You may have heard that green tea is healthy for you. Well what if I told you matcha is an extra potent version of green tea that is made from the exact same plant, but due to its production process, is packed with even more nutrients and health benefits than regular green tea.
Whether you already drink matcha or you’re looking to start, here you’ll learn everything you want to know about the health benefits of matcha.
What Is Matcha Tea?
Type Of Green Tea
Matcha is a type of green tea made from grinding shade grown tencha leaves into a very fine powder. It’s quite striking to look at due to how bright green it is. While its main use is tea, matcha is used for many things, such as matcha lattes, sweets and baked goods.
The primary differences between matcha and green tea is that the leaves are shaded for three to four weeks before they’re processed to make matcha. This shading process increases the nutritional content of the leaves. These shaded leaves - tencha - are then ground into matcha green tea powder.
When you prepare matcha powder you ingest the entire tea leaf. So you get 100% of the nutrients of the tea. Thats different to brewed green tea, where the leaves are steeped in water and then discarded. With matcha, the tea powder is mixed into the drink itself, so you get all of the nutrients, and more of the benefits from the tea leaf.
That’s why many consider matcha tea to be the healthier, more potent alternative for those who enjoy green tea. While other Japanese teas like sencha, genmaicha and hojicha powder are still very healthy, their nutrient levels are a bit lower than matcha. If you’ve enjoyed green tea before, you’ll likely enjoy matcha tea too. It can even be used as an alternative to coffee and other caffeine-bearing drinks, as we break down near the end of this guide.
Grown under shade
Let’s talk more about the plant that makes matcha tea possible. That’d be the Camellia sinensis plant, whose leaves and buds are used to produce tea of all kinds. White tea, yellow tea, dark and black tea, oolong tea, and of course green tea, all come from the same plant species.
To produce matcha, the leaves of the plant are kept under shade for 20 days before the harvest. This limits the growth of the plant and causes a build-up of chlorophyll levels in the parts of the plant that are used to make tea. This triggers an increased production of amino acids, mainly theanine, which we cover in more detail later.
Perfected In Japan
The sinensis in Camellia sinensis means “from China'' due to the plant’s nativity in southwest China. While powdered tea emerged from China’s Song dynasty and was primarily used in Chan Buddhist rituals, Japanese matcha is known for it's superior quality. This is because it was the Japanese who perfected the growing and shading process that gives matcha its powerful and distinctive taste.
Having been started by Chinese Buddhists, the rise of Zen Buddhism in Japan saw Eisai and other Buddhist priests perfect matcha at their Zen monasteries. Since those monasteries were home to the country’s learned men and were frequented by the lords of the land, matcha quickly became a staple of Japanese high society. It was so important that they have the Japanese tea ceremony, or “The Way Of Tea” where matcha tea is made while practicing other cultural traditions. The more formal tea ceremonies can take hours.
Today, matcha is sold in several grades. Note that these grades are commercial inventions to differentiate matcha products and they differ between the West and Japan. You’ll typically find matcha often sold in the west under one of two labels:
Culinary Grade: Typically more of a duller green colour, cheaper to buy, and a lower quality matcha, more astringency (bitterness), less sweetness and less of the umami flavor that high quality matcha has. Culinary grade leaves are generally from lower in the tea plant and harvested in later harvests than ceremonial matcha. Intended for mixing with other ingredients to give dishes a matcha taste.
Ceremonial Grade: Ceremonial grade matcha has the opposite taste profile as culinary grade matcha, being sweeter with more umami, less bitterness, and it also has a much more vivid green color. It’s made from the youngest leaves, typically from the first harvest, though other older leaves make it in too. Ceremonial grade matcha is intended to be consumed as tea. It is more expensive.
As we said, remember that matcha grades aren’t regulated. There’s not much stopping a manufacturer from slapping a ceremonial grade label onto culinary grade tea, so make sure you buy from reputable sources. Japan takes their matcha too seriously to split it into two categories, so they don’t use culinary or ceremonial grades.
What are the Health Benefits of matcha?
Now that we understand what matcha tea is and some of its most notable qualities, let’s get into the health benefits you can get by drinking it. As with many different foods and drinks that are full of nutrients, they work best when part of a healthy diet, so don’t rely on just matcha tea to keep you healthy.
1. High in Antioxidants
If you’ve looked into matcha tea benefits, one of the first things you stumbled across was probably its high antioxidant count or ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity) value.
Antioxidants help prevent free radicals from damaging our cells. This is necessary to prevent disease, as well as to stay youthful. The ORAC value refers to thein vitro antioxidant capacity of a certain food. (1) (2)
Matcha green tea powder has an incredibly high ORAC value at 1,384 per gram. As you use approximately one gram per cup, this is how much you get when drinking a cup of matcha!
The antioxidant most notably found in matcha is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) — yes, the name is a handful and usually just referred to as green tea catechins. All you really need to remember is that matcha comes with a lot of antioxidants! In fact, the concentration of EGCG available from drinking matcha is much greater than otherJapanese green teas. You consume the entire leaf when you drink matcha, unlike steeped green tea where you discard the tea leaves and just drink the water, ensuring more antioxidants are consumed (3)
Is there proof that the antioxidants in matcha actually make a difference in the body? Well, studies have found that consuming matcha can lower antioxidant stress in rats. They also have various other health benefits, as discussed below. (4)
The bottom line? Matcha has one of the highest ORAC values of any plant out there.
2. May Help Protect Against Bad Cholesterol
Matcha tea powder may be able to help increase your levels of high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-Cholesterol), while decreasing your levels of low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-Cholesterol). In other words, matcha might help increase the levels of good cholesterol and decrease the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood. (4)
Admittedly these results were found when testing it on rats, but matcha powder has had similar effects on both mice and men in other studies.
3. Might Help Lower the Glucose Level in Your Blood
Blood glucose has been linked to diabetes, so you want to keep your levels down. An aide in doing so, might be consuming green tea powder. Different studies on rats found it significantly lowered blood sugar levels. (4) (5)
4. May Help Reduce Stress
One study carried out on both mice and people found that: “High contents of theanine and arginine in matcha [exhibit] a high stress-reducing effect.” In plain language: the two amino acids found in matcha have a stress reducing effect. (6)
5. Matcha Is Probably Good for Your Liver
If you are suffering from a non-alcoholic fatty liver, or want to prevent getting one, matcha green tea could be your new best friend! A study showed that it can help reduce liver enzymes. A high level of liver enzymes is a sign something is wrong, so this is very good indeed! (7)
Another study that compared 15 studies done on green tea and various liver diseases, found that the occurrence of liver disease was generally lowered by drinking green tea. So, in other words, drinking matcha appears to protect your liver in more ways than one! (8)
Yet another study found that matcha can help protect the liver in patients — or this case, rats — with diabetes. (5)
6. Will Give Your Brain a Boost and Help You Stay Alert
Coffee has been known to be a student, or shift worker’s best buddy because of its caffeine content, However, a cup of java leaves many people feeling jittery side effects once the high is over, followed by a sharp crash. (9) (10)
A gram of good qualityJapanese matcha contains about the same as half a cup of coffee, but it also contains L-theanine, a rare amino acid which helps prevent you from crashing after a caffeine high. It also promotes relaxation, as well as alertness. This is the reason matcha has often been used for meditation — you want to remain alert, but also relaxed. Or as one study put it: “L-theanine significantly increases activity of alpha waves which indicates that it relaxes the mind without inducing drowsiness.” (11) (12)
The fact that matcha green tea makes you feel relaxed, at the same time as it improves your alertness, is one of the main reason it’s become so popular in the Western world. People who want to avoid the jitters they get from coffee, as well as the caffeine crash, but still want to feel energised and alert, often switch to drinking matcha.
7. Help Cognitive Functioning
If you’re worried about what will happen to your brain function as you age, you will want to consider drinking matcha. Matcha might help improve cognitive functioning in the elderly (or prevent cognitive dysfunction). This might also be because caffeine consumption, in general, improves cognitive performance. (13) (14)
Various studies have found that EGCG found in green tea may help inhibit cancer cells, as well as reduce the size of tumours. While these potential health effects of EGCG from green tea are promising, a lot of these findings have been fromin vitro' and animal studies with a more recent 2020 systematic reviewconcluding there was 'limited evidence for the beneficial effect of green tea consumption on the overall risk of cancer'. It’s also important to note that some of the studies used extracts from green tea (in high concentration), as opposed to just drinking a cup of green tea. (15) (16) (17) (18) (19)
The active compound that helps prevent and inhibit cancer, appears to be EGCG (a.k.a. the green tea catechins — the antioxidants). Interestingly, one study combined the EGCG with ascorbic acid (found, amongst other places, in lemon juice) with great effects. (19)
9. Heart Disease and Stroke
As mentioned earlier, green tea is good for cholesterol levels, which may translate into having benefits for heart health. Studies have also shown that it’s good for overall heart health and can, possibly also reduce stroke risk. However, studies have sometimes been contradictory where stroke is concerned. (20) (21)
10. Matcha and Weight Loss
Studies have shown that green tea extract can help you burn fat during exercise, increase overall energy expenditure and help withweight loss and maintenance. (22) (23) (24)
A2008 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also found that green tea extract caused an increase in energy expenditure, and increased metabolism rate (fat burning).
So what does that mean? While drinking matcha tea alone won’t make you lose weight, when combined with a good exercise program it can help you lose weight. Also, if you are counting calories, a cup of regular matcha tea has almost zero calories, unlike a cappuccino or sugary frappuccino.
11. Matcha and Improved Sleep Quality
In one experiment, boys with ADHD were givenL-theanine twice daily. This led to improved sleep quality compared to a placebo. For those who suffer from sleep problems, but love caffeine hits, matcha may be the perfect coffee replacement! (25)
12. Green Tea Appears to Lower Blood Pressure
An analysis of 25 different studies, found that the consumption of green tea can lead to reduced blood pressure. This is great news for anyone suffering from hypertension. (26)
13. Improves Oral Health
If you fear having bad breath on a date, try drinking a cup of matcha tea. The polyphenols in tea help killing off bad smelling bacteria and green tea also appears to have a deodorizing effect. The effect is immediate, but does not last for longer periods of time, so sipping a cup of tea just before a kiss, is a great idea! (27)
As green tea helps inhibit bacteria, it also seems able to help prevent cavities. In fact, toothpaste companies have started catching up on this! Expect to find lots of very green toothpastes with matcha powder in them soon… (28)
14. Improved Skin Health
Green tea has shown promise, both when it comes to preventing skin cancer and preventing and treating acne. It can also help reduce oil production. Thanks to the many antioxidants and polyphenol found in matcha, both drinking it and applying it directly on the skin may help improve skin health. (29) (30)
As will be discussed a bit further down in this article, matcha also had anti-inflammatory properties. As acne is an inflammation, green tea could possibly help because of this as well.
That means that next time you’re making a face mask, you should consider adding some matcha powder!
16. Matcha and Your Immune System
When talking about the health benefits of matcha tea, many people refer to an improved immune system. This is because matcha contains EGCG, which has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. This means that it might help prevent fungal infections, like candida, viral infections, like herpes, hepatitis and influenza, and bacterial infections, such as staph infections. (31)
17. Anti-inflammatory Properties
Matcha powder has shown potential as an anti-inflammatory thanks to the EGCG, as well as the green tea polyphenols you find in it. Studies have been done with great results with inflammation related to arthritis and pulmonary fibrosis. As chronic inflammation has been linked to diseases such as cancer and heart disease, eating foods that help fight inflammation is important for your health. By eating an anti-inflammatory diet, you can help prevent inflammation in the body. (32) (33)
18. Anxiety & Depression
As mentioned earlier in this article, matcha green tea has shown great potential for both promoting relaxation and mental alertness. It has also been proven beneficial for sleep. This is further backed by studies showing people suffering anxiety, depression and/or schizophrenia have some relief from their symptoms when taking L-theanine, which is naturally occurring in matcha powder. (34) (35)
19. A Natural Detoxifier
Matcha leaves are shaded during production, and this boosts levels of chlorophyll inside the tea leaves.
Chlorophyll is known for its powerful detoxifying properties which are said to naturally eliminate chemicals and heavy metals from the body. (36)
How to prepare matcha?
Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of matcha tea is how easy it is to prepare. Many of us make lifestyle decisions based on how convenient they are to incorporate into our lives, especially when we’re busy with work and other obligations.
Most tea involves leaves steeped in hot water, which then get removed when it’s ready to drink. The leaves aren’t typically consumed. Matcha is different because it involves powdered leaves mixed into water, so you’re drinking the leaves themselves.
Let’s go into more detail about the process of making matcha tea.
- Sift 1/2 a tsp (1-2g) matcha powder into a chawan bowl. Add 50 ml of hot water @ 80c (use a Tea Kettle for best results).
- Whisk until it becomes paste-like. To get the best results, you can use a traditional bamboo matcha whisk called a chasen. If you prefer a more modern touch, you can use an electric whisk too.
- When it is combined into a thick paste, add more water (100-150ml) to taste.
- For a matcha latte, add milk and sweetener at step 3 instead of water
Matcha Tea Nutrients
We threw around some technical terms in that last section, which may be intimidating for most people who aren’t biology or chemistry enthusiasts. Here we’re breaking down the best nutrients in matcha, in plain English, so you can appreciate how important they are and why they’re a beneficial addition to your diet.
Catechins are a type of flavonoid, which are just chemicals found in plants that protect them from damage and other environmental factors. They’re plentiful in three types of food – chocolate, wine, and tea. When ingested by people, they function as an antioxidant.
Drinking green and matcha tea are one of the best ways to get catechins, specifically that epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) we’ve mentioned throughout this guide. When ingested as part of a balanced diet, EGCG has been found to reduce inflammation, fight weight loss, and improve the health of your brain and heart. While more research is needed and you shouldn’t rely on catechins to turn your bodily health around, they’re yet another great supplement you’ll find inside your morning matcha tea.
Another substance we’ve mentioned a lot is L-theanine, often just called Theanine (a D-theanine exists but has been studied much, much less than L-theanine). Theanine was also discovered from green tea in the 1940s after being isolated from Japanese gyokuro leaves. It’s the theanine content in matcha tea that provides its brothy, umami taste.
L-theanine compounds take the shape of and function as amino acids, but what does that mean? You may have learned in school that amino acids are the building blocks of life because they are molecules that combine into proteins, which are essential for the growth of muscle, skin, bone, and even hair.
Since amino acids are so important for growth, maybe it makes sense now that tea plants are shaded before they turn into matcha. This stunts growth and causes L-theanine to build up in the leaves, making the matcha tea more powerful and packing it with more nutrients, more than any other type of tea.
Small Amount Of Protein
Along with its amino acid content, you can also find protein in the matcha tea itself. It’s only there in small amounts, and the catechins and flavonoids present in the tea inhibit the intake of other protein sources, but it is there.
While you can get some protein from matcha, you don’t want to drink too much matcha tea if you’re trying to max your protein for muscle-building and other physical activities. You may be able to get matcha products that have been treated, like matcha protein shakes, which have a higher protein content and still taste like matcha. Matcha tea, however, isn’t great as a source of protein or as a pre-workout supplement.
Most teas have caffeine in them because Camellia sinensis is a naturally occurring source of the stimulant. Of all the different types of tea out there, green tea is the most powerful in terms of both caffeine and the other beneficial substances we’ve discussed here. As the most powerful form of green tea, matcha tea is the best and most efficient way to get those nutrients.
The caffeine found in tea leaves is different from the caffeine found in coffee beans due to other chemicals involved and how they are prepared.
We have more information on the caffeine content in matcha below, where we compare matcha tea to coffee. There we go into more detail about the other chemicals in matcha and how they affect caffeine once it’s in your system.
Compared To Regular Green Tea
Compared to other Japanese green teas like gyokuro, or sencha, matcha typically has higher levels of nutrients, amino acids, catechins, and chlorophyll. Due to the shading, and the way it's consumed.
This is because when you consume matcha you ingest the entire tea leaf, compared to green tea where the leaves are discarded, so you’re not consuming all the leaves’ active nutrients. That doesn’t mean eating green tea leaves will give you the same effect either, as the leaves are different. The shading process we’ve talked so much about fundamentally changes the nutritional profile of the leaves used in matcha, making them more powerful.
If you want a weaker form of matcha tea, green tea is the obvious answer, and many keep both in the home so they can enjoy the same tastes and nutrients in a thinner drink. Naturally, if you can’t get enough green tea, matcha tea is more of what you love. For habitual green tea drinkers, matcha tea can be more potent and intense in its taste, and it has a much different texture that may put some off.
What Does Matcha Taste Like?
Once again, having tried green tea will put you at an advantage here. It tastes like green tea but is more potent and textured. Here are some words that come to mind when thinking about the taste of matcha.
- Slight bitterness
- Slight sweetness
Those words paint the picture of an uplifting, broth-like mixture of leaf powder and water. While the bitterness and sweetness may seem contradictory, the sweetness hits first at the front of your mouth and on your tongue, whereas the aftertaste is a little more bitter and toward the back of the mouth.
Describing taste is tricky. If you have no references for the kind of tastes described above, you won’t be able to piece together and imagine what it’s like. In those cases, the best thing you can do is try it!
Compared To Coffee
What’s important to know is that the caffeine found in matcha is different from the caffeine you’ll find in your morning coffee. The average coffee has 100 milligrams of caffeine while just one teaspoon of matcha tea has up to 70 milligrams, though these numbers change depending on the strength and quantity of the coffee and matcha being used.
Drinking coffee is known to give you a burst of energy that then fades away over time, leaving drowsiness in some people. This can encourage chain-drinking coffee, which can be unhealthy. Matcha tea is different because the energy boost lasts longer and doesn’t crash suddenly, like what happens with coffee, so you get a sustained energy burst that can help you feel more energized and productive.
This is because of our old friend L-theanine which limits the energizing effect of caffeine, meaning it takes longer to activate and you reap its benefits for longer. L-theanine itself is also calming, so it can take the edge off of caffeine highs and stop overstimulation. Then, when the caffeine wears off, the drop in energy isn’t as sudden. This stops you from becoming drowsy and sleepy, so you won’t drink more caffeine than you need to.
With that, you should know everything to know about matcha and matcha tea. We’ve used specific terminology where needed but tried to keep it understandable for the average person, so you don’t need to pick up a chemistry textbook to know why matcha tastes good!
Having covered what it is, why it’s healthy, and the substances involved that make it healthy, you should have an idea of how it can fit into your diet and help you live a healthier and happier life. We’ve even compared it to green tea and coffee, for those who are considering replacing their usual drink with matcha tea instead.
Next time you need a burst of energy or need a little something to supplement a healthy lifestyle, consider reaching for matcha tea instead of some of the alternatives.
Matcha tea shows a lot of promise where health benefits are concerned. It’s a great addition to a healthy and varied diet. As it can be used both in drinks and treats, it’s an easy addition, especially as making a cup of matcha is super simple quick. And the amount of antioxidants you get in a single one gram serving is incredible!
Some of the studies cited have used green tea, as opposed to matcha tea, but as green tea comes from the same plant, it should have similar health benefits. What’s important to note with studies related to disease, is that a lot of them are done on animals, or in test tubes, and often using extracts from matcha/green tea, which is not the same as drinking a cup of tea. Studies on cognitive functioning, improved alertness, etc. on the other hand, are usually done with participants drinking green tea.