Matcha (抹茶), or green tea powder, is an integral part of Japanese life. Matcha was first made in China sometime before the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The legend is that Shennong, the “inventor of Chinese medicine” (a figure who may or may not be a legend himself) discovered it while he was boiling water in the open when a strong gust of wind blew leaves into his kettle. During the Song Dynasty, powdered tea was beginning to emerge; this tea was dried in molds (to make them easy to store and transport) and baked to prevent any rotting from occurring. To brew the tea one would just break off a piece of the dried block and whisk the powder in a drinking bowl. Though the years, this way of brewing tea began to fade in China, but in the 8th century traveling Japanese Zen monks brought the tea blocks and seeds to Japan, where it was brewed and cultivated by the monks and eventually matcha was produced.
Matcha is powered green tea, but it holds even more health benefits than green leaf tea because, instead of just drinking the brewed water, the entire leaf is consumed. Matcha is billed as a detoxifying, fat burning super-food, but it is so much more than that. Matcha is actually packed full of antioxidants; using a testing method called “ORAC,” (Oxygen radical absorbance capacity) matcha has been found to contain 1,300 units per gram of antioxidants, compared to pomegranates at 105 units and blueberries at 91 units per gram. In this supercharged amount of antioxidants is a class called catechins, something found in very few other foods, which contains cancer-fighting properties and is part of what gives the tea it’s slightly bitter taste. These catechins scavenge through the body and help protect cells from damage caused by pollution, UV rays, radiation, and other chemicals. Drinking matcha daily can help build up the body’s ability to prevent cancer.
Matcha also has the ability to keep you awake and alert without the crash or unfocused nature that comes with drinks high in caffeine. This was the main use for matcha when the drink was first made; Zen Buddhism involved many long hours of meditation, and the Buddhist monks would drink matcha in order to keep themselves awake and alert during their meditative periods. Along with being an energy booster, matcha also contains L-Theanine, an amino acid that promotes relaxation in the mind. L-Theanine is in all teas, but matcha contains five times more than other black or even green teas. Matcha helps combat nervous, or jittery energies and doesn’t add to them like coffee would, which makes it a great option to drink before a big test or presentation!
Matcha is a great addition to any weight loss routine; not only is matcha, on it’s own, almost calorie free, it’s also a metabolism booster, which helps burn off fat and calories. Matcha doesn’t raise blood pressure or heart rate like a lot of pharmaceuticals that are supposed to burn calories, so it’s much safer to use when you’re planning on exercising, too. A study by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discovered that fat was burned 17% faster during moderate exercise after drinking green tea.
Matcha is harvested in spring, but farmers start preparing it for harvest several weeks prior by covering it with a tarp or with bamboo mats to reduce the amount of sunlight that the plants receive. This process of covering the plants turns the leaves dark green because of increased chlorophyll, which helps matcha earn its recognizable dark green color. When harvesting comes, the leaves are steamed and dried, then sorted, de-stemmed, de-veined, and then ground to become matcha powder.
Matcha can be brewed the traditional way, using a tea bowl and whisk, or it can be made just using a cup, spoon, and hot water for when you don’t want to spend too much time brewing it. A future blog entry will cover tea ceremony and the traditional brewing method. To brew it in a cup, all you need is to add some matcha powder and a small amount of hot water, then mix into a paste. After the paste is mixed, pour in more hot water (six ounces water for one tablespoon of matcha is a good measurement) and stir again. More matcha or water can be added to taste.
At Asahi you can find a variety of brands and grades of matcha. A culinary grade is also available which can be used as flavoring in anything from smoothies to cakes to pasta noodles! Many great recipes using matcha can be found here.
You aren’t, however, limited to just foods made on your own. There are a huge variety of candies, drinks, and other premade foods that are matcha flavored. Matcha flavored chocolate is a very popular sweet; you can get anything from matcha hard candies to the very popular matcha flavored Kit-Kat bars! Matcha flavored ice cream is also quite popular, it’s not as bitter as straight matcha is but not overly sweet like many ice creams can be, which makes it a great flavor for a wide variety of palates.
Matcha is a delicious and healthy item to add into your diet, and it can be worked into your life in so many ways, not only as a hot or cold drink but as a smoothie, noodles, cake, and so much more. The amount of ways to add matcha into your daily life is only limited by your imagination!