One of the key components in Matcha is the amino acid L-theanine, which is found almost exclusively in shade-grown green teas like Matcha. When L-theanine is combined with the natural caffeine in tea, it metabolizes more slowly, releasing the caffeine over a longer period of time and providing a stable three to six hour long energy boost (versus coffee caffeine at an hour to an hour and a half).
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.
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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.
Rooibos is sometimes used as substitute for milk with colicky babies, says Alvaro Viljoen, PhD, of the department of pharmacy at the University of the Witwatersrand. And the health benefits of Rooibos are bound to make it a favorite, he says: rich in antioxidants, rich in vitamin C, caffeine-free, and low in tannins, the residue in teas that can sometimes cause digestive problems.
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).
Tea culture of Korea was actively suppressed by the Japanese during the Japanese forced occupation period (1910‒1945), and the subsequent Korean War (1950‒1953) made it even harder for the Korean tea tradition to survive. The restoration of the Korean way of tea began in the 1970s, around Dasolsa. Commercial production of green tea in South Korea only began in the 1970s,. By 2012 the industry was producing 20% as much tea as Taiwan and 3.5% as much as Japan. Green tea is not as popular as coffee or other types of Korean teas in modern South Korea. The annual consumption per capita of green tea in South Korea in 2016 was 0.16 kg (0.35 lb), compared to 3.9 kg (8.6 lb) coffee. Recently however, as the coffee market reached saturation point, South Korean tea production doubled during 2010‒2014, as did tea imports during 2009-2015, despite very high tariff rate (513.6% for green tea, compared to 40% for black tea, 8% for processed/roasted coffee, and 2% for raw coffee beans).