It’s near impossible to scroll through social media or step into your local brunch spot without seeing a milky, jade green cup of matcha latte. Once reserved for wellness-y types in the know, matcha is now widely available everywhere from the local Pret to Selfridges’ food hall. The hashtag #matchalatte currently has 2 billion views on TikTok while #matchalatterecipe clocks in 77.7 million views and counting.
That said, this buzzy ingredient has always played an integral role in Eastern culture. The origins of matcha can be traced back to around the 8th century in China, where this ancient tea was often served to the upper echelons of society before making its way to Japan via Zen Buddhism in the 12th century. Japanese Zen Buddhist monk Eisai wrote an important text in 1211 – Kissa yōjōki, or Drinking Tea For Health – commending the benefits of consuming tea, with an emphasis on matcha.
What is matcha?
While both matcha and green tea comes from the tea plant camellia sinensis, tea leaves used for matcha are grown in the shade to increase their chlorophyll content.
The leaves are then dried and ground into finely-milled powder. This means consuming the entirety of the tea leaf, rather than just its infusion, which is what happens when green tea bags are steeped. This is why most people find matcha tastes a lot more potent and earthy.
What are the benefits of matcha?
Fast forward to 2024, matcha is beloved globally and can be found in not only hot drinks, but also in the form of treats like ice-cream, cakes and biscuits. Gwyneth Paltrow, Selena Gomez and Brad Pitt are all famous fans of the drink.
“Matcha is known for its high antioxidant content, particularly catechins like EGCG, long studied for their anti-inflammatory and heart-health benefits,” says Aneequa Godart, functional nutritional therapist at London-based longevity clinic, HUM2N.
She continues: “These antioxidants help combat free radicals in the body, reducing cellular damage and promoting overall health and wellbeing. Matcha also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that supports relaxation and a sense of calm.”
Dietitian Renee McGregor concurs, adding: “It is this very high concentration of catechins that boasts the health benefits to humans, namely its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.”
Is matcha really better than coffee?
Both are caffeinated, but if you’re looking for something that will perk you up in the morning without the 3pm dip, matcha is the better option. The caffeine concentration in matcha is also slightly lower; it’s roughly 70mg of caffeine per a cup of matcha compared to 140mg in coffee.
“The main difference between matcha and coffee is that the former contains L-theanine, which can help with concentration but without the energy slumps often associated with caffeine in coffee," says McGregor.
What are the downsides to matcha?
There's a myriad of health and wellness benefits to matcha but ultimately, as a tea it is still a caffeinated beverage and naturally, overconsumption can affect moods, heart health and concentration – similar to that of coffee overdose. “In addition, very high intakes of catechins are associated with negative consequences to liver health so moderation is definitely the key here,” says McGregor. If you tend to react negatively to caffeine or suspect an allergy, make sure to check in with your healthcare professional beforehand.
Nutritional therapist Cara Shaw also recommends sticking to one serving a day for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and speak to your GP before consuming it.
What does ‘ceremonial grade matcha’ mean?
When shopping for matcha, you’ll most likely come across the term ‘ceremonial grade’. This essentially means it’s the highest grade of matcha, appropriate for use in traditional tea ceremonies. The flavour tends to be on the delicate side as it uses the younger leaves found at the top of the plant. Meanwhile, ‘culinary matcha’ refers to powders used in desserts and general cooking with a more bitter flavour profile.
How to prepare matcha
Matcha-making sets not only makes it easy to prepare, it's also a nice way to bring some mindfulness into your everyday routine. It often includes a little measuring spoon, a small sieve and a bamboo whisk.
To make your own hot cup of matcha, take a spoonful of powder (put it through the little sieve to avoid lumps), add a splash of hot water, and whisk until frothy. Then, add extra water or warm milk for added creaminess. You can also pepper in a dash of cinnamon or honey if preferred.
What are the benefits of matcha in skincare?
Following in the footsteps of green tea at large, matcha specifically is now a buzzy ingredient in beauty too. "Matcha is rich in antioxidants known to help protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals, UV radiation, and pollution," says Lorne Lucree, SVP, global innovation at skincare brand, Tatcha. Lucree continues: "Matcha also has anti-inflammatory properties, making it suitable for soothing and calming irritated skin."
In its new cleanser, Tatcha uses matcha sourced from Uji-Tawara, Kyoto, a region renowned for producing the ingredient. "In the weeks leading up to the harvest, the field is sheltered by a parasol to minimise the sun exposure to retain the high level of L-theanine which would otherwise be depleted during photosynthesis," explains Lucree. The L-theanine helps with calming irritated complexions.
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