5 Things Most People Don’t Know About Matcha
These days, matcha is everywhere—and the standard tea is just the beginning. There’s matcha crepes, muffins, lattes, fudge, ice pops, smoothies… you name it. And while the health benefits of this capital T-Trendy superfood are widely known (packed with antioxidants! A natural detoxifier! Boosts metabolism! Helps burn calories! Prevents cancer!), there’s much more to discover.
Here are three surprising facts about matcha that most people don’t realize.
1. Matcha’s nutritional value is a result of the way it’s harvested.
Farmers grow matcha leaves by covering their tea plants about 30 days prior to harvest. Protecting the plant from direct sunlight helps boost the chlorophyll (and amino acid) production, which is what gives matcha its dark green color (2). After harvesting, the stems and veins are removed before the leaves are briefly steamed to halt fermentation, dried, and then aged in cold storage to deepen the flavor. The final step occurs when the dried leaves are ground into a fine powder—in fact, matcha literally means “powdered tea.”(3)
As a result of this process, what you’re consuming when you drink (or eat) anything matcha is the entire tea leaf, which contains 137 times more catechins (aka natural antioxidants) than traditional green tea (4).
2. Matcha does contain caffeine, but it won’t affect you like other caffeinated beverages do.
The reason? Matcha contains a compound called L-theanine, which promotes alertness and prevents a drop in energy that oftentimes follows traditional coffee consumption (5).
In fact, in a 2017 study, matcha was found to enhance brain function after 23 study participants consumed one of four test products: matcha tea, matcha bar (containing 4g matcha tea powder), placebo tea, or placebo bar. The participants were assessed on the basis of attention, information processing, working memory, and episodic memory.
“After consuming the matcha products compared to placebo versions, there were mainly significant improvements in tasks measuring basic attention abilities and psychomotor speed in response to stimuli over a defined period of time,” writes researchers. “This study suggests that matcha tea consumed in a realistic dose can induce slight effects on speed of attention and episodic secondary memory to a low degree.” (6)
3. Although the popularity of matcha has skyrocketed in recent years, it’s nothing new.
The process of turning tea leaves into powder dates back to the Tang Dynasty in China, where it was the primary way to consume tea. By the 1100s, matcha made its way across the ocean from China to Japan along with a significant transfer of knowledge and culture. While it gradually lost its appeal in China, it flourished in Japan alongside Zen Buddhism. By the 1500s, matcha was firmly entrenched in formal Japanese tea ceremonies, which celebrated zen, stillness, and simplicity.
Matcha’s concentration and focus-boosting benefits outlined above are believed to have aided Japanese monks in their pursuit of a calm state of mind as they would sit, meditating for hours on end.
4. Matcha’s taste profile can be best described by the less-well-known fifth flavor: umami.
While most people are familiar with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty, the fifth taste: umami is actually the best word to describe matcha. Umami—which connotes a lingering savory, brothy, or meaty flavor—is derived from the presence of an amino acid known as glutamate in matcha, as well as in foods such as cured meats, shellfish, mushrooms, and seaweed.
5. Matcha is the only suspension tea in the world.
Because matcha exists in powdered form and is not soluble, it suspends in water. This is why it’s best to consume the drink immediately after the powder is whisked into the liquid, otherwise, it’ll settle at the bottom of the cup.Traditionally, a bamboo whisk (aka chasen) is used to prepare matcha—although today whisking the drink in a blender is equally as popular for the sake of speed and convenience. Keep in mind that, because you’re consuming the entire leaf, it will never 100% dissolve. There still may be some particles settling, but that’s okay!