Matcha is green tea that has been specially grown and processed. Twenty days before harvest, the leaves are shaded from direct sunlight, which amps up the chlorophyll levels (and accounts for that Kermit green color) and increases the production of the amino acid L-Theanine, which is thought to promote relaxation even as the tea gives you a caffeine jolt. The leaves are hand-picked and laid out to dry. Once they are rid of their veins and stems, they’re stone-ground into what is finally matcha.
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Cardiovascular diseases, which lump heart disease, stroke, and other diseases of the heart and blood vessels caused by atherosclerosis and hypertension (high blood pressure) into one category, are the most prevalent causes of death in the world. Studies show that green tea can improve some of the main risk factors for these diseases, which includes helping regulate total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. One method by which green tea might help: it significantly increases the antioxidant levels of your blood, protecting LDL cholesterol particles from oxidation—one of the causes of heart disease.
Green tea is a longtime treasure of China and Japan that is gaining popularity in America. It’s easy to understand why: the best green tea leaves are heated or steamed right after harvest, preserving their all-natural flavor and resulting in a nourishing beverage containing antioxidants. With about half the caffeine of black tea, you get the health benefits of green tea in every gentle cup. You can buy green teas in either loose-leaf or green tea bags.
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It depends not only on the processing method the tea producers use, but also on the cultivation practices the tea growers use. What time of year is the tea plucked? How is the plant pruned? What parts of the plant are plucked? Are the plants treated with chemicals or are they organically grown? What kind of heat is applied to the tea leaves to stop oxidation? How are the tea leaves shaped, rolled and dried? Are the leaves left whole or cut in smaller pieces?
Green Tea comes from Camellia sinensis leaves that are immediately steamed or pan-fired rather than being exposed to air so that no oxidation occurs. This special handling makes for a more delicate brew that is typically lower in caffeine than black and Oolong teas. Although amounts vary, green teas are highest in polyphenols known as EGCG, which is why so many make it part of their healthy lifestyle.
The polyphenols in green tea, which include multiple subcategories of polyphenols like flavonoids and catechins, can reduce the formation of free radicals in the body, protecting cells, molecules, and other structures from damage. One of the most active and powerful antioxidant polyphenols in green tea is epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). EGCG has been studied to treat a wide variety of diseases and may be one of the main reasons green tea has such powerful medicinal properties. Beyond EGCG, other polyphenol catechins in green tea include catechin, gallocatechin, epicatechin, epigallocatechin, and epicatechin gallate.
African red tea, more commonly called rooibos tea, comes from the South African red bush and is naturally caffeine-free. It can be in the form of either green or red rooibos tea -- but red tea, the fermented variety, is more common. Rooibos is naturally low in calories and is naturally sweet-tasting, making it an ideal replacement for a less healthy, high-sugar drink. Rooibos also has a number of health benefits, including helping you meet your weight-loss goals.
Unlike traditional green tea, matcha preparation involves covering the tea plants with shade cloths before they’re harvested. This triggers the growth of leaves with better flavor and texture, which are hand selected, steamed briefly to stop fermentation, then dried and aged in cold storage, which deepens the flavor. The dried leaves are then stone-ground into a fine powder.
On this episode of Consumed, host and Eater Drinks editor Kat Odell looks into the matcha production process — how it differs from that of more traditional steeped green tea, and how two of New York's noted matcha purveyors (Ippodo Tea Company and Matchabar) are working with the product today. Watch the video above for a lesson in powdered green tea; if your interest is piqued, check this map for the best places to drink matcha across the country, and these recipes for making iced matcha drinks at home, perfect for the summer.