Matcha: a Healthy Indulgence

 

by Calli O’Brien and Tiffany Picard

The DoMatcha manufacturing facility in Kyoto.

Green tea is well known for its many health benefits, but did you know it also comes in a more nutrient-dense powdered form?

Matcha, from the Japanese words matsu, meaning ground or rubbed, and cha, meaning tea, is a powdered Japanese green tea, and richer in nutrients and antioxidants than regular green tea. Unlike regular green tea leaves which are steeped in hot water and then thrown away, with matcha you essentially consume the entire tea leaf.

Japanese monks introduced matcha in the late 12th century as traveling tea cakes which they used for energy and mental clarity – important for long days on the road and for meditating.  Over the next few hundred years the monks developed the beginnings of what we see today in the Japanese Tea Ceremony. In these early years producing a good quality matcha was extremely labor intensive (and still is to some degree), so matcha was reserved only for royalty, visiting dignitaries, and high Samurai, not for the general populace.

Today matcha is available to everyone.  A fast food variety of matcha can even be found in vending machines in Tokyo! The harvesting and processing methods, however, remain gentle and focused.

Matcha fields in the misty mountains of the Uji region of Japan near Kyoto.

A closeup of the granite stone grinding units used to grind matcha leaves.

Matcha is unique in that fields destined to become matcha are shade-covered 2-4 weeks before harvesting.  Shade forces the chlorophyll to rise  to the top outermost leaves which are then handpicked at the desired time.  The leaves are then lightly steamed to prevent oxidation, then de-veined and de-stemmed (Japanese women used to de-vein and de-stem the leaves by using chopsticks!).  Finally, better grades of matcha are stone ground into a fine powder between traditional granite stones. It takes one hour of slow stone grinding to produce a 1 ounce tin of matcha. Cheaper quality matcha might be pulverized instead of the traditional grinding method, losing many of the desirable nutrients and leaving a bitter taste.

As a result of this gentle harvesting and processing, matcha retains the majority of its antioxidants and nutrients.  Studies indicate one cup of matcha can have up to 10 times the nutrient value of a regular cup of green tea. When offered samples of high quality matcha, customers often sip the tea then come back later asking, “What was this tea again? It makes me feel great!”

Bright green matcha fully processed and ready for packaging.

That feeling is from L-theanine, an amino acid naturally found in matcha which heightens mental focus, calmness, and an overall sense of well-being.  While matcha does contains caffeine, the L-theanine in the tea mitigates many of its effects and instead provides a sustained lift of energy for three to four hours, rather than a quick jolt followed by a slump that other caffeinated beverages might give you.

The flavor of matcha is stronger than regular green tea, with sweet vegetal notes and a hint of bittersweet chocolate.


If you’re curious about matcha but not sure how to use it, here are a few easy ways to get started:

Traditional Matcha
To prepare matcha “straight up,” we suggest Ceremonial Grade Matcha for the most refined flavor. You will also need a small bowl and bamboo matcha whisk. Mix 1/2 teaspoon of matcha powder with a tablespoon of hot water in a bowl. Use the whisk to smooth out any clumps, then add about ¼ to 1/2 cup of hot water and whisk until frothy. For the best flavor use water that is below the boil at about 165°, or boil water, then let it cool for about five minutes before making your tea.

Matcha Latté

Matcha Drinks
Quality matcha has a delightful flavor on its own, but it also pairs great with tasty extras such as coconut milk, a twist of lemon, a dash of cocoa or nutmeg, or some stevia. It mixes into just about any drink from iced water to lemonade to cocktails. Second Harvest Do Matcha is a great value and perfect for use in beverages and cuisine.  For a Matcha Green Tea Latte add a teaspoon of matcha to steamed milk, or try a breakfast smoothie recipe for a healthy boost to start your day:

 

Matcha-Berry Protein Smoothie

Ingredients

2 cups vanilla almond milk
1 ripe banana
1 cup frozen blueberries
2 scoops protein powder
1 tsp Second Harvest Matcha

 

Directions

  • Place banana and blueberries in the bottom of the blender.
  • Pour almond milk and protein powder on top and blend for 30 seconds or until frothy.
  • Because matcha is very delicate, add it at the end and blend for five more seconds.

In addition to being an avid matcha drinker and health enthusiast, Calli O’Brien trains and educates people on the magic of matcha and is North American Marketing Director for DoMatcha/EcoTrend Ecologics Ltd.

 

Tiffany Picard is a Social Media/Business Consultant and tea connoisseur.