Move over white, green, oolong and black—there’s a new tea in town. From chic cafes to backstage at Fashion Week, matcha is quickly becoming a hot trend. What is it, and why is it suddenly such a popular alternative to coffee and conventional teas?
With traditionally brewed tea, hot water is poured, or “steeped,” over tea leaves to infuse the flavor into the liquid. With matcha, the leaves are steamed, stemmed and de-vined, then ground into a bright green powder and mixed with water.
“Because you are ingesting the actual leaf, you are getting a more concentrated delivery of flavor, compounds and caffeine,” Angela Pryce, a tea expert and consultant based in southern England, notes.
Pryce says that matcha is harvested differently, too: the tea bushes are grown under shade, which packs the leaves with higher levels of chlorophyll and amino acids, resulting in the vibrant green coloring.
The History of Matcha
Matcha may be a novelty to modern tea drinkers, but it is far from new. Chinese monks were enjoying the tea as far back as the eighth century, relying on its caffeine content to stay serene and alert during extended periods of meditation.
In the late 1180s, a Japanese Buddhist monk named Eisai Myoan discovered the tea while visiting China. Back in Japan, Eisai spread the matcha word far and wide. From the 14th to 16th centuries, matcha was popular among affluent circles, becoming synonymous with wealth and prestige. Matcha was prepared and served in special tea ceremonies, called chanoyu. These elegant, choreographed rituals became ingrained in Japanese culture.
Matcha is relatively new to the western tea world, where demand is typically highest for black tea, although green tea and herbal infusions are rising in popularity. “There is a growing interest in provenance,” Pryce says. “Consumers are interested in exploring regional flavors and want to know where their food and drink comes from.”
Brewing for Better Health
Matcha has more than just a pretty color and a sweet taste. Its health benefits are a big factor in its growing popularity. “Consumers are interested in health, and are looking for products that can deliver health benefits,” Pryce says.
According to a report from ConsumerLab.com, the tea contains two to three times more of a beneficial antioxidant called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). And it leaves other superfoods in the dust, boasting up to 60 times more antioxidants than spinach and 17 times more than wild blueberries.
Some claim that EGCG, the super-antioxidant found in matcha, has been shown to prevent or lessen the severity of several types of cancers. Matcha is also rich in dietary fiber, which helps to regulate digestion and balance blood sugar levels.