Curious about the next “it” beverage? Look no further: it’s called matcha green tea — and the health benefits are astounding!
Heralded by top nutritionists, health experts and even popular among health-conscious celebrities, matcha is not your typical green tea. This high-grade, finely-ground, concentrated green tea has been traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies for hundreds of years.
As a fat-burner and even a cancer-fighter, matcha leaves other teas in its dust. Numerous studies have shown that naturally occurring chemical compounds in matcha are anti-carcinogenic by inducing cancer cell death and inhibiting cancer cell growth. Matcha is also rich in antioxidants, has free-radical scavenging activity, and encourages your body’s natural detoxification systems. (1) What more could you ask for?
We all know that green tea benefits are amazing but when you consume matcha, you consume all of green tea’s benefits in their most concentrated form — and the health benefits are amplified! The secret behind matcha’s super strength is found in its polyphenol compounds called catechins, a type of antioxidant found in superfoods like green tea, cocoa, and apples. Valued for being more catechin-dense than most items, green tea provides unbelievable health benefits for people who regularly drink it. And this is especially true of matcha, a concentrated powdered form of green tea.
Matcha Green Tea Plant Origin & Nutrition
What is matcha? Matcha is a concentrated powdered form of green tea. It is made from the leaves of the tea plant Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub of the Theaceae family. All tea comes from this plant, but the difference in color and taste is the result of differences in processing. Unlike black tea which is fermented, green tea is produced in a non-fermented process.
The tea plants that are specifically grown and used to make matcha are typically shaded for two weeks to increase chlorophyll levels before the leaves are picked. After harvest, the tea leaves are steamed, dried and then ground into the amazing fine powder we know as matcha green tea. Green tea leaves are dried for a shorter time than black tea leaves before processing so they keep their green color. Matcha powder is extremely fine and very green.
When you drink traditional green teas, the leaves get infused into the hot water, then the leaves are thrown away. With matcha, you are drinking the actual tea leaves, which have been ground up. The fact that matcha is made from such high-quality tea and the whole leaves are ingested, makes it a more potent source of nutrients than steeped green tea.
What does matcha taste like? It’s definitely a strong, distinct flavor. Some people find it similar to spinach or wheat grass. With matcha, you get all of the health benefits of green tea, but in a mega dose and it tastes exactly like that — green tea on fire, so to speak.
Green tea contains polyphenols including flavanols, flavandiols, flavonoids, and phenolic acids. The majority of the polyphenols are flavonols commonly known as catechins. There are four kinds of catechins mainly find in green tea: epicatechin, epigallocatechin, epicatechin-3-gallate, and EGCG. (2)
Matcha is loaded with antioxidants, amino acids, chlorophyll as well as other vitamins and nutrients. Depending on the variety and preparation of a steeped tea, you typically consume only 10-20% of the nutrients in that tea. However, when you drink matcha, you get 100% of the tea’s nutrients. Matcha green tea also contains the highest concentration of antioxidants compared to all natural fruits and vegetables known to date. The Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (O.R.A.C) test is a scientifically controlled set of experiments developed by the USDA and Tufts University to assess the antioxidant potency of foods and beverages. Matcha contains a whopping 1384 O.R.A.C units per gram. (3)
8 Health Benefits of Matcha Green Tea
1. Prevents Cancer
Research has shown that green tea consumption can reduce the risk of cancer. Some of the specific cancers where risk reduction has been scientifically demonstrated include:
- Bladder Cancer: A study of 882 women showed that the risk of urinary bladder cancer was significantly reduced in women who consumed matcha. (4)
- Breast cancer: A meta-analysis of multiple observational studies found that women who drank the most green tea had a 22% lower risk of developing breast cancer. Also, a lower chance of breast cancer consuming green tea compared to consuming black tea. (5)
- Colon & rectal cancers: A study of 69,710 Chinese women aged 40 to 70 years old found that green tea drinkers had a 57% lower risk of colorectal cancer. An inverse association with regular tea drinking was also observed for rectal cancers. (6)
- Prostate cancer: One large study found that Japanese men who drank 5 or more cups of green tea per day had a 48% lower risk of developing prostate cancer. (7)
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the catechins in matcha green tea (EGCG, EGC, ECG, and EC) are so powerful that they may actually help prevent cancer. (8) While it might seem outrageous that regularly drinking something as common as green tea can put you at a lesser risk, it’s not that far-fetched. The NCI provides the following explanation:
- The chemicals in green tea, especially EGCG and ECG, have substantial free radical scavenging capability. They have also been proven clinically to protect cells from DNA damage caused by reactive oxygen species.
- Tea polyphenols have been shown to inhibit tumor cell development and induce apoptosis (cancer cell destruction) in laboratory and animal studies.
- The catechins in green tea activate detoxification enzymes, such as glutathione S-transferase and quinone reductase. These enzymes are praised for preventing tumor growth.
- Lastly, research has revealed two additional findings. The catechins in green tea not only protect against damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) B radiation, but also they can improve immune system function.
That’s a pretty impressive list of attributes, right? If that were all matcha could do, that’d be a lot. But it does a lot more than prevent cancer.
2. Promotes Weight Loss
There is good reason that matcha made my list of 15 Ultimate Fat-Burning Foods. When it comes to boosting your metabolism and helping with weight loss, science shows that few things are more beneficial than matcha green tea. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the effects of drinking one bottle of oolong tea containing 690 milligrams of catechins versus drinking one bottle containing 22 milligrams of catechins. In the study, 35 healthy Japanese men with similar BMI and waist circumference distributions were divided into two groups.
The researchers gave one group the 690 milligrams of tea and the other group the 22 milligrams of tea. After 12 weeks, they observed that body fat mass, BMI, body weight, subcutaneous fat area and waist circumference were all “significantly lower” in the 690 milligram catechin group than in the 22 milligram group. Even more astounding were the modifications in LDL levels due to the dramatic decreases in body fat mass and total fat area.
From these results, researchers confidently concluded that because drinking tea containing 690 milligrams of catechins for 12 weeks reduced body fat, consuming catechins could aid in the prevention and improvement of many diseases — especially obesity. (9)
3. Benefits Exercise Performance
Another fascinating aspect of matcha green tea is that clinical tests suggest it can help speed recovery in athletes whose focus is high-intensity workouts like burst training. It has also been shown to reverse cellular damage caused by oxidative-nitrosative stress. Oxidative-nitrosative stress is just a fancy term for the internal imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants. And this imbalance ultimately destroys cells, prevents their repair and causes disease.
A study published in Basic and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology evaluated the potential affect EGCG had on mice with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) that were forced to swim for six minutes a day over a period of 15 days. After this intense activity regimen, they discovered that the animals experienced significant increases in oxidative-nitrosative stress and tumor necrosis factor-alpha levels, which is a biochemical marker for cell death. Astoundingly, by administering continual dosages of EGCG, the researchers found that both of these alterations were completely reversed. (10)
4. Best Food Source of Disease-Fighting Catechins
According to Harvard research, green tea is the best food source of a group of antioxidants known as catechins. Research has shown catechins to be more powerful than both vitamins C and E in stopping oxidative damage to cells. They also appear to have other disease-fighting abilities. (11)
It wasn’t until a decade ago that researchers discovered that one type of tea may be more beneficial than another. To test the hypothesis that matcha is more catechin-dense than other green teas, researchers from the University of Colorado Springs conducted a comparison study between matcha and other common green teas by utilizing a process that separated mixtures into their individual parts using various mediums.
Published in the Journal of Chromatography, the results were groundbreaking! The researchers discovered that, “The concentration of EGCG available from drinking matcha is 137 times greater than the amount of EGCG available from China Green Tips green tea, and at least three times higher than the largest literature value for other green teas.” (12)
5. High Levels of L-Theanine For an Alert Calm
Matcha is said to induce a feeling of alert calm due to its mix of L-theanine and caffeine. L-Theanine is a relaxing and nondietary amino acid found pretty much exclusively in teas from the Camellia sinensis plant. By drinking matcha you can increase your levels of L-theanine and promote alpha waves, which lead to a state of relaxed alertness. L-theanine has been shown to benefit patients diagnosed with anxiety by increasing levels of dopamine and GABA in the brain. (13)
Matcha contains up to five times as much L-theanine as regular green tea (20 milligrams versus 4 milligrams). Full-blown sunlight diminishes L-theanine while shading enhances it so the shading techniques farmers use when growing tea for matcha make it richer in L-theanine. (14)
6. Reduces Heart Disease Risk & Hypertension
According to a Harvard review of recent studies, green tea may lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and thereby reduce the risk of death from heart disease and stroke.
One of the studies demonstrating just that involved 40,530 Japanese who drank more than five cups of green tea a day had a 26% lower risk of death from heart attack or stroke and a 16% lower risk of death from all causes than people who drank less than one cup of green tea a day. Another study found that people who drank the largest quantity of green tea had a 28% lower risk of coronary artery disease than those who drank the least green tea and black tea had no effect on heart risk at all. (15)
The antioxidants in green tea can help to block the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol, increase HDL (good) cholesterol and improve artery function. A recent Chinese study showed a 46%-65% reduction in hypertension risk in regular consumers of oolong or green tea, compared to non-consumers of tea. (16)
7. Lower Type II Diabetes Risk
Type II diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way the body processes blood sugar or glucose. I have previously discussed how type II diabetes can be reversed with proper lifestyle and diet changes. Adding matcha to your life can be one of the ways that you can help to reverse diabetes or keep it away in the first place.
A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine evaluated the effects of drinking coffee and tea on Japanese adults from 25 communities across Japan. Specifically, they looked consumption of coffee, black, green, and oolong teas and physician-diagnosed diabetes. The study found that consumption of green tea and coffee was inversely associated with risk for diabetes after adjustment for age, sex, body mass index, and other risk factors. (17)
Another study recently published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition evaluated the effects of green tea and green tea extract on glucose control and insulin sensitivity. Researchers found that green tea consumption decreased fasting glucose and A1c concentrations. The green tea also lead to a significant reduction in fasting insulin concentrations. (18)
8. Detoxifies the Body
Matcha’s rich green color is the result of high chlorophyll levels. Chlorophyll is a type of plant pigment responsible for the absorption of light in the process of photosynthesis, which creates energy. The fact that matcha is carefully shade-grown makes it significantly richer in chlorophyll when compared to other teas
Chlorophyll doesn’t just make matcha a vibrant color, it is also a very effective detoxifier that can aid in the elimination of unwanted toxins, chemicals and heavy metals from your body. Chlorophyll increases the blood’s capacity to deliver oxygen and other nutrients to cells within the body, which helps the body to regenerate and cleanse itself at the cellular level. Consuming a daily cup of matcha is an easy way to incorporate detoxification into your every day life. (19)
Matcha Green Tea History & Interesting Facts
- All green and black teas derive from the very same plant, Camelia Sinensis, which was first discovered along rolling, misty hills in Southwest China.
- The specific process of growing, harvesting and processing the tea is what makes Japanese matcha different from other green teas.
- Matcha is a type of powdered green tea and its name literally means “powdered tea”.
- Tea-powdering is believed to have originated in China with a Buddhist monk in around 1191 CE.
- The farming techniques for matcha were refined and perfected over several centuries in Japan.
- By the 16th century, matcha green tea powder became the star of the tea ceremony (chadō or chanoyu), which is a highly intricate tea drinking ritual that celebrates simplicity, tranquility and mutual respect.
- Matcha is traditionally drank out of a bowl rather than a mug using both hands.
- Preparing Japanese matcha is an intricate process which has been part of Japanese culture for nearly 800 years.
- Unlike traditional green tea, the tea plants for Japanese matcha are typically covered with shade cloths before they’re harvested to enhance color and flavor.
- Matcha is really labor intensive to produce and the matcha harvest only happens once a year.
- Traditionally, drinking matcha is considered a form of meditation.
- In traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, practitioners used green tea as a stimulant, a diuretic (to help rid the body of excess fluid), an astringent (to control bleeding and help heal wounds), and to improve heart health.
- Chinese “matcha” is not generally grown in the shade, and are “pan-fried” to stop oxidation. As a result, Chinese “matcha” does not froth as much and its texture is more sandy.
- Matcha exposed to oxygen may easily become compromised. Oxidized matcha has a hay-like smell and a dull brownish-green color.
- In modern times, matcha is often used in coffee shops to make matcha lattes.
- It is also a flavor and dye in foods like mochi, soba noodles and green tea ice cream.
- Koicha (thick Matcha) is prepared using double the amount of matcha powder so it has twice the caffeine.
How to Choose & Use Matcha Green Tea
Matcha is available at local grocery stores, health food stores and even some coffee shops as well as online.
It’s easy to buy the wrong matcha powder. You might think you’re getting the good stuff, but on second glance, the first ingredient is sugar?! Yes, it’s very common to find sugar as well as powdered milk in many “matcha powders”. This is definitely not what you want, but it is what’s commonly used in coffee shops to make those matcha green tea lattes.
You want to look for a matcha powder with one ingredient: matcha. Opt for organic and non gmo when possible. Ceremonial grade matcha is what you want for making a properly whisked tea while culinary grade can also be used to make tea and lattes. You can also add it to smoothies and baking recipes. In recent years, it has become quite easy to find matcha in tea bag form as well (but you won’t be consuming the whole leaf then).
Matcha purity and quality do come at a cost and matcha powder is definitely more expensive compared to other teas. A low price tag can actually be a sign of a poor quality product.
A low price tag can also be equated with a Chinese matcha, which is concerning since Chinese teas have been found to have dangerous pesticides. In 2013, Greenpeace randomly tested 18 Chinese green tea samples, and found that 12 of them contained banned pesticides. Japanese matcha tea is governed by more stringent standards when it comes pesticide use, which is why Japanese matchas tend to be more expensive than Chinese options. One ounce of Japanese matcha can range from $26-$32 while Chinese “matcha” tea can cost as little as $7/ounce. (20) I recommend spending a little more on a Japanese matcha.
Matcha is traditionally made by mixing about a teaspoon of matcha powder with a third cup of hot water (heated to less than a boil), which is then whisked with a bamboo brush until it froths. You can also use a milk, or a milk substitute like coconut milk, in place of water. If you’d like, you can sweeten your matcha using a natural sweetener like raw honey.
Matcha Green Tea Recipes
The most straight forward and common way to use matcha powder is to make tea, but matcha green tea is traditionally made in a very unique and specific fashion.
Directions can vary, but one easy way to “properly” make matcha green tea:
- Fill kettle with fresh, filtered water and heat to just short of boiling.
- Fill matcha bowl or cup with hot water and pour out (to warm the bowl/cup)
- Add 1 teaspoon of matcha powder to bowl or cup.
- Add 2 ounces of nearly boiled water
- Whisk (ideally with a bambroo brush or tea whisk) water and powder briskly for a minute or two until it looks thick and frothy with tiny bubbles.
- Add 3 to 4 more ounces of water.
Looking for more ideas? Try one of these seriously delicious recipes. They all include health-boosting matcha:
- Mango Matcha Smoothie (#14 on my list of 34 Green Smoothies)
- Matcha Green Tea Pancakes (#20 on my list of 43 Best Post-Workout Meals for Faster Results)
- Energizing Green Smoothie Bowl (#26 on my list of 34 Green Smoothies)
Matcha Green Tea Potential Side Effects & Caution
Matcha is higher in caffeine than other green teas due to the fact that you are consuming whole tea leaves when you drink matcha. You may get up to three times as much caffeine than a cup of steeped green tea. But matcha contains a moderate amount of caffeine at 70 milligrams per cup, which is about two-thirds the amount in a regular cup of coffee. (21)
With that said, matcha green tea is not a good choice if you don’t do well with caffeine. However, the “caffeine buzz” from matcha is more of a balanced alert feeling since it contains high levels of the calming amino acid L-theanine. The caffeine content is still there though so it’s best to avoid drinking matcha within six hours of your bedtime to avoid any sleep troubles. If you’re unsure of the signs of too much caffeine, check out my article Are You Suffering From a Caffeine Overdose?
Matcha is not recommended to be consumed on an empty stomach since drinking green tea in this manner can lead to stomachache and nausea. It is best to drink it after a meal, especially if you have a peptic ulcer or acid reflux.
If you’re anemic, it’s important to know that green tea consumption can cause a decrease in the absorption of iron from food.
Unfortunately, lead contamination is a concern with matcha and buying organic doesn’t always prevent matcha powder from containing lead. Tea plants can absorb lead from the soil and tea grown in China is especially known for containing lead. When you make a traditional green tea, around 90 percent of the lead stays in the leaves and the leaves are discarded. Since matcha contains the whole leaves more lead is left in the final product. It is estimated that a cup of matcha may contain up to 30 times more lead than a regular cup of green tea. For this reason, it’s best not to have more than one cup of matcha per day. (22) Buying a Japanese matcha rather than a Chinese matcha can help decrease lead risk.
Matcha is not a good choice for children since it may contain a small amount of lead as well as significant amounts of caffeine. It is best to avoid matcha if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. (23)
Green tea can interact with some prescription drugs so check with your doctor before consuming matcha if you are taking medication or have any ongoing health concerns.
Final Thoughts on Matcha Green Tea
Of all the natural antioxidant-rich foods, matcha green tea contains some of the highest levels of catechins. As a result, drinking matcha regularly can greatly aid in workout recovery, burn fat, encourage strength at a cellular level, and even be part of a natural cancer treatment program.
So, if you’re looking to maximize the power of tea in your daily routine, look no further than brewing up and enjoying a nice, hot cup of matcha green tea!