An introduction to matcha

February 11 2015

It's a bright green drink that's been gaining popularity for some time now, especially among those looking to enjoy a more healthy lifestyle - but what is matcha and should you be adding it to your menu?

What is it?

Simply put, matcha is a powdered form of green tea. But, unlike its bagged and brewed counterpart, matcha packs a big punch in terms of flavour and antioxidants.

Kristin Kirkpatrick, manager of wellness nutrition services at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, explains that before the tea leaves are picked, they're shaded from the sun for two weeks, which increases the chlorophyll production.

"That means that when you drink Matcha, you are literally drinking the tea leaves and all the healthy chlorophyll contained in it, as opposed to sipping water that is brewed (and diluted) from a green tea bag or strainer," she says in an article for the Huffington Post.

Where does it come from?

Matcha is a traditional Japanese drink and it has been consumed there for centuries. Buddhist monks drink it to help them stay alert and focussed during meditation and there are specific ceremonies for preparing, serving and drinking the beverage.

Until fairly recently, matcha was virtually unknown outside of Japan - but it began to grow in popularity among students, and it has branched out significantly from there. These days, matcha tea lattes are a popular option at Starbucks outlets in Japan and consumers in North America are beginning to call for it on this side of the Pacific too.

Claimed health benefits

In 2009, a study published in the Journal of Medicinal food found that consuming matcha slowed down the progression of kidney and liver damage in diabetic rats. Although the health benefits of matcha have not been thoroughly studied, green tea has been much more widely researched and it has been found to be rich in antioxidants, as well as B vitamins, folate, manganese, potassium, magnesium and caffeine.

Actual health claims for green tea are debated, however. The British National Health Service (NHS) notes that the drink has been touted as being beneficial for weight loss, and protecting against cancer and Alzheimer's. However, there is little to no scientific evidence for most of these claims.

The NHS does note that some studies have found that tea could be beneficial for cardiovascular health, as it may lead to a small reduction in cholesterol - but the health service says its not clear how much green tea would need to be consumed to have a positive effect on health, or what the long-term effects of green tea would be.

In short, dietician Alison Hornby says that evidence about green tea's health benefits are inconclusive.

"In the Far East, green tea has been used as a treatment for a variety of conditions ranging from arthritis to weight loss, as well as a preventative measure for diseases such as cancer, although the evidence for the majority of these conditions is weak or lacking," she explains, adding that, as a social drink, it appears to be safe in moderate amounts.

How to prepare it

Matcha is provided as a loose powder, and should be prepared carefully to avoid lumps. Traditionally, the powder is blended with hot water using a bamboo whisk - and it is mixed until frothy on top. However, it can be used in a wide range of other beverages and can also lend its vibrant colour and unique flavour to food items too.

  • Matcha lattes - similar to a standard cup of matcha, but with the addition of steamed milk. 
  • Matcha smoothies - add matcha powder directly to fruit juice, yoghurt and smoothies for a nutritious drink or snack.
  • Matcha tiramisu - for a modern twist to this classic Italian dessert, mix matcha into the cream layers and create a sweet syrup from the powder to drizzle over the ladyfingers.
  • Matcha cake - incorporate matcha powder into your favourite cake recipe and layer with whipped fresh cream for a tasty and visually appealing dessert.