I was first introduced to matcha when my husband spontaneously brought home a jar one day.
(That same day he also brought home an impulsively-purchased yoga mat so he could do yoga with me. Not gonna lie – that was pretty sexy.)
I’m now a huge fan of matcha tea, but before I get into the specifics, I want to add some backstory here for a sec.
2016 was/is my year of health transformation. Although it has felt like slow going at times (we moved, we’ve had financial challenges that have occupied our attention), it’s pretty great to look back and actually see some progress.
I started out 2016 by quitting my stay-up-too-late habit, alongside a few thousand others who were also up for the challenge (there was a LOT of “you too? i thought i was the only one…”). I’m not militant about my bedtime now, but getting enough sleep at night is now the norm, instead of the exception – and it has quite honestly changed my life.
Another big step I took was seeing a functional medicine doctor. I’m currently working with her to heal my gut issues after realizing that my adrenal fatigue has a deeper root cause: poor gut health.
This fall, I’m kicking things into high gear, and it’s actually pretty exciting. A few weeks ago, we both ditched our coffee addictions. Now that that’s behind us, we are starting a crazy 21-day elimination diet on Sunday (which I’ll share more about soon) in order to cleanse our guts and weed out food sensitivities, as well as to reduce low-grade, systemic inflammation in our bodies.
All that to say: I’ve ditched some unhealthy habits (not getting enough sleep, coffee addiction, went gluten-free) and I’m now focused on incorporating some new healthy habits. We eat a fairly solid real food diet and have worked in some great additions over the years, like kombucha, hemp hearts and chia seeds, coconut oil, grass-fed gelatin, bone broth, various fermented foods, and so many more.
The latest addition to our real food kitchen? Matcha. It’s what helped me quit coffee with basically zero withdrawal symptoms (and believe me, my body was seriously dependent on my morning cup – to the tune of an all-day migraine when I tried switching to 1/4 decaf), and the more I read up on it, the more I loved it.
The Origins and Production of Matcha Green Tea
Matcha is a traditional Japanese green tea that originated in China in the first century. It is an extremely precise process that has been fine-tuned over the centuries, and is quite different from most other teas.
To produce matcha, the best green tea plants are carefully selected, then shaded for 2-3 weeks prior to harvest to prevent direct sunlight. This stimulates an increase in chlorophyll production, giving it that signature bright green color. It also helps to stimulate high levels of l-theanine – an amazing amino acid most commonly used for anti-anxiety.
The young leaves at the top of the plant are picked and laid out to dry (the other leaves are used for “culinary grade,” i.e. the rising trend of matcha-flavoured baked goods), then slowly – in order to avoid heat from the friction – ground into a very fine ceremonial-grade powder, which we combine with hot water to make matcha tea. (And in case you’re wondering – the highest-quality tea produced this way tastes infinitely better than the lower-quality stuff.)
Note that with matcha we consume the whole leaf, as opposed to a typical tea infusion where the leaves are removed, making the plant’s health properties much more potent in the tea.
So, we know that matcha is uniquely and carefully produced (which I find terribly fascinating. Hashtag nerd alert.) But what specifically makes it worthy of my love and affection?
Here are 5 matcha benefits that I love:
1. Slower release of caffeine
A cup of matcha tea actually contains around half the caffeine of an espresso. Sounds like a lot, right? (Especially for someone who doesn’t want to be caffeine-dependent anymore.) However, the presence of l-theanine (a valuable amino acid) actually slows the body’s absorption of the caffeine.
The feeling that you get from drinking a matcha tea is often described as a quiet, calm alertness. No jittery buzz and subsequent crash, as with coffee.
There have been a number of scientific studies done on the beneficial effects of green tea, summarized in this medical journal article.
“The health benefits of green tea for a wide variety of ailments, including different types of cancer, heart disease, and liver disease, were reported. Many of these beneficial effects of green tea are related to its catechin, particularly (-)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate, content.”
Catechins are a type of antioxidant which protect the body from free radicals, which are harmful chemicals linked to heart disease, liver disease, cancers, and more. The catechin that is contained in matcha tea is called Epigallocatechin Gallate, or ECGC, and there are significantly higher amounts of ECGC in matcha than in regular green tea.
(A 2003 study claimed it found 137 times more ECGC in matcha than a common brand of regular green tea, however the more commonly believed ratio is 3-4x as much. Either way, matcha has significantly more antioxidants than regular green tea.)
I know that cancer can be a somewhat controversial topic, especially when it comes to the conversation of prevention or risk reduction. People know that smoking causes cancer, sure, but fewer will admit that there are dietary and environmental changes within our power that also lower our risk.
I believe that incorporating antioxidants into my diet is an excellent example of this. Will drinking matcha guarantee that I won’t get cancer? Of course not. But I believe it’s a small step toward lowering my risk, just like with dozens of other natural diet and lifestyle choices.
3. The preparation ritual
You could certainly toss some matcha powder into a smoothie or shaker cup, or even a latté, and be on your way. (We do.)
However, now that coffee has taken its exit from our daily lives, I miss the ritual that we once had. We loved grinding our beans fresh every morning, waiting for the kettle to boil, and slowly pouring the water, watching the coffee drip down into the chemex. It was meditative.
Fortunately, matcha tea has its own time-honoured ritual of preparation. The tools are fairly simple. You need ceremonial grade matcha, a bamboo whisk (chasen) and hooked bamboo scoop (chasaku), a bowl (chawan), and hot (but not boiling) water. A fine mesh strainer is also recommended to de-clump the powder before mixing.
And yes, you can skip the bowl and just use a coffee mug if you don’t care about traditional methods. The bamboo whisk is still highly recommended, though, as it really helps to incorporate the fine powder into the water beautifully, and it gives you a nice foamy top. However, you could use a blender if you’d like.
Personally, I think the bamboo whisk is worth having so that I don’t have to dirty my whole vitamix, plus it’s so elegant that I’m keeping it on my countertop to look pretty.
(click each image below to see the item on amazon.)
I will say this: the very best cup of matcha is arguably obtained from taking a few moments to go through the ritual, similarly to making the best cup of coffee. Wait for the kettle to heat up, combine the hot water with high-quality matcha, and whisk with the chasen to produce a nice frothy top.
As with all other facets of our diet and lifestyle, let’s remember the scientifically proven connection between the mind and body. Participating in mindless meditative tasks such as chopping onions, doing menial housework tasks, or preparing a cup of matcha can have significant anti-stress effects.
As an HSP and an introvert, I find these sorts of small practices to make a world of difference in my emotional and mental well-being on a daily basis.
The weeks of shading the plants prior to harvest also create significantly higher levels of L-theanine, a very important amino acid that helps to promote a calm mood. It is often taken in supplement form to help alleviate anxiety.
L-theanine is also linked to better focus and concentration which is something that I’ve struggled with for a while now, with major brain fog and other functional brain health issues.
5. Promotes weight loss and lowers cholesterol
Promotes weight loss?! Some of you might be thinking that this is starting to sound like a far-fetched infomercial. But this is exactly why I’m so passionate about living a natural lifestyle in line with what the earth offers to us! These benefits that I’m listing here are all scientifically studied and proven, and they’re available to all. It’s a beautiful thing, really.
This 2005 study done in Japan suggests significant weight-loss effects from green tea extract (high concentration of catechins, as found in matcha). It also linked catechins to lowering LDL (the bad cholesterol).
“Body weight, BMI, waist circumference, body fat mass, and subcutaneous fat area were significantly lower in the green tea extract group than in the control group.”
Downsides to matcha?
I’ve read from a few sources that trace amounts of lead may be of concern in matcha. However, I have not found anything definitive on this, and most sources don’t even mention it at all. If anything, I’d probably just stick with one or two cups a day, and talk with a trusted health practitioner before consuming it during pregnancy.
Another potential concern is raised by the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011. Could there be concerning levels of radiation in consumables produced in Japan? While this is a legitimate question, I’m satisfied with continuing to consume matcha based on the reading I’ve done.
From all of the reading I have done on various brands, this is the one I’d choose next. This brand sources its matcha in a region very far from Fukishima, and it is among the highest quality ceremonial grade available, as well as being organic.
The bottom line?
Even if you don’t want to give up your daily cup of coffee, I urge you to check out matcha. It may even help mitigate the spike and crash effects of your coffee, while providing you with a number of other health benefits.