matcha and the cocktail of compounds it contains could have anti-cancer efficacy and improve blood sugar control, but despite its long history of use in Japan, overall research is very young, and there’s a need for larger-scale human studies, so despite what social media seems to say, it’s health benefits shouldn’t yet be overstated.
How to Consume Your Matcha
The flavor of matcha depends on the quality of powder used and the region from which it comes. And there are clear distinctions between good and bad quality matcha, that latter being a powder that is pale green in color and tastes unpleasantly bitter. Better-quality matcha will have naturally sweet, vegetal tasting notes. Be sure to purchase your matcha from companies with high standards of quality control.
To make a warm emerald infusion, place a teaspoon of matcha powder into a bowl or mug and pour in 2 to 3 ounces filtered water brought to just under a boil. Using boiling water will bring out bitter flavors. Whisk briskly (ideally with a bamboo whisk), until frothy and then add as much additional steamy water as desired. A matcha latte habit is OK, but ideally you want to also consume some of your matcha sans milk, since there is research showing that both milk proteins like casein and milk fat globules may bind tea antioxidants and make them less useful to us. (A dairy-free green smoothie is a great option.) And be aware that some lattes are made with very little matcha and can include hidden sugary ingredients like flavored plant milk or syrups that will cancel out some of the health benefits.
In addition to sipping matcha as a straight-up tea or a trendy latte, there’s no shortage of creative uses for the powder: Add it to pancake, muffin or cookie batter, blend into post-run smoothies, whisk into salad dressings, use it as part of a rub for poultry, make green popsicles, or try it as a topping for popcorn.
Save more expensive, higher-grade matcha, often labeled “ceremonial grade” (and hails from the youngest, most delicate tea leaves), for drinking and use lesser “culinary” grades for food preparation purposes.