Everything You Need To Know About Matcha!
Over the past few years, matcha has taken the U.S. by storm. Once reserved for tea ceremonies in the eastern world, matcha has now made its way west and can be found on the menus of specialty coffee shops across the nation. Many are captivated by its distinct appearance but know very little about what they are drinking or the tradition behind it. Once you have a little background, your matcha will taste that much better!
What is Matcha?
Matcha has characteristics that make it unlike any other tea. First, the tea plants are covered prior to harvesting. This shade causes the plants to overproduce chlorophyll, creating vibrant green leaves. After the tea leaves are carefully harvested and left to dry, they are ground into a very fine powder. This is the matcha powder that is used to make your tea or matcha latte. With matcha, you are actually consuming the tea leaves themselves, opposed to steeping and discarding them before drinking.
Matcha producers, especially in historic Japanese growing regions, take immense pride in the laborious process of growing, harvesting and producing these teas. The high prices of a top grade matcha are indicative of this process and great attention to detail. When it comes to taste, matcha can be quite polarizing. The high chlorophyll levels and resulting chemical composition create a full-bodied tea that is quite earthy and vegetal with an umami-sweetness that shines through. This makes matcha an acquired taste that some will never develop, and others will immediately gravitate towards.
The History of Matcha And the Tea Ceremony
While it may come as a shock to some of you, matcha has been around well before it made its way onto your IG feeds. While it is somewhat debated, there is a general consensus that matcha tea emerged during the Tang Dynasty in China about a thousand years ago. It spread to Japan a few centuries later through a group of Zen Buddhist monks who began to cultivate the tea and harvest it using this unique method. It was during this time that matcha, which quite literally means, “ground tea” in Japanese, became popular and cemented its place in Japanese culture.
The Zen Buddhist influence is very evident in the way in which matcha is traditionally consumed. In Japanese culture, there is a very specific way to prepare, present and drink matcha. Referred to as the tea ceremony, this ritual is a meaningful cultural event that represents purity, tranquility, respect and harmony. While you won’t see this ceremony commonly performed in the western world, you will notice some matcha, including Saka Matcha™, being labeled as ceremonial grade, meaning it is the highest quality of matcha, meant specifically for drinking in these ceremonies. It also commands a price that is significantly higher than the lower quality, culinary grade version used for other food applications.
What Are the Benefits Of Matcha?
While I’m not here to make any definitive claims about how matcha is the fountain of youth or will get you the beach bod you’re dying for, there are undoubtedly some benefits to this drink that have made it a favorite among health enthusiasts. Here are the top three benefits of matcha, in my opinion.
- Antioxidant-Rich – Matcha is loaded with a bunch of powerful antioxidants. In fact, it’s the highest among all superfoods. Matcha delivers exponentially higher levels of antioxidants than blueberries, pomegranates and spinach. These antioxidants have been shown to mitigate cell damage and may help prevent disease and cancer.
- Energy Without the Jitters – On average, matcha has about 3 times the amount of caffeine as other teas, making it comparable to a cup of coffee. Matcha provides many with a much-needed energy boost without a caffeine crash.
- Stress Reduction - With the presence of L-theanine, an amino acid that promotes relaxation, many will feel a sense of calmness after drinking matcha, which is quite different from other caffeinated drinks. This combined with caffeine can provide a level of focus and subsequent productivity that helps you get sh*t done!
How Should I Drink My Matcha?
While there are many opinions, I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to drink your matcha. This is the same way I feel about coffee – it’s really subjective and you should listen to your own taste buds to determine what makes them happy.
- Drink Like a Purist – traditionally matcha is consumed in its simplest form - just matcha powder and water. When you properly whisk the two together, you should end up with a 2oz drink that will showcase all the tea's intense flavor attributes.
- Get Fancy with It – the most common way you will see matcha in the U.S is in matcha lattes. For many palates, the traditional matcha is a bit much. But, when mixed with milk, served iced or hot and commonly sweetened, it becomes more approachable, delivering a delicious yet complex drink that also looks great on the Gram. There have been some pretty innovative variations I’ve seen recently with strawberry, mint and even chocolate, so if you’re feeling adventurous, try something crazy!
Hopefully now you realize why there is so matcha to love about this drink! (and yes, I had to end this with a pun)