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In January 2015, we wrote about the rapid rise of matcha on the American beverage landscape and posed the question, “Have we reached maximum matcha saturation?” Three years later, we're living amid matcha croissants, matcha custard pie, matcha face masks, matcha lifestyle guides and $50 cups of matcha itself. Clearly, the answer was "No." But what is this powder we're whisking into green lattes, baking into doughnuts, blending into smoothies, and adding to our fish fillets?
Since green tea is less oxidized than its black tea cousin, it is technically fresher and more delicate, so it should be consumed more quickly for maximum flavor. Green tea is best consumed within six months to a year of purchase. You should also take care to store your green tea in a cool, dark place, away from light, oxygen, moisture and fragrant pantry companions like coffee or spices.
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.
Green tea, however, is considered to have originated in China. It is said that even today the word “tea” in China refers only to green tea, not to the general category of tea as it does in the West. China’s Yunnan province is considered to be the original home of the Camellia sinensis plant species. In fact, 260 of the world’s 380+ varieties of tea can be found in Yunnan.
Over a thousand years ago, matcha came to Japan as an aid to meditation practice. During long hours of sitting, monks would drink matcha to remain alert yet calm. Modern science has recently confirmed the lessons of centuries of tradition. Matcha is rich in L-Theanine, a rare amino acid that actually promotes a state of relaxation and well-being by acting upon the brains functioning. While stress can induce beta waves an excited, more agitated state, L-Theanine creates alpha waves, which lead to a state of relaxed alertness. And while L-Theanine is common in all tea, matcha may contain up to five times more of this amino acid than common black and green teas.
Caffeine: Everyone knows that caffeine is an external stimulant and raises blood pressure, and is actually toxic in nature (it may be fatal for some animals). Caffeine is also addictive and can have adverse effects on the liver and internal organs over the course of many years. That being said, it is the component of tea which makes it energizing and refreshing, which is why people are willing to risk it.
The important thing to note here is that what we refer to as red tea in our shop and what is called red tea in China would be referred to as black tea in most other countries. The distinction in color depends on whether you are talking about the color of the leaves or the color of the brew. The color of the brew is typically a beautiful amber, red color thus leading to the name “red tea”. The color of the leaves though are typically dark black, thus leading to the name “black tea”. Thus the terms can be used interchangeably. Red tea is oxidized/fermented for about 6-10 hours until the leaves turn an amber/black color and then they are dried to stop the oxidation process.
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.