Make Me a Matcha
This green tea is becoming a popular pick-me-up for the hip, healthy set.
It’s all about the preparation process for some. For others, the bold, grassy hues are the attraction. One thing is sure: The powdered green tea known as matcha (rhymes with “gotcha”) has had a steep climb in popularity lately. The earthy beverage is actually a venerable one, with a role in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies that dates back centuries. But its new hip heyday seems to be today. Even avowed coffee snobs may be wooed by the health benefits and smooth buzz that matcha provides. Take the time to whisk yourself a bowl, and see if this verdant drink becomes your new go-to.
Most teas contain catechins, antioxidants that appear to protect against cancer by neutralizing highly reactive chemicals called free radicals. Catechins may also account for the heart-protective effect some research has found in green tea—and at least one study has shown that they can reduce body fat. Where does matcha fit into all this? Well, matcha’s catechin content is as much as three times that of other green teas. The beverage is also believed to aid cognitive function, especially in the elderly.
Did you know?
Caffeine intake from matcha is similar to that from coffee, but the release rate is slower. So it gives longer-lasting energy with less of a grump-inducing crash. Since matcha powder is made from grinding the whole tea leaf, you could technically call it a loose-leaf tea (no bags here), but it’s really in a category of its own. Shading the leaves during growth weeks concentrates the flavor and color of the leaves before the late spring harvest. A quick steam makes sure those qualities are locked in before the cooling and drying process. Finally, after the stems are separated, the leaves are ready to be ground into the recognizable powdered form. (One caution: lead. Green tea often contains lead, which is absorbed by the plant from the environment. When traditional green tea is brewed, the vast majority of the lead stays in the leaves, which are discarded. With matcha, the entire leaf is consumed, so you will ingest more lead. For this reason, an independent group called ConsumerLab.com recommends limiting matcha to one cup a day for adults only.)
There is a wealth of matcha producers and sellers out there and, as with any tea, discovery is part of the fun—keep trying new kinds until you find the one you like best. If you want to prepare matcha at home, the process is simple: Sift some powder into your tea bowl, pour less-than-boiling water over it, and use a wooden (usually bamboo) whisk to mix the tea to a froth. Once the container is opened, make sure to keep your tea stored airtight and in a cool place such as a pantry or refrigerator drawer.
Matcha also adds wonderful color and flavor to food items; green tea ice cream and baked goods are popular choices. Matcha pancakes, anyone?