Written by Michael Mantz, M.D.
Matcha green tea – Background Information
Matcha green tea is a special form of powdered green tea derived from the plant, Camellia sinensis, the same plant used for black, green, and oolong tea. It is uniquely grown in the shade for 3 weeks prior to harvest – which causes the plant to create thinner and larger leaves. This shade growing process increases its overall chlorophyll content, improves the flavor of the tea, and increases its production of brain-boosting phytochemicals.
Brief matcha tea history
Matcha tea dates back nearly a thousand years to a time when dynasties ruled China and Shogun clans ruled Japan. It was popularized by a Japanese Zen Buddhist monk named Eisai. Zen Buddhists would drink matcha tea before their afternoon meditations to help them remain centered and focused and give them sustainable energy throughout the rest of their day.
Powdered green tea vs. whole leaf – breaking the wall
When you drink regular green tea, you are drinking the water infusion that remains after soaking the leaves in hot water and then discarding the leaves. When you drink matcha green tea you are consuming the blended mixture of water and the entire green tea leaf in powdered form. This increases the number of brain-boosting compounds you absorb. Think about it – what would be more nutritious?
General Nutrition Principle – Nutritional Leverage: Grinding and Blending
All plant cells have cell walls that guard and protect the nutrients within. These cell walls contain an insoluble fiber called cellulose. Most humans do not make significant amounts of the enzyme needed to break down cellulose. The 2 main ways for us to break down plant cell walls are mechanical methods (chewing, grinding, chopping or blending) or heating methods.
We generally don’t chew our foods very well and thus using external ways to break down the cell walls is a great way to gain access to the nutrient treasures inside the plant cell. Grinding and blending plant foods at high speeds is like sending a giant category 5 hurricane through a campground site full of cheap tents – it decimates their cell walls without using much heat. The devastated plants have no choice but to surrender all their nutrients up for easy consumption and assimilation.
Bottom line: Grinding and blending highly nutritious plants and eating them is a great way to boost your ability to absorb their important and amazing nutrients.
Health benefits of matcha green tea
Matcha tea contains trace minerals, vitamins (A, B-complex, C, E, K) and high levels of catechin (kat-i-kin) polyphenols. One polyphenol EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate – say that 3 times fast) may possess neuroprotective and brain-boosting properties (note: the studies that demonstrate these benefits are mainly rodent and in vitro studies and more well-constructed human studies are needed).
Matcha tea may lead to weight loss by reducing the absorption of carbohydrates, boosting metabolism, and reducing appetite.
Matcha and L-theanine: Calm alertness
Matcha tea contains a unique amino acid derivative called L-theanine which has been shown to promote alpha waves in the brain – putting the brain in a balanced state of relaxed alertness. L-theanine may also increase deep restorative sleep and may help with reducing anxiety levels.
Clinical Side Bar: I often use L-theanine in my practice. It is one of the tools I may use to help improve the sleep-quality of my patients.
Natural time-release caffeine
When you make tea with matcha powder, the polyphenols in matcha go over and hug the caffeine molecules. This binding slows down the uptake of caffeine into your brain – creating a smoother uplifting effect. This natural time-release effect makes the gentle alerting effect of matcha last much longer than coffee (sometimes up to 3-6 hours after consumption).
Taming the tannins
Green tea and matcha green tea contain compounds called tannins. Tannins are chemical compounds found in many food products including coffee and various teas. Tannins create a drying effect in the mouth by cross-linking the proteins in our saliva. One of the big reasons why people put cream in their coffee is that the fat in the cream acts like a mouth lubricant reducing the drying effects of the tannins from their coffee.
Tannins can sometimes create nausea when consumed on an empty stomach. I had this happen to me several times when I drank green tea on an empty stomach. Matcha generally has less tannins than regular green tea but for those with sensitive stomachs, drinking matcha on an empty stomach might still invoke nausea.
If you decide to drink matcha on an empty stomach, a way to mitigate this possible side effect is to add a creamy ingredient. As a rule: if you have a sensitive stomach add less matcha powder and add more fat. Healthy fat also gives your gut more time to absorb the brain-boosting nutrients and slows down the rate of absorption of the tea – making its biological effects gentler and longer lasting.
Matcha flavor – how to bridge your palate
Good quality matcha tea has a complex flavor that includes: mild sweetness, mild astringency combined with umami tastes (umami – savory and earthy taste found in tomatoes, cheese, mushrooms and soy sauce) with an uplifting light grassy flavor.
If you enjoy regular green tea, then you will likely enjoy good-quality matcha tea. If your palate is not in tune with the sweet, earthy, grassy, mildly bitter taste and flavor – there are ways to bridge your palate to enjoy it more. One way is to mellow out the grassy and bitter notes with sweetness and fat. Many of the matcha recipes I provide use both sweet ingredients and ingredients with fat to smooth out the flavor. Eventually, you can dial down the sweetness and fat content as your palate gets more use to these flavors.
Matcha green tea – My personal experience
I became a frequent matcha tea drinker about 2 years ago. I used to drink coffee but disliked how it sometimes made me feel anxious and jittery. I became frustrated with how quickly the coffee alerting effect would wear off and make me crash afterwards. After a while, the negative effects of coffee exceeded any benefits I derived from it and so I switched to both oolong and green tea instead.
When I first tried good-quality matcha green tea, I enjoyed it a lot more than drinking regular green tea. Its taste was smoother and more complex. It had a well-balanced alerting effect that was long-lasting and didn’t lead me into a crash and reload pattern that I had with coffee.
After my first high-quality matcha tea experience, I knew that it was going to be one of my go to morning beverages. I went on a search to find good quality matcha. Unfortunately, most of the matcha that I encountered was either disappointing or downright nasty.
The highest-quality matcha is given the ranking of ceremonial grade. It’s more delicate, smoother, with little to no bitterness and a pleasant mild sweetness. It is quite costly, however, and so I only drink it occasionally. I currently use Midori’s Emerald Class Matcha Tea. It is more than 50% cheaper than ceremonial grade matcha. Out of all of the matcha tea that I have tried, it has the closest flavor profile and vibrant green look of a ceremonial grade matcha tea that isn’t ceremonial grade.
Traditionally matcha powder is blended using a bamboo whisk with hot but not boiling water (175F/80C). I tried this method for about a week and decided that I needed a quicker way to make it. I have found that an electronic blender does a fine job and saves time.
I hope you enjoy the matcha recipes on this website as much as I have. I welcome any constructive feedback so that myself and others who are using this website can learn from each other and develop creative ways to use this wonderful ingredient.