Why We Should All Be Drinking Matcha Tea

Angela Wood

Senior Contributor

With over 130 times more catechins than normal green tea, powerful antioxidants and an abundance of health benefits, we look at some of the reasons why drinking or cooking with matcha is good for us during this time.

A Brief History of Matcha

In the 12th century matcha tea arrived in Japan, brought in by Zen Buddhist Eisai, a monk who had been travelling in China. The monks quickly realised after consuming matcha tea that it possessed incredible benefits for mind, body and spirit. Sipping it prior to long periods of meditation kept the mind alert and focused, yet the body relaxed.

In the centuries that followed matcha tea also became popular for ceremonial use. Traditional Japanese tea ceremonies were said to represent ‘wabi-sabi’ – living with simplicity and being at one with nature, and the ability to acknowledge impermanence of all things throughout the spiritual journey.

Many tea ceremonies are still held to this day in areas of Japan synonymous with matcha tea growth. Visitors can join in, but firstly to become well-versed in the process, one must observe how to enter and exit the tearoom, how to cleanse and handle the equipment and prepare the tea correctly as the Japanese do, with a bamboo whisk or ‘chasen’. 

Where is Matcha Tea Grown?

Several regions of Japan are responsible for growing matcha tea leaves, but 60% of the country’s leaves come from Nishio in Aichi province. The rural city of Nishio, 45 miles southeast of Nagoya boasts the perfect environment for growing high-quality matcha tea leaves. With crystalline rivers, fertile soil, clean air and mild temperatures, the leaves are allowed to flourish.

Farmers have been cultivating matcha here for over a century, and know the process intimately, therefore powder sourced from here is high-calibre and flavoursome. The towns of Uji 30 miles south of Kyoto and Shizuoka close to Mount Fuji are also known for producing some of the highest quality matcha in the world.

Top Tip: To find the best matcha, look to the region of Japan where the leaves were grown, the name of the farm and the date of harvest. Most premium producers will have this information on their packaging.

How is Matcha Green Tea Harvested?

Matcha leaves are grown from the Camellia sinensis plant as are all tea leaves, however they are farmed and harvested differently. Around a month before harvest, leaves are covered and shaded to block out sunlight. This process creates more chlorophyll increasing amino acid content which intensifies nutrients and health benefits.

In some cases, when the shading process ends, leaves are hand-picked, and stems and veins are removed to ensure a finer, smoother textured powder. They are then steamed, air-dried and stone-ground into the fine powder we know as matcha.

How to Determine the Best Quality Matcha

The first clue to determining good quality matcha is the colour. Ceremonial grade matcha teas are a beautiful, vivid bright green, created from the youngest ‘first flush’ leaves. The more vibrant the colour, the more antioxidants and health benefits the tea powder contains. Higher quality matcha will also have a creamy, savoury flavour of umami, and when whisked with a chasen, it will create tiny, uniform bubbles on the surface, whereas large and irregular bubbles show the matcha powder to be of a lesser grade.

Premium or culinary grade matcha (used for drinks and baking) is darker green in colour. These leaves are harvested later in the season and may not have all the stems and veins of the leaves removed.

This, however, doesn’t make it any less beneficial to your health. This cheaper version of matcha green tea may be slightly bitter to taste, but it’s more accessible - perfect if you wish to use it in larger quantities in cafes and restaurants or for cooking, baking, smoothies and latte drinks. 

The Health Benefits of Drinking Matcha

There are many health benefits to drinking matcha tea over ordinary tea or coffee. Just one cup of matcha has the nutritional value of 10 cups of regular green tea. Matcha contains catechins – lots of them. These powerful antioxidants are known to reduce inflammation, protect the heart and brain and they contain EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) which protects your body from harmful effects of air pollution, UV rays and chemicals. Monks have for centuries consumed matcha tea prior to long periods of meditation.

The caffeine in the tea helps to give the mind clarity and keep it alert and focused, plus the amino acid L-theanine also helps to aid relaxation. This creates a perfect balance if you drink it prior to practicing yoga, meditation or even if you have to complete an important assignment or presentation for work. 

Delicious Matcha Recipes

One of the most sought-after beverages on the health food circuit at the moment is matcha Green Tea Latte. This nutritious (and delicious) drink can be served hot or iced and is easy to make for an early morning pick-me-up. You can find a simple, authentic recipe on the Japan Centre website.

Matcha smoothies are ideal for breakfast when blended with banana, pineapple, spinach and apple juice or you can turn your culinary skills to making a matcha cheesecake. Not only are the colours eye-popping, it’s also packed with creamy goodness and a perfect dessert for all the family. Find the mouth-watering, simple to make recipe on Le Creuset.

Summer birthday coming up? You’ll become obsessed with the matcha sponge cake on Sorted Food. Infused with fragrant matcha green tea and bursting with a luscious buttercream filling, this cake is healthy and yummy to feast on and impressive to look at, so much so, you’ll want to make it again and again.

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