Matcha green tea is a high-grade, finely ground, concentrated green tea. It’s been traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies for hundreds of years and has recently gained notoriety for its high antioxidant content. When you drink matcha tea, you drink the actual tea leaves, which have been ground up. This allows you to obtain even more nutrients compared to drinking steeped green tea.
This ceremonial tea drinking was taken up with a fervor by Japan’s samurai class. The samurai were fearsome warriors yet cultured and high ranking members of Japanese caste society. The samurai identity was built on Zen Buddhism, practicing principles like discipline, ritual, and purification. It is said the samurai developed the Japanese tea ceremony into an art form and cultural tradition by adding hundreds of detailed steps to the practice, including specific hand movements, the proper design of the tea room, and instructions for how to sit and how to prepare and sip the tea. It is also said the tea ceremony was integral to samurai training, helping the warriors sharpen their focus, concentration, and patience in preparation for battle.
Zen Buddhism and the Chinese methods of preparing powdered tea were brought to Japan in 1191 by the monk Eisai. In Japan it became an important item at Zen monasteries and from the fourteenth through to the sixteenth centuries was highly appreciated by members of the upper echelons of society. Although powdered tea has not been popular in China for some time, there is now a global resurgence in the consumption of Matcha tea, including in China.
One of Japan’s own Zen priests studying in China’s Buddhist monasteries returned to Japan in the early 12th century with tea plant seeds and bushes. The young priest, called Eisai, used his experience in China growing and drinking “beaten tea” to popularize what he called “the way of tea” as a meditation ritual within his community of Japanese Buddhist monks. Eventually, he spread the tea drinking custom throughout the rest of Japan.
Usucha, or thin tea, is prepared with approximately 1.75 grams (amounting to 1.5 heaping chashaku scoop, or about half a teaspoon) of matcha and approximately 75 ml (2.5 oz) of hot water per serving, which can be whisked to produce froth or not, according to the drinker's preference (or to the traditions of the particular school of tea). Usucha creates a lighter and slightly more bitter tea.
The Japanese tea ceremony, still called The Way of Tea, is a revered practice in Japan and is centered around the art of preparing and presenting matcha in an almost meditative fashion. It was originally developed as a spiritual practice and the principals of the practice—harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility—are still central to tea ceremony today.
Both nutritionists we spoke to agree that drinking tea when you wake up and before bed can help your system rev up and calm down, depending on which variety you choose. If you’re a tea fanatic, work in a few cups throughout the day: Unless you’re sensitive to caffeine, you can probably handle five to seven cups a day without any negative side effects, says Lagano.
It’s become such a fashionable beverage that, last summer, the New York Post ran a story about how Victoria’s Secret models were flocking to Cha Cha Matcha, a hipster spot fluent in the preparation of various matcha-based miracle potions. A search for where to get “matcha” in New York, New York on Yelp yielded some 1400 plus results. Even mass market coffee purveyors like Starbucks have made matcha their mantra, with a vast range of offerings to cash in on the craze.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the polyphenols in tea have been shown to decrease tumor growth in both animal and laboratory studies. Researchers believe that it is the high level of polyphenols in tea that help kill cancerous cells and stop them from growing, although the exact mechanism by which tea inhibits and prevents cancerous cells is uncertain.
You can make African red tea much like other herbal teas, according to Teavana. Add a 1 1/2 teaspoons of loose African red tea to make an 8-ounce serving, using boiling water. Allow the tea to steep for roughly five to six minutes, longer if you wish for a stronger tasting tea. Letting the tea steep for longer will not cause the tea to become bitter. Indeed, traditionally, African red tea has been allowed to steep for several days. If you want to make chilled African red tea, you can place the hot tea in the fridge to let it cool. Alternatively, double the amount of tea used and then pour the hot tea over a glass filled with ice cubes.
Green tea is processed using either artisanal or modern methods. Sun-drying, basket or charcoal firing, or pan-firing are common artisanal methods. Oven-drying, tumbling, or steaming are common modern methods. Processed green teas, known as aracha, are stored under low humidity refrigeration in 30- or 60-kg paper bags at 0–5 °C (32–41 °F). This aracha has yet to be refined at this stage, with a final firing taking place before blending, selection and packaging take place. The leaves in this state will be re-fired throughout the year as they are needed, giving the green teas a longer shelf-life and better flavor. The first flush tea of May will readily store in this fashion until the next year's harvest. After this re-drying process, each crude tea will be sifted and graded according to size. Finally, each lot will be blended according to the blending order by the tasters and packed for sale.
Matcha, like other green teas, contains a class of antioxidants called catechins. Matcha is high in a catechin called EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), which is believed to have cancer-fighting effects on the body. Studies have linked green tea to a variety of health benefits, like helping to prevent heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer, and even encouraging weight loss. However, it’s important to note that much of this research isn’t from clinical trials that show green tea causes a benefit. Instead, it’s largely from population-based studies, where researchers look at groups of people who drink green tea and compare their health outcomes to groups that don’t drink it. Studies have shown associations between tea and better health, but causation is not yet proven. Matcha is even less studied than brewed green tea.
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.