Matcha is the newest trendy beverage. This green powder is featured in tea and coffee drinks, smoothies, and even gourmet restaurant recipes. If you haven’t yet tried it, here are some things to know.
Matcha is a form of green tea; the name itself means “powdered tea.” Traditional green tea is made by diffusing the leaves in hot water, then discarding them. Matcha is the actual leaves in fine powder form. To prepare, a teaspoon of the powder is mixed with a third cup of hot water and heated, then whisked with a bamboo brush to form a froth.
Plants intended for making matcha are grown differently. The tea plants are covered with shade cloths before harvesting, giving a better flavor and texture. They are hand selected and steamed briefly, to halt fermentation. The leaves are then dried and aged in cold storage to deepen flavor. Finally, the leaves are stone-ground into powder.
Green tea is good for you, but matcha provides even more nutrients. It has vitamins and minerals, and it is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols. These are known to protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer, regulate blood sugar, reduce blood pressure, and retard aging. It is also known to boost metabolism and stop growth of cancer cells.
Because matcha is made from the actual leaves of tea, it delivers three times the caffeine of a cup of plain green tea, as much as a cup of coffee. Fans of matcha say the caffeine has a different effect than coffee. Because of l-theanine, matcha creates what has been called an “alert calm,” a relaxed but alert state.
Some matcha powders are sweetened to make them more palatable. Some are sold with other ingredients, such as powdered milk. High-quality matcha is expensive, and low cost may denote poor quality.
While matcha offers health benefits, research has shown it often contains lead, particularly in tea grown in China. In traditional green tea, 90 percent of lead remains in the leaves, which are discarded, but because matcha is made of powdered leaves, all the lead is preserved. One independent lab recently tested teas, and estimates a cup of matcha can contain as much lead as 30 cups of green tea. They suggest you drink only a cup a day, and do not serve it to children.