If you frequent tea shops, juice bars or smoothie restaurants, you may have seen matcha on the menu. It has also shown up on some of the “superfoods” lists. It’s delicious and good for you, but those vendors don’t usually tell you much about it, making it a bit of a mystery for most folks, so we thought we’d fill you in on what the excitement is all about and in the next post, we’ll tell you how to brew up your own delicious traditional cup at home.
Matcha is the finely ground tea leaves used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Instead of steeping the leaves and then taking them out of the tea with a fine mesh strainer, they are processed finely enough that they are blended into a silky, smooth drink and the whole thing is consumed. There are more nutritional benefits to matcha too.
Tea for Matcha Is Specially Grown
Not just any green tea can be used for matcha. There are several varietals used, and only a few prefectures in Japan grow this special tea. For almost the last three weeks of growth, the leaves are shaded from the sun which results in much higher levels of L-theanine and chlorophyll than regular green tea. Another part of the special treatment of matcha is that the stem and veins are removed, so only the thinner part of the leaf is used. A tea master samples the leaves and orders mixing to create just the right blend to get the flavor desired.
The final step of processing the tea is to grind the select leaf parts into powder using large stone grinders. Again, this is a very controlled, extremely slow process to attain a very fine (10 micron) particle size without creating heat, which would damage the nutrient content as well as the flavor.
Health Benefits of Matcha
Even though matcha is a form of green tea, its nutritional benefits are much higher. Brewing tea the usual way, by steeping dried leaves in hot water extracts only about 30% of the nutrients in the leaf, but by carefully processing the tea to preserve all of its nutritional content, and then consuming the whole leaf rather than just the extract, 100% of the nutritional benefits are attained.
The antioxidants in matcha are 10-20 times higher than regular green tea. And that’s an apples-to-apples comparison of matcha to high quality green tea—one study found the difference to be something like 125 times, but that was comparing top-notch matcha to commercially mass-produced green tea that was cultivated for American tastes. Vitamins A, B-complex, C, E, and K, along with minerals, are found in matcha.
Be sure to look for our next post where we’ll tell you how to brew a delicious cup at home. There are a few special tools used, but you can use our small stainless steel food strainer instead of purchasing a specialty tea strainer and it will work just as well.