In this traditional Japanese preparation, the powder is sifted through a fine mesh sieve and measured into a special bowl called a chawan. Hot water is added slowly while whisking briskly in a W pattern with a bamboo whisk called a chasen until smooth with a foamy froth on top. Matcha can have a slight astringent note and is usually served with a small sweet confection called a wagashi. Because of this complementary relationship with sweets and reputed green tea health benefits, it has become a favorite ingredient for chefs and confectioners.
A juniper berry is not a true berry, but is a seed cone with unusually fleshy and merged scales that give it a berry-like appearance. Used as a spice in European cuisine, juniper berry has been used in traditional herbal medicine to support kidney and urinary tract function, as well as to help maintain healthy blood pressure levels that are already within the normal range. The essential oil can be stimulating to the kidneys. The warming and bitter properties support digestion and can soothe intestinal gas. Juniper berry can also be warming for the joints.
Being a green tea, matcha does contain caffeine and in higher levels than other green teas. Because the entire leaf is used, matcha tea can contain nearly as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. However, caffeine release is believed to be slower because you are drinking the entire leaf. This slower release of caffeine reduces “caffeine jitters” that coffee or other teas can cause.
2. Lemon or ginger tea: This revitalizing tea is great for the morning because the light amount of caffeine will wake you up without wreaking havoc on your stomach. Plus, the health benefits of ginger include reducing inflammation and controlling blood sugar, so you can feel good drinking this soothing tea. (Twining’s Lemon & Ginger, $3; twiningsusa.com)
Stone ground: Instead of being rolled, shaped, and dried like traditional green tea leaves, the leaves destined for matcha are laid flat to dry and become tencha, the leaves from which matcha is made. The tencha leaves are then stripped of their stems and veins. The remaining leaf material is ground in slow-turning stone mills, yielding a smooth green tea powder.
Matcha is hot with chefs, not just as a beverage, but as an ingredient in both sweet and savory dishes. If you Google matcha recipes, you’ll find everything from matcha muffins, brownies and puddings, to matcha soup, stir frys, and even matcha guacamole! I love experimenting with it, and in a previous post I wrote about the potential weight loss benefits of umami foods (The Surprising Food Flavor That Can Help You Shed Pounds). But due to concerns about lead, I recommend avoiding “matcha madness.” Even with superfoods, you can get too much of a good thing (check out my article 4 Superfoods You Might Be Overeating). So look for pure, organic, quality matcha, and enjoy it in moderation.
Another benefit of green tea it’s is lower in caffeine than most other teas, so you may be able to drink the five cups a day that lowered psychological stress in a large group of Japanese people in a recent study done at Sendai’s Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine. The researchers didn’t identify any particular component of green tea that might have been soothing, but animal studies suggest that one compound, EGCC, had both sedative and hypnotic effects that tamp down the body’s production of stress chemicals.
Matcha tea rich in EGCG helps fight various bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. According to a research study, EGCG binds to the lipid membrane and exerts inhibitory action against the growth of various human pathogens. These include influenza A virus, hepatitis B, and C virus, herpes virus, adenovirus Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, and Candida albicans yeast.
Already nearly calorie free, matcha is a great addition to a weight loss program by tackling the problem from both sides. It boosts metabolism and burns fat. One recent study even suggested that matcha may help burn calories by four times. At the same time, matcha does not put any stress on the body. It doesn’t raise blood pressure or heart rate, making it a safe alternative to questionable quick fixes or pharmaceuticals ridden with side effects.
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.