By now, anyone who has ever set foot in a health food store, read a fitness magazine, or scrolled through their Facebook feed has heard of the wonders of drinking various blends of tea. But it turns out that not all tea is created equally, and the benefits of drinking your standard steeped white or green tea blends pale in comparison to those found in matcha green tea.
But wait, what’s the difference between matcha green tea and the teabags you’ve been getting at the supermarket? Is there any difference, aside from the price tag? If they both qualify as green tea, why should you pay more?
The big difference between matcha green tea and the steeped green tea many people drink is in the preparation. Most of us green tea junkies get our fix by dropping teabags containing tea leaves into hot water and letting them steep for a few minutes. The hot water leeches some of the antioxidants, phytochemicals and other health-boosting properties out of the leaves, and when it’s as strong as we want it, we throw the rest of the leaves away.
Matcha takes green tea to the next level. In matcha preparation, the entire tea leaf is ground up into a very fine powder, then mixed into hot water. So, when you drink matcha, you are consuming the entire tea leaf—not just the chemicals that hot water can pull out of the leaves in the 3-5 minutes you let it brew.
Human cultivation and consumption of green tea probably started between the 7th and 10th centuries, during the Chinese Tang dynasty. In the beginning, the leaves were roasted and ground up before being steeped in hot water. The resulting tea was then flavored with salt.
The practice of stirring the powdered tea leaves into hot water didn’t become popular until the late 12th century, when Zen Buddhists began working it into their ritual practices. They cultivated the green tea plants in very specific conditions designed to heighten its perceived therapeutic and spiritual effects. What were these ‘specific conditions?’ The tea plants were (and still are) grown in the shade, which slowed plant growth and increased the chlorophyll content of the leaves. This increased chlorophyll content is thought to be partially responsible for the increased health benefits of matcha green tea.
The resulting tea was said to provide enhanced clarity and focused, sustained energy, and an overall sense of peace and well-being. This is the beverage that eventually became known as matcha green tea. For a long time, matcha was a pricey beverage reserved mostly for samurai, religious leaders, royalty, and the wealthy. As time passed and cultivation technologies changed, matcha became more widely available for the common people, and it developed a foothold in Japan, where it is still widely consumed today.
In recent years, westerners have discovered the unique flavor and health-boosting properties of matcha green tea. Compared to many other popular beverages, it has a much higher concentration of antioxidants, lower levels of caffeine, and countless other benefits. And, since it’s sold as a powder, it’s remarkably easy to mix it into any food your heart desires—ranging from the almond milk you pour on your cereal to your favorite shortbread cookie recipe. People who love the taste of matcha tend to really love it.
But what are some of these miraculous health benefits of matcha? Take a gander at our list:
Health Benefits of Matcha Tea
1. Matcha is the king of antioxidants.
Since you’re ingesting the entire tea leaf when you drink a cup of matcha, you get a ton of the antioxidants that are left behind if you go with standard brewed tea. Matcha contains seventeen times as many antioxidants as blueberries and a whopping SIXTY TIMES the antioxidant content of spinach! This comes out to roughly ten times as many antioxidants as your typical cup of brewed tea.
That’s right: in order to get the antioxidants found in one cup of matcha, you would have to drink ten cups of lesser tea blends. That’s a lot of bathroom breaks.
2. Matcha reduces stress and provides a sense of calmness and well-being.
People who love coffee or black tea will sing their favorite beverage’s praises all day long, but they will also be the first to tell you that it isn’t great for coping with stressful situations, anxiety, or anger. While coffee and black teas sometimes have the effect of heightening anxiety and stress (or giving you a bad case of the jitters), matcha relaxes the body and soothes the mind. This is why it was the chosen beverage of Zen Buddhist monks for so long—have you ever tried meditating when you’re jacked up on espresso?
So, why is matcha so good at creating a Zen-like sense of peace? It contains a rare amino acid called L-theanine, which triggers processes in the brain similar to those encouraged by yoga practices. The result: a break from all the mental noise, a relaxed body, and a sense of clarity… without busting out the yoga mat!
3. Matcha might help fight Type II Diabetes—and its negative effects.
Matcha green tea, with its high levels of phytochemicals and antioxidants, might be an excellent beverage for people struggling with insulin resistance or diabetes. Its diabetes-battling effects are partly the result of its helpful effect on body composition. Matcha has a strong correlation with a lower risk of obesity and less belly fat, which means that it also lowers your risk of developing diabetes.
One study showed that people who consumed at least two cups of green tea every day had a lower risk of diabetes. This is purely conjecture, but: since matcha is far more potent than its steeped cousin, it might take less tea to get the same effect.
Several large studies have come up with the same results: there is a pretty strong correlation between matcha consumption and a decreased risk of insulin resistance, diabetes, hyperinsulinemia (or, in English: too much insulin in your blood), and obesity, which are all related. One theory is that a chemical found in green tea, EGCG, may serve as a ‘mock’ insulin, which can be a huge help to people who are diabetic or insulin resistance. Minimizing the effects of insulin resistance also makes it easier to lose weight, which further improves the insulin resistance, which encourages more weight loss… and so on into infinity.
4. Matcha might help with weight loss and reduce your risk of obesity.
A handful of studies have shown that people who drink matcha lose more weight than those who drink a placebo beverage. But, even more importantly than simple weight loss, subjects who consumed green tea also demonstrated more dramatic improvements in body composition—that is, the amount of muscle and fat that make up the body. Compared to the placebo, green tea consumption resulted in a far greater decrease in abdominal fat. This is especially important, because abdominal fat is the type of body fat most linked to metabolic disorders and heart disease.
In another study done on mice, those who were given EGCG from green tea gained significantly less body fat than mice who weren’t enjoying their green tea. And get this: they were eating the same thing! This shows that the difference in weight gain wasn’t a result of energy intake, but in how much of that energy was stored as body fat.
Why does matcha have such a strong protective effect against obesity? One thought is that green tea suppresses the enzymes your body uses when storing fat. Combine this with the appetite-suppressant effects and you have a wonderful, natural, healthy weight loss aid.
5. It provides a boost of energy and focus.
Matcha, like coffee and black tea, contains a fair amount of caffeine. As we know, caffeine provides a sense of alertness, energy and focus. But as previously mentioned, matcha also has another trick up its sleeve: L-Theanine. In addition to providing a sense of calm, this amino acid encourages the brain to produce more serotonin and dopamine, which both improve working memory, energy levels, mood, and overall focus.
6. It may improve performance in endurance activities.
Matcha’s caffeine content gives it a head start in the pre-workout supplement department, but it also has the perfect balance of phytochemicals to help you run, bike, hike, or walk farther and more comfortably. In addition, since it encourages the body to burn fat, matcha may help ward off “The Wall”, which plagues endurance athletes who run out of glycogen stores after mile 10. This means that matcha can help you push a little farther without the crash that might result from caffeine pills or too much espresso.
7. It wards off cardiovascular problems.
Several studies have shown that matcha lowers your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and even high cholesterol. Men who drink matcha regularly experience an 11% decrease in heart disease risk.
8. It contains fiber.
When you drink matcha, you get the whole tea leaf—that means you’re taking in fiber, which lowers the incidence of cardiovascular problems, digestive issues, some cancers, and even diseases like dementia and depression!