In 1772, Swedish naturalist Carl Thunberg noted, "the country people made tea" from a plant related to rooibos or redbush. Traditionally, the local people would climb the mountains and cut the fine, needle-like leaves from wild rooibos plants. They then rolled the bunches of leaves into hessian bags and brought them down the steep slopes using donkeys. The leaves were then chopped with axes and bruised with hammers, before being left to dry in the sun.
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?
Unbeknownst to many, green tea actually comes from the same plant from where normal tea is obtained. Scientifically, it is known as Camellia sinensis. In fact, it is the same tea but it is processed differently. The normal black tea is obtained by fermenting the tea leaves. This fermentation changes its color and flavor while raising the level of caffeine and tannin in it. On the other hand, in the case of green tea, the tea leaves are dried or slightly steamed but not fermented. This is what makes it look green when it’s brewed.
Short-term studies have shown that drinking tea may improve vascular reactivity—a measure of how well your blood vessels respond to physical or emotional stress. There's also evidence that drinking either black or green tea may lower harmful LDL cholesterol levels. Blood pressure may also dip slightly in people who drink tea, but results from these studies have been mixed.
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.
Green tea is the best cure for particularly savage hangovers and fatigue caused by the consumption of alcoholic beverages and lack of sleep. Start your hangover with a large cup of green tea with lemon, and the hangover will quickly fade to a bad memory. Green tea with lemon juice is a very good and popular remedy to eliminate the exhausting effects of alcohol almost instantly.
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.
Because matcha is made from high-quality tea, and the whole leaves are ingested, it’s a more potent source of nutrients than steeped green tea. In addition to providing small amounts of vitamins and minerals, matcha is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, which have been tied to protection against heart disease and cancer, as well as better blood sugar regulation, blood pressure reduction, and anti-aging. Another polyphenol in matcha called EGCG has been shown in research to boost metabolism, and slow or halt the growth of cancer cells.
In 1994, Burke International registered the name "Rooibos" with the US Patent and Trademark Office, thus establishing a monopoly on the name in the United States at a time when it was virtually unknown there. When the plant later entered more widespread use, Burke demanded that companies either pay fees for use of the name, or cease its use. In 2005, the American Herbal Products Association and a number of import companies succeeded in defeating the trademark through petitions and lawsuits; after losing one of the cases, Burke surrendered the name to the public domain.