Matcha Green Tea Powder – What is It, Health Benefits and History

matcha green tea powder benefits

Matcha green tea has gained a great buzz in recent years and after you get to know more about its benefits you will be willing to trythis type of green tea powder and add it to your everyday routine. Actually I’m sure you will like it so much, you would become a big fan of this tea and will probably start recommending it to others 🙂 .

The Matcha tea is now one of my favorite superfoods and it’s also my new hobby. I almost always add it in my smoothies too. It doesn’t have to be infused or steeped, you simply whisk a few minutes to give it a smooth texture with a little bit of foam forming on it. A bit like you make a hot chocolate.

You can add any type of cream, milk, honey or other, preferably natural additions if you like. What I like so much and is so great about this powdered tea is that the real, high quality ceremonial Matcha, which comes directly from Japan, has its own natural sweetness.

It is without any astringency and a pleasant savory “umami” taste, that will stay and linger on your palate for relatively long time after you drink your cup of Matcha.

It is a real challenge to find food that provides at once an epicurean experience  that doesn’t resemble to any other and that is in the same time a super-food,  in my opinion one of the healthiest foods we can consume today.

To my knowledge no other food and or drink meets these two criteria. Certainly a cup of Grand Cru  red wine will offer a similarly delightful and truely beneficial for your health experience, when consumed in small quantities. But even this high grade red wine when abused or taken out of the reasonable limits can have devastating effects on the health.

What is Matcha?

Matcha is a type of green tea powder that is made traditionally in Japan. The Japanese characters used for Matcha are:

 抹茶

Which in english sounds like “tencha” and literally means “grind tea” or “ground tea” from “ten” –  grind and “cha” – tea ( these word characters are also used in mandarin Chinese ). Matcha is commonly the tea used for formal tea ceremonies in Japan. It’s produced mainly in two of the well known Matcha regions: Nishio City, Aichi prefecture and Uji in Kyoto prefecture. The Matcha connoisseurs are arguing which one makes better tea, but probably one wont make a mistake if getting their tea from either one, it is purely a matter of personal taste as both regions are producing equally high quality Matcha green tea powder..

 A Brief Look at Matcha History and Origin

 

ancient-matcha-tea-preparation-monk-ceremony-figure

                     Artisan matcha tea ceremonial preparation by Japanese monks

 

Matcha is the widespread common name of this green tea powder which originates first in China roughly two thousand years ago and then brought in Japan by the buddhist Zen monk Eisai more than 800 years ago around 1191 A.D. The processing of the Matcha tea includes some special growing and processing methods that contribute to its special characteristics, excellent health effects and relatively high price.

These days, it’s like everyone is talking about matcha. Rich in flavor, providing great amounts of energy and health benefits without the coffee jitters, matcha is simply irresistible.

The matcha green tea is derived from the plant Camellia sinensis just like all other common green teas. It’s a small bush from which the leaves are picked without rolling or shaping in any way. Unlike the other “conventional” types of green tea in which the leaves are folded, rolled or made into other shapes, for example green tea gunpowder and especially pueh-er tea among a few others.

Then the leaves are dried in shade and when they start to shrink slightly they are ready to be de-stemmed, de-veined and ground to powder, usually with the use of granite stone mills made by experienced craftsmen. At this stage the leaves are called “ tencha,”. Once the tencha leaves are properly processes, you have a fine, eye shadow/talk like powder, green bright emerald powder called Matcha or as Japanese call it “Maccha.

Matcha – This super charged green tea comes in powder form and offers the stress-relieving, heart-healthy and anti-depressant powers of green tea in an easy to use, concentrated powder. In Japan, Macha is consumed several times daily and served to guests regularly. The ritual of enjoying tea and offering it to visitors in your home provides another healthy benefit—a time out during the day to relax and enjoy something that is good for you. Pick up some macha at your local health food store, add one teaspoon to a cup of hot water, stir and make time to share it with friends and family daily. Since it’s sweeter than regular green tea, you might even convert tea skeptics. – Dr. Oz.

There are many kinds of different teas made from this special tea plant: black tea, white and green (the red tea is not tea by itself).

While the black tea loses almost all of its nutritional and antioxidant qualities in favor of caffeine content in the manufacturing process, matcha green tea has a concentration of antioxidants 137 times greater than that of all other conventional steeped green teas.

Thus, we can say that Matcha tea is one of the best, if not the richest tea in the world known so far, in terms of nutritional value and health benefits.

What gives the unique characteristics of the matcha, is the specially crafted traditional method of production. The most unique step is that four weeks before harvest, the tea plantations are covered with a dark canvas. That way the tea plants receive at least 90% of the sun light. This shading process stimulates them to produce lots of chlorophyll and therefore the tea leaves have a higher content of amino acids.

There are over a hundred kinds of matcha tea in Japan alone, depending on growing, plantation, harvest, plant variation and the type of tea processing. It’s possible to find the special kind of tea tailored to every basic health issue you may have. The Matcha  is an excellent anti-stress solution, is usually of superior quality, specially selected for its calming properties and its ability to enhance concentration.

Matcha boosts Brain functions and Creativity

Matcha acts as a great nootropic with its numerous healthy amino-acids and flavonoids in addition to significant amount of L-Theanine, it promotes the state of peaceful and relaxed mind keeping you in the same time highly productive and concentrated. L-Theanine promotes production of alpha waves in the brain which are produced during meditation activities such as yoga, or during the stages of deep sleep.

Look at the electroencephalogram (EEG)  graph below showing the five main types of brain waves:

Brain Waves Graph

brain wave types

You can see from the graph that alpha waves are responsible for relaxed states like meditation, hypnosis and daydreaming. So, by promoting alpha waves in your brain, L-Theanine which is found mainly in matcha and in lower quantities in the regular green tea, is fighting any other negative and stressful emotions that may decrease your normal and effective productivity. Thus helping you to achieve your goals, either by working or studying better, by improving the way in which your brain is processing and assimilating information.

This is the type of tea, particularly popular in the Schools of Japanese tea ceremony also known as the “Way of tea” used by zen Buddhist monks.

It should also be noted that the zen monks are the ones that have adopted and popularized matcha in the last few centuries, since they noticed its perfect for enhancing their day to day activity of meditation.

What is the taste of the real ceremonial matcha green tea?

The taste and appearance are totally different from other types of teas. The matcha looks like cocoa powder, but green in color, behaves as a well prepared espresso, and the tastes similarly to young vegetable shoots that would be cooked by a chef from three Michelin star restaurant: a delightful blend of micro-green sprouts, pure chlorophyll, young bamboo, and raw sugar, served in a little traditional bowl.

It has also an incredible smooth milky taste and structure as if you have added some whole milk to it, but you haven’t. It’s just beyond description. You can always add the actual milk though, either cow milk, almond milk or anything else you like adding to your drinks. This would get you even higher in the clouds when you drink your frothy matcha:)

What Actually Is a Super-Food ?

Some foods are called “super foods” for their extremely beneficial effects on the health thus improving mire or less your lifestyle and this includes foods such as: pomegranate, goji berries, wild blueberries, acai berries, mackerel, sardines, fresh turmeric, ginger, cacao, avocado, nuts, pumpkin, and the regular loose leaf green tea .

They are all healthy and delicious, but they are not really considered to provide an epicurean experience such as a glass of Romanee Conti ( another type of high grade red wine made in the Cote de Nuits subregion of Burgundy, France.)
Drinking artisanal ceremonial grade matcha of premium quality is like drinking a wine such as Romanee Conti AND get at least ten times the health benefits of the super foods listed above.

This is a true revelation actually: it’s as if my doctor has prescribed me a glass of Romanee Conti with each meal, for a better concentration, weight loss, fresher breath, strengthened immunity and at the same time having a good mood while feeling a kind of “calm” euphoria, comparable to what the Zen Buddhists call state of “satori”.

Which other food or drink will give you all that combined?  It just can’t get any better than that really.

Of course this tea won’t make you superhuman, but after you feel the extremely beneficial effects when you start drinking it, you may feel pretty close to that or at least will have a significant improvement in your lifestyle and health. Just make sure you get the right high-grade Japanese Matcha and you prepare it the right way, more on that further below in the article.

The Health Benefits Of Matcha Green Tea

Contains phyto-estrogens that may help reduce the risk of disorders related to excess estrogen : premenstrual syndrome, cellulite and breast cancer.

The phyto-estrogens are beneficial against menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis, and the risk of prostate cancer
The richness in chlorophyll also makes it a source of magnesium, the chlorophyll is also a powerful antioxidant

Matcha has anti aging effect

The L-Theanine present in the tea extends life expectancy. The catechins present in Matcha have a positive effect on Alzheimer’s and other age-related diseases, osteoporosis, heart problems, and cancer. The superfood, flush Matcha anti-aging. The EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) antioxidant present in Matcha protect the heart and nerve cells and reduce the deterioration of the age-related memory. Matcha can be used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Matcha fights cancer

Is currently being studied for its potential anti-cancer probably due to the high concentrations of polyphenols.
Strengthens the connective tissues and protects the veins, tendons and joints.

Detoxification properties of the Matcha green tea

The high amount of chlorophyll found in matcha helps for a body detox and cleansing

Matcha contains a lot of chlorophyll (thanks to the process of shading), which gives it its vibrant green color.
Doctors and researchers claim that chlorophyll is part of the detoxification process of the blood and is a powerful factor that will help in achieving the right, balanced alkalinity of your blood.

Matcha lowers cholesterol

Its regular consumption, allows a drop in blood pressure and a decrease of LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol), two elements playing an important role in the prevention of cardiovascular risk.

It helps you burn fat

This type of powdered green tea promotes lipolysis and fat mobilization for energy production.

Matcha Increases the speed of fat burning (thermogenesis). A 2007 study on obesity published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that a combination of caffeine and EGCG, (the main antioxidant found in green tea), has increased the rate of fat burning by 33% before meals and by up to 49% after meals! 
A similar study in 2008 introduced exercise into the equation. Both groups exercised three hours per day for 12 weeks. A group has 625mg of catechins and 39 mg of caffeine per day.
Those who exercised lost only 1 kg , but those who were also drinking matcha have lost on average 2.2 kg! In addition, there was a huge effect on abdominal fat or the so called “belly fat”- those exercising without intake of catechins lost only 0.3% of their belly fat – those who had catechins with their matcha green tea, lost 7.7 percent!
So make sure to have your matcha when heading to the gym – adding matcha to your fitness diet and regimen is a great way to really start to lose those few stubborn pounds.

And drinking more matcha tea can help you easily burn more fat. 

It’s because that way you are not only benefiting from the great health improving properties of matcha, but you also will have plenty of liquids needed for the proper hydration of your body, especially when you are actively exercising.
A 1999 study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that green tea extract boosted metabolism above and beyond what might be expected from its caffeine content alone. A 2010 study made by the journal of Obesity published the results of a research in China that Matcha green tea reduces the amount of stored fat. The scientists sought the effect of a high catechin (antioxidant) in matcha drinkers and its effect on their the body mass. Compared to patients treated with placebo, those who are at the top of catechin additional has recorded a loss of approximately 1.9 kg of weight of body, after three months, and a decrease of 5.6 cm in the belly area.
Matcha has very high levels of catechins and this combined with the small amount of caffeine seems to indicate that it is even more effective. It also controls food cravings and can help you feel full more quickly. In fact, the EGCG antioxidant seems to increase the release of Cholecystokinin (CCK), the peptide hormone produced in the gastrointestinal system which tells the brain that the stomach is full.

Matcha is an excellent alternative low calorie beverage.

We all took a cappuccino or hot chocolate to get a burst of energy, but we too often forget that we are increasing our waistline as well that way.
With some beverages reaching a gut-busting 700 calories, it is good to know that you can enjoy a cup of matcha at a cost of only 3 calories. Since matcha helps to burn the calories more quickly, it’s almost a negative calorie drink in real terms. If you must have your milk with it, use a cup of almond milk: 50-60 calories per cup, and you will find it’s absolutely delicious!

It reduces the water retention.

Matcha is brilliant at helping you to lose that bloated feeling.  At first it can have a diuretic effect that helps you lose excess fluid. Curiously, this seems to be reversed for men, which explains why some male matcha drinkers have a good night’s sleep instead of going to the bathroom 3 times per night!

Matcha helps you to work longer and increases productivity

You would like to be able to walk or work longer? Take a sip of matcha before or during your training sessions. A japanese study on mice revealed that those that were fed with a green tea extract, not only lost more weight than those which were not, they were able to increase their strength by 8-24%. They also finished with less lactate in the muscles after exercise.
The greatest benefit was experienced by those who consume matcha or green tea during a long period of time, suggesting that the performance and endurance decline associated with age can be partially improved by the consumption of green tea or matcha. And that is much safer than weight loss pills and other extracts.
A lot of diet pills and extracts are using various thermogenic agents to increase the speed at which fat is burned. Even if they have an effect on the rate of fat burning, they can also have other side effects such as increased blood pressure, sugar levels in the blood and increased levels of anxiety.
Actually matcha green tea in general has a wonderful effect on heart health – it reduces blood pressure and opens the arteries to facilitate blood flow. Matcha has been shown to help people with type 2 diabetes, and high levels of L-theanine, which means that you can be sure that by drinking matcha you can acieve natural weight loss, without the side effects like the ones discussed above, but rather, a better skin and hair, more energy and well-being.

You get a healthy Energy boost when drinking Matcha

It increases energy without increasing heart palpitations. Unlike coffee, which can cause a short term energizing feel followed by a sudden “energy drop” or the so called “coffee crash”, matcha tea allows you to maintain a steady state of vitality that can last for 6 to 8 hours.

This is due to the caffeine being ingested with all other nutrients that are preserved in Matcha, which contributes of the slow and continuous release of the caffeine. Thus allowing your body to absorb the goodness and benefit from it throughout the entire day…

Increases the basic metabolism and energy expenditure

Matcha has high fiber content

It is the synergistic effect between the soluble and insoluble fiber of the tea leaf that is responsible for the high levels of antioxidants received from the matcha.

It is an excellent mind/mood enhancer

Improves concentration thanks to its wealth of L-theanine soothes and reduces stress by increasing adaptive capacity. Several centuries ago, Buddhist monks Japanese were among the first to adopt the use of matcha for improving the concentration necessary to perform their meditation and exercises.

It has a great soothing and calming effect

In addition to antioxidants, Matcha  also contains amino acids, including L-theanine which is best known for its remarkable mind soothing effect. The calming property of L-theanine, combined with the stimulating action of the caffeine makes matcha the ideal meditation tea and that is actually the zen like state that you will feel when you drink quality Matcha.
L-theanine also reduces stress and anxiety and provides a potential level of energy lasting from 3 to 6 hours, without the sudden drop of energy that we know happens when we are enjoying our daily coffee.

A few more of the great benefits of drinking matcha for your health…

Matcha contains a huge amount of antioxidants…which act as anti-inflammatory and anti-viral agents in the body.
We can measure the amount of antioxidants in any type of food with the ORAC unit (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) per gram. Here are some figures for the ORAC content of few common superfoods:

 

ORAC units content per gram

– Goji berries : 253
– Dark chocolate : 227
– Pomegranate : 105
– Wild blueberries : 93
– Acai berries : 60
– Broccoli : 30
– And the Matcha – 1440 ! It have much more than all of these super foods combined together.

 

 

The antioxidant content in Matcha Tea

As mentioned earlier there are a lot of antioxidants in it, but one of the most important is the catechin called EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate). EGCG belongs to the group of flavanols, which are part of the chemical family of flavonoids and matcha is very rich in EGCG, actually it is one of the superfoods with the highest epigallocatechin gallate content, as shown  in the ORAC graph above.

 

Molecular Structure of the EGCG

 

 

The matcha green tea contains approximately 140 times the EGCG of other green teas, because the entire tea leaf is ingested.
It is not steeped or  extracted. Beware of health claims on any green tea extracts, which are often just powdered regular green tea. A great part of these claims are false due to lower quality of the green tea or the fact that the normal loose leaf green tea has much lower content of the beneficial elements and nutrients than matcha tea.

It is the synergistic effect between the soluble and insoluble fiber of the tea leaf that is responsible for the high levels of antioxidants received from the matcha.

Wikipedia lists a lot of studies which show that EGCG in high enough quantity can be beneficial in the treatment of cancer of the brain, prostate cancer, cervical and other types of cancerous conditions. Other studies show that matcha promotes the effective burning of fat, aids in digestion, improves oral hygiene and helps to strengthen the immune system.

 

Matcha boosts your brain activity

A lot of matcha drinkers have noticed having a more clear mind and faster thinking, an improved memory processing of names and numbers, increased alertness, enhanced/good mood, an ‘euphoric calm’, and the improvement of their ability to concentrate for study, work or while driving a car. I myself have observed the same effects when drinking matcha.

A bowl of matcha consumed before the lunch break can limit the energy crash you can often get on the early afternoon, especially after having a generous lunch or meal.

In short, matcha is a billion(literally) times better for you than other teas, because the beneficial nutrients contained in the leaves, are consumed along with the whole leaf particles when you are sipping your matcha tea.

 

The matcha tea helps to stabilize your blood glucose levels

There seems to be a direct link between the antioxidant activity and hypoglycemic activity.
The naturally occurring sugars (polysaccharides) in matcha help to stabilize the levels of sugar in the blood, protecting against insulin spikes. The polysaccharides of green tea in a concentrated form/extract are widely used in the treatment of diabetes in China.

It has anti-aging properties

Antioxidants are indispensable for our health because they destroy free radicals, which are atoms with unpaired electrons, known to damage DNA and accelerate the aging process (a theory known as the free radical theory of aging).
Two studies (including one conducted on 1331 women with breast cancer) found a significant reduction (27%) of the recurrence of breast cancer in women who drank three or more cups of matcha tea per day.

You can find other studies on the article that lists the scientific research made around the Matcha green tea.

 

How Is Matcha Used ?

Matcha is used mainly at tea ceremonies in Japan, but we, the matcha lovers are trying to convince people that there is no need to study the entire ceremonial preparation process of the tea to enjoy it.

It ‘s not only the sommeliers who appreciate the good wine! You can just… make a bowl of Matcha tea(or a cup of other favorite tea you like) ;).

You can drink it at breakfast, before (and after) yoga class, before an appointment, during a hike (yes you can!) as it can perfectly replace your ordinary energy or isotonic drink providing you great re-mineralization and hydration among all of its other benefits. You can also use it during a meditation session, or just after drinking 1 or 2 glasses of wine for countering the negative effects of the alcohol.

And then, the easiest way to consume matcha is to cook with it. Just add it to anything you want. The kitchen grade or cooking grade matcha, which generally comes with a lower quality and benefits, is inexpensive and provides most of the benefits brought by the higher quality ceremonial or premium matcha. So, the kitchen grade is a good choice if you want to try it for the first time and you are on a tighter budget.

Otherwise if price isn’t a problem for you, always buy the ceremonial grade Matcha coming from Japan and sold by a reputable source. You can discover numerous recipes on the net for cookies, cupcakes and anything else you can imagine that you can add matcha to, but we have listed a few delicious recipes for you here.

Some suggestions if you are on tight budget:

 Note: drinking matcha green tea on a regular basis is one of the best things you can do for your body and health, but it can get costly as quality matcha is not cheap. And if you are not a millionaire, you may find it hard to keep matcha as a valuable asset in your diet. If you are actually struggling to have your matcha regularly, then I can suggest you a few alternative options instead.
First, you could just continue drinking regular loose leaf green tea(make sure it’s a quality one though) as it will give you just quite enough of the health benefits matcha has, it’s made of the same plant after all. And then occasionally buy high quality ceremonial grade matcha when you have the chance to afford it.
You can also settle on lower grade(not quality) matcha like the the compromise solution everyday matcha or even high quality cooking grade matcha. But if you go with the kitchen grade you might be missing on the real and full benefits of drinking a high grade matcha tea. So, it would be better if you start with the everyday matcha and then purchasing the ceremonial grade matcha whenever you can.

Grinding tencha leaves and making your matcha at home

Another option is to make your own matcha by purchasing the tencha green tea leafs and then grinding them to a powder. But I’m not sure whether you will get the same results like the real high quality ceremonial matcha.
There are many factors that will determine your success at making your own matcha. Such as the heat generated during the grinding process, the quality and freshness of the leafs, powder particle size(how fine will be the powder), storage conditions of the produced green tea powder, etc..
So, there is a reason Japanese are selling this superfood as an artisan product with a relatively high price. But you can still try making your matcha at home if you have the needed desire, determination and resources.

How to prepare Matcha?

There are two types of Matcha: Usucha and Koicha. The Usucha is the standard/everyday type of tea and which has thin consistency. Koicha is the Matcha used for the tea ceremony, as well as for other special occasions, it is much more thick and creamy than the Usucha.

Many of the Matcha lovers, choose to drink the latter because it is truly delicious and brings you the full zen experience and health benefits. Beginners often start with Usucha.

How to make thin Matcha (Usucha)

1. Place the matcha powdered green tea in a small stainless steel sieve and press it with the chashaku into the bowl to get rid of any lumps that may form inside the package.
2. Put 2 to 4 full Bamboo spatulas (Chashaku), or 1 to 2 teaspoons (2-4g) into the Matcha bowl(Chawan).
3. Pour a small amount of hot water (70-100 ml) at about 80 °C in the bowl.

4. Take the Bamboo whisk and slowly mix making “W” shaped movements  with your wrist as described above. Continue to stir until the mixture is well blended and the consistency starts to become slightly creamy. Moreover, it should form a slight layer of foam on the surface of the liquid.

Once you reach that foamy point, you circle gently the whisk around the bowl (once) stroking the sides with the stems of the whip to even out the mixture and evenly distribute the foam. Place the Chasen (whisk) to the vertical in the center of the Chawan (bowl) to get it out.

Your drink is ready to be enjoyed.

How to make the thick Matcha variety (Koicha – Ceremonial grade matcha tea, highest quality with the most health benefits)

Koicha is the Matcha of superior quality and is mostly used in Japanese ceremonies for achieving a complete zen experience. But there is nothing that should stop you from trying this type of matcha tea too.

As with Usucha, add the Koicha matcha powder trough a sieve into the bowl.


Dosage: add 4 full bamboo spatulas (Chashaku) or 2 teaspoons in the Matcha bowl.

koicha matcha in a bowl, first step

Pour 50-70 ml of hot water at 70 – 80 °C. Of course you should add less water to make koicha as it’s “thick” matcha after all. Still you can add more hot water if you prefer.

Mix with the Chasen according to the method described above. Unlike Usucha, Koicha does not really form a foam at its surface.

It has a thick creamy feel and the taste is just beyond description. Though you will enjoy the wonderful experience only if you find the right matcha brand for you that makes the high quality ceremonial grade koicha matcha accordingly.

thick matcha-powder-koicha-in bowl-ready to drink

Images source: flickr – T.Tseng

What Makes Matcha Green Tea So Special?

Matcha has a lot of specific characteristics distinguishing it from other teas, and here are the 4 main of them:

The way matcha tea is consumed – unlike all other teas including green tea, matcha is finely ground to a powder, so the entire leaf is ingested.

No infusion – the matcha tea is not brewed, it is “eaten.” or ingested entirely. Just pour the hot water to the powder, whisk the mixture (with a special bamboo whisk called “chasen” or a milk frother), and drink the tea preferably in a special hand made Japanese bowl is specifically made for drinking Matcha. Though you can drink it in any other normal bowl if you don’t have Japanese one.

Should we mention again, that the health benefits are enormous – the matcha is naturally full of antioxidants, nutrients and amino acids roughly 20 times more than in the normal loose leaf green tea.

It is very similar to drinking a good, high grade expensive wine. The conditions in which the tea grows are extremely important. Matcha has a chemical structure that is acid balanced, with a long lasting “umami” aftertaste finish, and this goes very well with any meal.

So, in conclusion:

Matcha can be called the king of all superfoods known to date that is widely marketed and available for consumption, for now. This is of course until a new breakthrough discovery of some other even greater superfood or super-drink substance is found or made. And while we wait for this finding to happen we all can happily savor this precious creation of nature crafted with care by artisans in the picturesque Japanese countryside.

Enjoy your bowl(or cup) of Matcha!

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