|During the cold months of winter, it is a good idea to drink Matcha tea. Matcha’s properties help to boost your immune system — and ward off those nasty colds and flu that seem to appear along with the frigid weather. Here in the Western world, Matcha is gaining popularity for its health properties and cancer-prevention properties. It is the highest antioxidant beverage you can drink. Nothing else comes close.
The history behind Matcha
Matcha is a Japanese green tea and one of the oldest varieties. In fact, it has been part of the Buddhist culture for more than 800 years, having first arrived in Japan from China, where it was embraced for its medicinal qualities. Matcha is so revered, that it is an important part of the famous Japanese tea ceremony, and is taught around the world by the followers of Tea Master Sen-no Rikyu, who brought an unusual combination of poetry and philosophy to the art of tea. Many of these followers belong to the Urasenke school, which teaches the ceremony around the globe. The tea ceremony is known as the Chanoyu, which means “the way of tea.”
Sen-no Rikyu’s ritual of serving tea — which combines art, poetry and aesthetics — is elegant and serene. Many years of practice are required to master this tea ceremony ritual.
While the ceremony itself provides spiritual healing, Matcha offers a boost to the body and the mind.
The Japanese use two kinds of Matcha, one for everyday use and a very special grade for the Chanoyu ceremony.
Matcha is nothing like the new trendy beverages one finds in stores, with claims that they are made with rare and exotic fruits and have high levels of antioxidants. Thanks to marketing campaigns, many Westerners believe they are being introduced to something exotic, new, that will cure almost everything and offers the highest amount of antioxidants! Nothing could be further from the truth.
Matcha is made from the Camelia Sinensis plant. However, the differencethe between inferior Matcha sold in the supermarkets and superior Matcha, sold only at Tea pourveyors is in the process. True Matcha should be made with Camelia Sinensis leaves that have been shaded prior to harvest.
Both Gyokuro and Tencha tea start off the same way. The tea bushes are covered with a canvas or mesh, which creates shade. The bushes are shaded for three weeks before the first flush. The shade deprives the leaves of sun, which forces the plant to produce more chlorophyll. The high levels of chlorophyll are responsible for the high antioxidant levels. The photosynthesis produces a darker leaf, with less polyphenol contents, and higher contents of amino acids, specifically L-Theanine which gives a sweeter and milder taste.
After the three-week period, the shading is removed and the tea leaves are picked. The leaves picked will be processed two different ways. One will be processed to produce Gyokuro leaves and the other to produce Tencha leaves.
Gyokuro —Only used for steeping. Gyokuro is the champion of all green teas for its content of the highest level of antioxidants — the leaves are steamed and dried before being rolled into shape. Once the leaves are rolled, they are ready for steeping, as rolling out the tea leaves maximizes the flavour and aroma when steeped in hot water.
Tencha - Two additional steps are added to the Tencha leaves. The Tencha leaves are not rolled but left flat. This makes it easier to grind. The stems and veins are also removed — additional processes that not only create better health results but also give Matcha tea its sweet taste. Because the leaves are not rolled but kept flat, it is easier to grind the leaf, using a granite or stone mill to prevent oxidation, into a fine velvety powder.
Preparing Matcha tea
You don’t need a lot of powder to make Matcha tea —A traditional Bamboo scoop is used to extract a small amount of fine powder from its container. Two bamboo scoops equals ½ teaspoon, the amount needed for a single serving. Personally, I prefer using a bamboo scoop rather than a metal teaspoon because some of the powder sticks to the metal — and this causes some wastage.
Place the powder into a bowl, measure two ounces of previously boiled water and pour over only a small amount of water. Once a paste is made, then pour the rest of the water in. With a whisk, stir the powder into a paste; the paste must be free of clumps. Then add the rest of the water (two ounces in total).Using a bamboo whisk, whisk the tea until forms a froth on top. The consistency should be similar to green pea soup. Just like the bamboo scoop, I prefer to use a bamboo whisk. (These are handcrafted by artisans in Japan, but sadly, this traditional craftsmanship is on the verge of becoming extinct due to the production of cheap copies in other countries. If you could see the amount of time that goes into making a single bamboo whisk, you would agree that $20 to $25 is not overpriced for such a piece of art.) A balloon whisk used for cooking does not give the same results, but if you must, it is better than nothing. The Matcha bowls are also handcrafted by Artisans. Often the bowl itself is a piece of art.
Now it’s time to taste your tea. Hold the bowl with two hands and drink in three long sips. If it is drunk too slowly — like regular teas — the powder and water will begin to separate. The sweeter the tea is, the higher the quality. It should taste velvety on your palate. This frothy drink is at once sweet and astringent.
Because the whole leaf is used to make the tea, the tea ultimately contains a high volume of vitamins and minerals, which helps the immune system and to raise energy levels. And, the caffeine in Matcha tea is a different chemistry than that found in coffee, you get the boost without the jitters.
The chemistry behind Matcha
Matcha also contains a high amount of L-theanine, a unique set of amino acids found almost exclusively in shade-grown green tea such as Tencha and Gyokuro. The L-theanine, combined with the tea caffeine, causes the body to absorb it slowly and gives us a slow and stable three to six hours of energy boost without any caffeine crash and other side effects typical to caffeine. With virtually no calories, Matcha is the ultimate energy drink without any side effects found in energy drinks, which are highly sugared, over-caffeinated and loaded with artificial ingredients.
Matcha contains superior levels of antioxidants than all known natural fruits or vegetables by far, as well as amino acids, vitamins, and other soluble and insoluble fibres and nutrients 10 times more than any other green tea — providing illness-fighting results. It is literally the healthiest drink that nature can provide.
Orac is The Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (ORAC) test, which is a scientifically controlled set of experiments developed by the United States of Agriculture (USDA) and Tufts University to assess the antioxidant potency of foods and beverages. The ORAC test helps to standardize and objectively compare different foods and beverages for their antioxidant potency. The comparison below is only for Aiya Ceremonial Matcha and based on 1 gram of Matcha.
We strive to bring only the best to our customers, and according to our standards, we have chosen Aiya, a premium Japanese Matcha grower and producer in Nishio City, Japan, since 1888. There are only a dozen or so companies in all of Japan with the skills to produce authentic Matcha. I have personally tried every Matcha on the market and I have chosen Aiya purely for its quality (I have no financial attachment to the product — only the desire to provide my customers with the best, most authentic of products). The company is a world leader and holds a number of international certifications such as ISO 22000, Kosher, organic and Halal.
Here’s a nutritional comparison of Matcha versus coffee per 10 g.
Polyphenol 0.25 g – 1.0 g
Protein 0.2 g 3.1 g
Fibre — 3.9 g
Calcium 2 mg 42 mg
Iron — 1.7 mg
Caffeine 0.06 g 0.3 g
Potassium 65 mg 270 mg
Vit. A — 480 mg
Vit. B1 — 0.06 mg
Vit. B12 0.1 mg 0.14 mg
Vit. C — 6 mg
Carotene — 2900 mg
This analysis was conducted using Aiya’s Matcha; don’t assume the Matcha you are drinking contains the same nutritional quantity. Like any nutritional analysis of a plant, results can vary from year to year, as the environment plays a key role. Take the maple tree: some years yield sweeter maple syrup than other years.
Matcha can raise energy levels, boost metabolism, reduce free radicals in the body and improve mental alertness. Matcha is said to produce more alpha waves in the brain, which makes it effective against tension and stress, and increasing mental focus and improving concentration. It also reduces cholesterol, and contains 10 to 15 times more nutrients than a regular cup of tea in just one serving.
Matcha — A taste unto itself
Matcha can also be used in the preparation of foods such as chocolate, ice cream, gelato, smoothies, lattés and cookies. To receive 100 per cent of the health benefits found in Matcha, you must drink it pure, without any milk, as milk voids the antioxidants.
My motto has always been that the closer to nature the product, the better it is. The closest form found in Matcha is pure Matcha; you don’t find Matcha with food colouring and processed sugar in the natural world. When in doubt, the one that you can find in the nature is always the healthier choice. To preserve the quality and potency of your Matcha, it is best to keep it in the fridge — unless you go through it fast enough.
You really can taste the difference between a “true” Matcha tea and tea being marketed as Matcha even though it is not the real thing. High-quality Matcha contains more amino acids, which contributes to its mildness and natural sweetness. It also has a bright, velvety emerald colour. The lower grades taste more astringent and tend to look more yellowish.
Acknowledgement: Thank you to Mr. Fumi Sugita for providing me with the correct information about Matcha and helping me to understand the process that goes into making a high-quality Matcha tea. There is nothing like learning from the expert.