What is Matcha Green Tea?

Posted by Aiya Matcha on Jun 1st 2020

Simply put, Matcha is nature’s own energy drink.

History of Matcha

History of Matcha

Matcha is a shade-grown, powdered Japanese green tea made from the finest tea leaves. It is dubbed a high-quality, premium tea type, as a result of its careful growing and processing techniques. Extremely high in antioxidants, amino acids, and other nutrients, Matcha has gained popularity within multiple industries thanks to its superfood qualities and versatile ingredient properties.

Though this trendy superfood has recently made its way to America (and beyond!), the history of Matcha in Japan dates back to the 1200’s. It was once the focal point of Zen Buddhist monks as a revered form of art, instrument for meditation, and vital ingredient to health. However, the true origins of this tea date back to the Chinese Zen monks of the 8 th century. Their vision of pulverizing tea leaves, rather than steaming, led to ritualistic, ceremonial practices that were later spread by vocal supporters. Over time, Matcha fell out of favor in China, but Japanese society continued to utilize the tea by incorporating it into the exclusive chanoyu (tea ceremony) and eventually as a cultural part of life.

What is Matcha?

Similar to other teas, Matcha stems from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, a species of evergreen shrub. While it is easy to categorize Matcha as a green tea, it’s important to note that not all green tea can be considered “Matcha” and here’s why.

As one of the most unique teas on the planet, Matcha obtains its tremendous health properties through  careful growing, cultivating, and processing. Unlike other green teas, Matcha undergoes a number of additional steps in the production cycle before it makes its way to your cup. These steps include shade growing, hand picking, stem and vein removal, and granite milling. The end result? A fine emerald green tea powder filled with tons of antioxidants and nutrients, but more on that later.

Discerning the Quality of Matcha

Sencha or Matcha? Ceremonial or Culinary? With so many varieties on the market, selecting the right type of Matcha can be a little confusing. Plus, since no formal regulations exist about specific Matcha blends, that “ceremonial” Matcha might be a lower quality than you think.

During production, a lot of factors can affect the quality – the region where it is grown, the geographical conditions, the growing expertise of the tea farmers – but it’s the consistency and tradition of more than a century’s old techniques that have produced the best, purest Matcha. Consider these 3 key factors when determining the quality of your Matcha.

Flavor: An Umami Experience

A good, high-quality Matcha should taste smooth and mildly sweet with the slightest hint of bitterness. Earthy tones encapsulate the taste buds allowing for an all-around, umami experience. The natural sweetness comes from the preservation of L-theanine amino acids, which results from Matcha’s shade-growing process.

Color: Vibrant Green

The best Matcha have a vibrant, jade green color. Unlike other “green tea” powders that are often a yellow-brown hue, Matcha is able to keep its natural green tones due to the conservation of chlorophyll in the leaf. Moreover, during Matcha production, granite grinders minimize friction and prevent the tea particles from "burning," thus retaining the green color from the chlorophyll.

Feel: Fine to the Touch

High quality Matcha powder is very fine – 5 to 10 microns to be exact! (That’s finer than baby powder and similar to the consistency of eye shadow.) Comparatively, a lower-quality Matcha will have larger particle sizes, resulting in a coarser feel when rubbed between your fingers.

Still unsure about the different grades of Matcha? Visit our blog  High Quality Matcha vs. Low Quality Matcha for more information.

Health Benefits of Matcha

All About Antioxidants

Matcha contains higher antioxidant levels on a per gram basis than any other known natural fruits or vegetables. Laboratory test results that measure ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) units show that one gram of Ceremonial Matcha contains 1,384 ORAC units per gram – that’s over 15x the antioxidants available in some fruits like wild blueberries and acai berries! With statistics like that, it’s no surprise that Matcha is deemed a powerful superfood.

Gram-Per-Gram Antioxidant Level Comparison

Source: Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, Lipophilic and Hydrophilic Antioxidant Capacities of Common Foods in the United States

Natural Energy Boost

One of the key components in Matcha is  the amino acid L-theanine, which is found almost exclusively in all shade-grown green teas. When L-theanine combines with the natural caffeine found in tea, it slowly metabolizes and releases the caffeine over a longer period of time. So, while coffee typically provides that “jolt” of energy for about 1 to 2 hours, Matcha provides a stable 3 to 6 hour long energy boost (without the crash).

Matcha’s Nutritional Benefits vs. Other Teas

An amazing part of Matcha’s form is its versatility as a finely, ground powder. With every sip of your morning Matcha, you are consuming the entire leaf! That’s right – Matcha drinkers receive 100% of the benefits of the whole tea leaf, enjoying its antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, nutrients, and more.

Since Matcha tea powder production uses the entire tea leaf in the process, there’s a lot more nutrition (and work) going into your cup of Matcha, when compared to the standard tea bag. Steeped tea bags lose a lot of nutrition as soon as you remove the bag from your cup. Not to mention, steeped tea only contains about 10% of the nutrient potential from the tea leaf. With Matcha, the entire tea leaf’s nutrition is captured in the powder, so 100% of that nutritional value stays in your cup. To put it into perspective, one bowl of Matcha is equal to approximately 10 cups of regular steeped green tea.

Matcha and Green Tea Bag Nutrition Comparison

Source: Standard Table of Food Composition: Japan Fourth and Fifth Revised and Expanded Edition. Aiya America Nutritional Analysis: Ceremonial Matcha (Eco Pro Research, Brunswick Lab, Covance Lab)

Why Matcha?

We all know good health and good nutrition go hand in hand; you need one to enjoy the other. While it may be harder to develop those healthy eating habits that help to keep us fit and strong, consuming a cup of Matcha is an easy way to add key nutritional values (like antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, minerals) into your daily regime.

That’s not to say that you can’t add Matcha to other aspects of your life! For instance, culinary Matcha is another excellent source of nutritional benefits. This specially blended Matcha includes additional flavor, which highlights the earthy flavor when mixed with other ingredients. Easily mix into smoothies, lattes and blended drinks, and more.

In addition, Matcha has slowly become popular within the beauty industry, thanks to its familial link to green tea. More studies have noted that green tea serves a helpful role in skin care treatments, and can be easily incorporated into beauty products like masks, scrubs, and more!

All in all, there are virtually no limits to what you can do with Matcha. Cheers and great health to you!