The world seems to be obsessed with matcha. Beautiful people are knocking back shots of it at fashion shows. Gwyneth and her tribe are toting jars of it to yoga classes. Cafes are serving it in lattes and chefs are turning it into everything from soup to brownies. Japan’s most revered form of green tea has now become a must-have ingredient for the ‘wellness’ set. But what’s the truth behind the health claims? Here’s what you need to know if you want to join the green party.
What is matcha?
Let’s begin with what it actually is: matcha is essentially a stone-ground, powdered green tea. It originates from Japan, where the green tea plants for matcha are shade-grown for about three weeks before harvest, after which and the stems and veins are removed, and the leaves are processed and ground.
The main difference between conventional green tea and matcha is that in traditional green tea, you consume the essence of the leaf that is infused in water with the leaves themselves being discarded, while with matcha you are drinking the actual finely powdered leaves.
What are the health benefits?
One of the main reasons matcha is so wildly popular is that it has numerous health benefits. As one serving of matcha has the nutritional equivalent of 10 cups of regular green tea, it is packed full of anti-oxidants (including the powerful EGCg). These help to boost your metabolism, burn fat, increase immunity, detoxify your body, fight cancer and even slow down aging (phew that’s a lot!).
Matcha also contains a rare amino acid called L-theanine, which is a saviour for those who need a caffeine hit without the coffee jitters. Each cup of pure brewed matcha contains about 70g of caffeine – quite a kick. However, the presence of theanine helps the body process this caffeine better, inducing a calm, alert state of mind as opposed to the high and subsequent crash of coffee. In fact, Japanese monks have used it for centuries for meditation.
Does matcha taste sweet or savoury?
In a nutshell – both. Our favourite compound Theanine influences the taste of matcha as well. This amino acid beings in a flavour of ‘umami’ – the fifth taste identified after sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Many people describe umami in different ways, but it is essentially a rich moreish flavour that is difficult to pin down but is adds a delicious richness and dimension to food.
The presence of ‘umami’ gives matcha a mellow, sweet, natural flavour, with moreish undertones. This combination of sweet and savoury makes matcha an easy match to use in cooking.
The last important thing that we’d like to tell you about matcha, is that it comes in various grades and qualities. Not every powdered green tea can be called matcha, and it is important to look for good quality to reap the health benefits. Always look for ceremonial-grade (high-quality, fit to be used in formal tea ceremonies) matcha, and keep a look out for the iconic bright green colour of the powder. If it’s yellowish or browning, it may not be in it’s prime or may be adulterated.