Does Matcha Match Up to Other Tea?

At the time of this blog post, there are approximately 30 different teas in my kitchen. Green, black, Earl Grey, hibiscus, white, rooibos, orange and mango, Thai, blackberry, and many more. But despite the plethora of teas, I am in the market for some new tea, namely matcha, particularly to make a vanilla matcha smoothie. So what exactly makes matcha so special that I have to add it to my already exorbitant collection of teas?

To start with, unlike other teas, matcha has a smooth, almost creamy texture, as well as a sweet taste. This is due to how it’s made. Three to five weeks before harvesting, tea bushes are shaded to block sunlight, preventing photosynthesis, aka converting sunlight into energy, in the plant. This boosts levels of chlorophyll, a green pigment found in plants that helps with photosynthesis, and creates a deep green color in the leaf. Without the sunlight for energy, the tea uses the nutrients stored in its root, and the leaves grow wide, thin, and tender. The leaves are then picked and ground into a fine powder, which is whisked with warm (not hot) water, and drank.

Matcha is usually made in two forms: usucha and koicha. Usucha, which translates to “thin tea”, is the most common preparation, usually found in cafes and restaurants, and soon to be my kitchen. While koicha, called “thick tea,” is made with half the amount of water and twice the amount of tea, resulting in a paint-like consistency. Koicha is prepared at traditional Japanese tea ceremonies and is only made with the highest quality matcha.

So what exactly makes matcha so special? Well, some believe that, because the entire tea leaf is consumed, more antioxidants—specifically, catechin—are found in matcha tea compared to regular tea. Consuming antioxidants has been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia, and even cancer. The benefits of antioxidants aren’t being disputed, but the fact of the matter is that there haven’t been that many studies investigating the health benefits of matcha. The few studies out there only determine the amount of catechins in matcha compared to green tea, and there is no consensus between them. (Remember, the mark of a good, scientific study is duplication.)

The other supposed benefit of matcha, compared to regular tea, is its high L-theanine content. An amino acid similar in makeup to glutamate, L-theanine provides the savory, umami flavor in tea. There are claims that it can help treat anxiety, as well as high blood pressure, but there is no evidence to support these “miraculous” health benefits. In fact, The European Food Safety Authority has reviewed the scientific evidence surrounding the effects of L-theanine (from green tea) on cognitive function, alleviation of psychological stress and maintenance of normal sleep and found that there was no relationship between L-theanine and these health effects. 

If there’s one correct thing about matcha, it’s that it’s a source of caffeine. One of the most widely scrutinized components in food, studies on caffeine show that it can increase mental alertness, as well as improve athletic performance and endurance, delaying fatigue. So if you’re about to study for a test or stayed late at work, it’s the perfect pick-me-up to keep you focused. Just be careful and don’t overdo it; a healthy adult can consume between 300 to 400 mg of caffeine a day, so check the package to verify the amount.

So again, what exactly makes matcha so special? It tastes good and comes with some bonus health effects like antioxidants and can be a good option if you need quick dose of caffeine. Of course, that’s personal opinion, but the sweeter taste pairs perfectly with a vanilla smoothie, creamy ice cream, and even a fluffy donut.

While it’s impossible to replace any and all of my teas, it makes the perfect addition to a tea menagerie.

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