Matcha 101: Everything You Need to Know About this Green Tea

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An in-depth look at one of the most popular and unusual Japanese teas.
What is matcha: a detailed tea overview.

Despite its millennia-old history, not everyone knows about matcha. Even fewer people know how to choose matcha, how to prepare it, and what to serve it with. In this article, we will tell you in detail what matcha is, what it is good for, what varieties and types it comes in, how to use it, and how much it should cost.

Contents:

  • What is matcha
  • What is the taste and color of real matcha
  • Types and grades of matcha
  • Health benefits
  • Caffeine content in matcha
  • Who shouldn’t drink matcha
  • How to brew matcha correctly (step-by-step recipe)
  • What to serve it with
  • How to store matcha
  • Using matcha in cooking
  • How to choose a good matcha powder

Learning More About What Matcha Is

Matcha is a fine powder made from specially grown and processed green tea leaves.

Appearance of matcha tea.
This is what the matcha looks like.

There is often confusion: some people classify matcha as a type of coffee, others as tea. In fact, as you may have guessed, matcha is a type of green tea, although it does not look like regular tea. Matcha is made from the same young tea leaves as green tea, but is later dried and ground with stone millstones to a powdery consistency. Incidentally, the Japanese word «mattya» translates to «grated tea» («ma» – powder, «cha» – tea).

This type of green tea first appeared in China during the Tang Dynasty – around the VIII-X century. At that time, the leaves were ground so finely that they became a powder. According to one version in Japan, the technology of making matcha appeared thanks to the monk Eisai – he is said to have brought seeds of the plant Camellia sinensis from China and adopted the method of processing the leaves. According to another version, samurai learned about matcha and spread the word back home.

Today, the original matcha is only produced in Japan, not China. It is believed that the Japanese producers strictly follow the entire manufacturing process, including choosing the optimal distance between bushes and picking the leaves only by hand.

Matcha has become popular in recent years amid the healthy eating trend. It can be a good substitute for coffee – it has less caffeine. Matcha is also often used as an ingredient in desserts, soft drinks and hot drinks.

In addition to matcha, there is also tencha («ten chi»), a leafy version of matcha. It is dried, flat green tea leaves that have been plucked by hand and first separated from the stems and veins. Tencha is later used to make ceremonial-grade matcha powder, but it can also be brewed as is, without grinding.

Tencha.
Tenchi leaves are the raw material for the production of high quality matcha.

Tencha is grown on special plantations that are shaded with special straw beds («yoshizu») for 3 weeks prior to harvest. The lack of direct sunlight increases the plant’s production of chlorophyll as well as its content of amino acids, especially theanine. Theanine is a powerful natural tranquilizer that helps fight stress and relax.

Tenchi green tea plantation.
Tenchi Plantation.

The Taste and Color of Matcha Tea

Natural matcha, which is produced without violating the technology, has a bright green rich color without yellow, brown or gray tones. The flavor has pleasant grassy, nutty and even creamy notes. Very similar to leaf green tea, but more astringent, with a bitterness.

Depending on the variety and growing conditions, matcha can have a sweeter (but not cloying!) flavor or no sweetness at all, with a pronounced astringency.

Types and Varieties of Matcha

Matcha is not a separate type of green tea, but a manufacturing technique. That is why you can find not only green, but also many other kinds of matcha.

  • Hojicha. It is not a classic version of matcha, as it is not made from dried but from roasted leaves of the Chinese camellia, which gives it a brown hue and nutty notes in the flavor. It contains less caffeine than green tea. Hojicha is available in both leaf and powder form.
  • Blue matcha. A beverage with a deep blue color. Blue matcha is made from the flowers of Clitoria triplicata: the buds are dried naturally and then crushed. The drink is very popular in Thailand, where the exotic vine with blue flowers is cultivated on a large scale to produce anchan, a blue tea. Blue matcha is not as invigorating as green matcha, but instead relaxes, calms, and reduces anxiety. It is good for the heart and eyes due to the presence of vitamins B, C, D, D, E, K in its composition.
  • Pink matcha. A powdered tea made from pitahaya (dragon fruit), rose petals and acai berries. The fruit is vacuum-dried to preserve the maximum benefits of the product. Regardless of what is in pink matcha, the drink is delicious and sweet, but has fewer vitamins and antioxidants than green matcha. But pink matcha improves mood, refreshes, improves digestion, and improves brain circulation.
  • White matcha. This is actually dried and ground pineapple. It turns out to be a delicious and enveloping drink with a smooth texture and notes of fruit and white chocolate. No bitterness or astringency – very smooth and sweet.
  • Black matcha. This is freeze-dried bamboo charcoal ground into a powder. It is often added to drinks and desserts as a natural coloring agent. You can make a stand-alone drink by dissolving black matcha in water, but it will have no taste or smell. It also has an absorbent property, which means it acts like activated charcoal. May minimize the toxic effects of alcohol consumption.
  • Red matcha. Made from dried Thai turnips, a rich source of potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, iodine and fiber. This tea is recommended to be added to the diet of those who are thin. It is sweet but low in calories. It is also used as a coloring agent in desserts and cocktails.

You can find purple matcha made from yam or goji berries, orange matcha made from Brazilian kama-kama berries, and yellow matcha made from mango fruit. They contain no caffeine and do not have a grassy, tart taste.

Matcha varies not only in color, but also in quality. In Japan, you can find ceremonial and premium varieties, which are high-end products, as well as culinary varieties for the general public.

  • Ceremonial grade matcha is used for traditional tea ceremonies in Japan. For this grade of matcha, the leaves from the first harvest are hand-picked, then carefully dried and stripped of all veins. It is ground only on a stone mill at a slow speed to ensure the finest grind. In some cases, the Tencha is ground in a stone mortar just before the tea is prepared at the ceremony to preserve more of its nutrients. Ceremonial matcha is bright green in color with a sweet taste and no excess bitterness.
  • The premium variety can be made from the second harvest, but it is always the top three young leaves from each twig of the bush and the tender buds. This tea is finely ground, so that the powder dissolves well in water. The aroma is pleasantly herbaceous, the taste is mild with a slight astringency and bitterness, and the color is darker compared to ceremonial matcha.
  • Culinary grade matcha may contain veins from the leaves, so it does not always dissolve well in water. The finished beverage does not have a distinct aroma, the taste is more acidic, and the color is a pale, dull green. It is cheaper than ceremonial and premium and is suitable for adding to milk or for cooking various dishes.

Benefits of Matcha Tea

The detailed study of the composition of matcha and its effect on the human body began relatively recently. However, based on the results of the research, it can be concluded that regular consumption of matcha tea can help to compensate for the lack of useful trace elements in the body and strengthen the immune system.

Here are the biologically active compounds in the composition of matcha:

  • Catechins;
  • Chlorophyll;
  • L-theanine;
  • Caffeine;
  • Polyphenols;
  • Acids (gallic, chlorogenic, synaptic);
  • Vitamins: A, B1, B2, B6, C, E, K, beta-carotene;
  • Minerals: potassium, calcium, magnesium, fluorine, phosphorus, zinc, iron.

Beneficial properties of matcha:

  1. Reduces the risk of developing certain chronic diseases. Natural antioxidants in the composition reduce cell damage, stabilize free radicals that damage DNA, provoke premature aging and cause circulatory diseases.
  2. Protects the liver. This organ neutralizes toxins that our body receives from the environment, with food and drinks, medications. But if there are too many harmful substances, the liver cannot cope, its cells are damaged, which leads to liver failure. Scientists have found that matcha reduces the concentration of ALT and AST cells in the blood, which are markers of liver cells. The tea also improves liver function, even in the presence of pre-existing pathologies.
  3. It has an immunomodulating effect. The tea contains the polyphenol EGCG, which is known for its powerful antiviral effect (compared to standard flu medications). This is good news for patients with oncological and autoimmune diseases, where viruses have a strong effect, even leading to death.
  4. Improves brain function. Scientists from the Netherlands have proven that matcha has a positive effect on brain activity, improving concentration, memory and thinking. It is recommended to drink the tea during strong mental stress and in old age when there are problems with cognitive functions.
  5. Strengthens heart and blood vessels. Matcha reduces the risk of high blood pressure in hypertensives and even allows you to reduce the dosage of anti-hypertensive drugs, protects the vascular walls from the formation of cholesterol plaques and prevents coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction, stroke.
  6. Accelerates metabolism. Matcha is a good assistant in the matter of weight loss. This tea is low in calories (only 35 kcal per 100 ml) and not only speeds up the metabolism, but also increases the rate of fat burning during intense exercise by almost 20%.

There is evidence that the components in the composition of matcha have a positive effect on cancer activity. However, studies in this direction have only been conducted on animals, so it is too early to say for sure that the drink is beneficial for humans in preventing cancer. Scientists at Boston University say that polyphenols and flavonoids from matcha slowed the growth of cancerous tumors in rodents’ mammary glands, as well as prostate, bronchial, skin, and liver cancer.

For women, matcha is also useful in the preparation of masks and creams – they prevent premature aging, protect the skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet light, remove puffiness, dark circles and signs of fatigue on the face, saturate the skin with beneficial substances.

Among other things, matcha has a positive effect on men’s health: it prevents erectile dysfunction, increases the number and quality of sperm, speeds up recovery after exercise, increases stamina, and prevents early age-related baldness.

How Much Caffeine Does Matcha Contain?

Matcha contains caffeine, significantly more caffeine than regular green tea, but less than coffee. For comparison, a cup of loose-leaf green tea contains 20-50 mg of caffeine, a cup of matcha contains 70-80 mg, and coffee contains 100 mg.

Matcha has another special feature: it contains theanine, which has the opposite effect of caffeine. The drink is not only a good stimulant, but also relaxes and reduces stress.

However, you can not get carried away with mattya, so as not to harm your health. A safe daily dose is up to 10 grams of powdered tea (if there are no other sources of caffeine). It is better to drink matcha at intervals of 3 hours and no later than 4 hours before bedtime. If the tea is abused or taken on an empty stomach, you can provoke disorders of the nervous system and gastrointestinal tract, cause tachycardia, insomnia and nervous excitement, increased blood pressure.

Because matcha has tonic properties, it is not recommended to give it to children, especially in infancy. Although there are no studies on the effects of matcha on children’s bodies, a child’s nervous system may have an unpredictable reaction to the stimulant.

Who Shouldn’t Drink Matcha?

Matcha has a number of contraindications:

  • Pregnancy and lactation;
  • Age under 14 years;
  • Allergy to green tea;
  • Fluorosis;
  • History of gastritis, peptic ulcer, duodenitis.

Also, matcha contains a lot of fluoride, which can be dangerous to the human body if you drink this tea in unlimited quantities. Fluoride gradually accumulates in the body, and in excess begins to destroy teeth, bone tissue, cause osteosclerosis, lesions of the CNS, heart, kidneys, liver, thyroid and reproductive system.

The norm of consumption of the mineral is up to 5 mg per day. 1 gram of matcha contains 0.12 mg of fluoride. The lethal dose of fluoride for humans – from 16 mg/kg in adults, from 3 mg/kg in children. However, negative manifestations, such as an increased incidence of bone fractures, can occur as early as 0.15 mg/kg per day. If you drink matcha frequently during the day, we recommend not to exceed the norm and to prepare the drink with fluoride-free water.

How to Brew Matcha

Preparing a matcha drink is not like brewing green tea in the standard way. There are two variations of traditional preparation: koicha («thick tea») and usucha («liquid tea»).

The koicha method was used for ceremonies: the powder is sifted through a sieve, poured into hot water, and stirred gently but quickly in a zig-zag motion with a bamboo whisk (teusen). The result is a thick drink with a texture similar to paint.

If you make matcha using the usucha method, you need twice as much water and less powder, and you can use premium or culinary varieties. Powder – 1 tjasaku (a measuring spoon made of bamboo, the volume corresponds to a teaspoon), then pour 90-100 ml (3,4 fl oz) of hot, but not boiling water, the recommended temperature is 80°C (176°F). Stir the matcha well with a whisk to break up any lumps until a small foam forms.

Matcha tea making.
The classic matcha whisk.

You can brew matcha in cool water (25°C / 77°F). But you can’t brew matcha in hot water – if you pour boiling water over the powder, you’ll lose the drink’s bioactive properties and pleasant spicy flavor, as they say in Japan – «umami».

Today, you don’t need to have tasen, tiawan, and tiasaku on hand. They can be replaced by standard utensils, and the whisk can be replaced by a mixer, blender or cappuccinator. However, it is better not to try to whip matcha with a fork, as this will not produce the desired consistency with small bubbles on the surface.

But you can make matcha with more than just water. If you don’t like the pronounced bitterness and strong acidity, you can soften the flavor with creamy notes – make a matcha latte with milk. This drink is also a great way to cheer up, get in the mood for work in the morning, or a great option for a snack during the day.

Pour 300 ml (1&1/4 cup) of cow’s or vegetable milk into a saucepan and heat over low heat to 80°C (176°F), stirring constantly. You can use a candy thermometer for accuracy.

  1. In a separate saucepan, heat 100 ml (0,4 cup) of water.
  2. Pour 5 grams (0,2 oz) of matcha and a teaspoon of sugar (to taste) into a cup and stir.
  3. Add the water and whisk with a whisk, blender or cappuccinatore until smooth.
  4. Makes two servings, so divide the mixture evenly between the cups.
  5. Whisk the heated milk until it forms a rich foam, then pour it into the cups with the matcha. Spread the milk foam with a spoon.

Sugar can be substituted with honey. Drink the matcha latte either hot or cold. Either way, the drink is delicate and pleasant in taste.

How to Serve and Drink Matcha

Matcha can be served not only with milk and sugar or honey, but also with various spices and citrus peel. However, it is better to stay away from syrups with chemical flavors – they will not mask the flavor of the drink and will completely interrupt it. Matcha latte is often prepared with the addition of rosemary or Belgian chocolate, strawberries, raspberries or coconut shavings.

In Japan, matcha is served with sweets during the ceremony. They are light and not too sweet. In our reality, fruit-based desserts, rahat-lukum, marshmallow, candied fruit will do.

It is better to drink matcha immediately after preparation, before the powder settles to the bottom of the glass. The cold drink is ideal for sultry summer days, and the classic hot matcha can replace morning coffee, as it is the perfect energizer after waking up. During the day, it is better to make a less rich matcha. It will be lighter, but with a pleasant long aftertaste.

How to Store Matcha

Storage rules must be strictly followed or the tea will lose its beneficial properties, pleasant taste and aroma.

  • Matcha should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, avoiding temperature differences to prevent condensation inside the container.
  • Do not store tea in plastic containers, clear glass containers, or zippered factory bags. Tin or ceramic containers are best.
  • Do not expose to light or sunlight, as this will cause the tea to lose its color.
  • The shelf life of matcha is short. After opening the package to store matcha, it can be kept for no more than 3 months, and it is better to have time to consume the tea for 1.5 months. The longer it is stored, the less flavor and benefit it will have.

If you violate the rules and conditions of storage, you may notice that the green color has become less intense due to oxidation of polyphenols, destruction of chlorophyll, and reduced enzyme activity.

What Else is Matcha Powder Used For Besides Making Drinks?

Matcha is not only about tea. The powder is also used to make other drinks, various dishes, desserts, and even cosmetics.

Matcha tea cookies.
Matcha-enhanced cookies.

Instead of the usual matcha latte for breakfast, you can make pancakes, waffles, cheesecakes, and muffins by adding the powder. During the day, matcha bars are great for snacks – they fill you up quickly and are a great pick-me-up. Matcha is added to cookie dough, cakes (such as tiramisu or brownies). Green tea is also used to make ice cream, truffles, mochi, milkshakes and lemonades.

How to Choose a Good Matcha and How Much It Costs

It is better to buy matcha in specialized Chinese or Japanese stores, where there is a wide range of coffee and tea. A good product is always a rich green color (from salad to dark emerald, depending on the variety, but without yellowing and gray flecks). Matcha should not clump – this indicates that the leaves have been over-dried and the product will not dissolve well in water.

Look carefully at the powder. It should be homogeneous, without large particles (veins). Check the labeling on the package – it should indicate that the tea is produced in Japan from 100% tenchi. Study the composition – sometimes among the components you can see milk powder or sugar, pieces of fruit for quick lattes and other drinks. It is better not to buy such a product.

Do not fall for cheapness, unscrupulous manufacturers can add starch to the crushed leaves. It is easy to detect this: add a couple drops of iodine to the brewed tea. If the matcha has turned blue, then there is starch in the composition.

The cost of matcha depends on the variety. Ceremonial tea is the most expensive, while premium tea is a little cheaper. It is hard to find a real ceremonial variant even in Japan, it is very easy to come across a fake.

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