But matcha didn’t skyrocket to celeb status on health merits alone. As we said back in 2011, wheatgrass is healthy, too, but we’re not seeing it in every other bakery and café. Matcha has flavor going for it—grassy, pleasantly vegetal, and slightly bitter—and a brilliant natural color that makes baked goods (like rainbow cookies) stand out from the crowd in busy bakeries (and on Instagram).
Matcha leaves are grown on green tea bushes kept under shade. The shade increases the amount of chlorophyll content in the leaves, which is what makes them bright green and full of nutrients. The leaves are picked by hand and the stems and veins are removed. According to Cheadle, the leaves are traditionally ground by granite stones into a super fine powder. “It takes an hour to grind the leaves, and it’s done in the dark to protect the nutrients,” she says.
Shade grown: All matcha is made from shade-grown tea leaves—a labor-intensive process where tea bushes are protected from the sun and light is filtered to the bushes in a very controlled manor. Shading boosts the chlorophyll production in the plant, giving the leaves a rich green color. The lack of sun reduces the plant’s photosynthesis of the leaves, which in turn alters the naturally occurring levels of caffeine, flavanols, sugars, antioxidants, and theanine. By controlling the sun exposure, tea producers can significantly alter the chemical make-up and flavor of the final tea leaves.