Matcha has been around for almost a thousand years yet it has only taken the world by storm at the turn of the 21st century. Contemporary science and technology has not only proven the many health benefits of the specially grown and processed green tea, but has also accelerated the dissemination of information about it. This resulted in the rapid increase of global popularity of the product among modern urbanites. In fact, many café chains around the world including Starbucks, have added their own matcha-based concoctions in their menus, at one time or another, in the last couple of decades.
Matcha is best enjoyed as a hot drink, or similarly to how the Japanese do, both in their everyday lives and in special rites and celebrations. The traditional drink preparation involves diluting a small amount of powder in hot water on a wooden bowl and mixing it with a bamboo whisk. Several simple innovations have surfaced in recent years, including using warm milk instead of water and stirring the powder with a frothing gadget, resulting in what we call a ‘Matcha Latte’. Cafés and espresso bars on the other hand, use more sophisticated sets of equipment in the preparation.
Like all green, oolong and black teas, matcha is made from the leaves of Camellia Sinensis, a plant that has been scientifically proven to be rich in polyphenols that help in preventing diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular ailments, among others. It is likewise known to help lower cholesterol and improve one’s metabolism. What sets matcha apart from its cousins is the traditional painstaking method used in its production, making it more flavorful and ten times more potent in delivering healthful benefits to the body.
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Traditional Japanese tea-makers, since the 13th century, meticulously followed the following steps in making matcha:
Cultivation - Green tea bushes used for matcha are grown under the shade for at least three weeks. This is to limit the amount of sunlight absorbed by the plant, thus increasing its chlorophyll content and achieving its vibrant green hue. This process also optimizes the production of amino acids such as theanine, a natural substance that enhances one’s mood and cognitive ability.
Harvesting – Unlike in other tea productions, only the supplest buds and youngest leaves near the end of each stalk are purposely handpicked for making high-grade matcha. Leaves are then classified according to their maturity and position in the stalk before drying. Young buds not only make the finest texture, the brightest green hue, and the most robust flavor, they also contain the most locked-in nutrients. Thus, making the most premium grade powder. More matured leaves tend to be grainier and darker when ground.
Drying – Leaves are lightly steamed then carefully laid out and air-dried away from the sun to prevent it from darkening and diminishing its nutrients. Fully dried leaves are then deveined and de-stemmed. The resultant crumbled pieces called tencha, the precursor of matcha, are then gathered for the next phase.
Grinding – Although some producers nowadays may utilize electric grinding machines, the best grade matcha are still ground in traditional granite stone mills. The Japanese, who are known to be adherent to age-old customs and sticklers for quality, always employ the latter. Stone grinding may be a slow process, as one mill can only yield less than one kilo of powder in 24 hours, but it maintains the tea’s full natural aroma and produces the finest texture.
It tastes great! Some would partake even the vilest concoction if it will prolong his life or help them lose weight, but with matcha you don’t have to torture yourself to be healthy. In fact, you will even find it truly enjoyable! Fortunately, its rich amino acid and chlorophyll content gave it its distinct delicious flavor.
You can enjoy it in many ways! Matcha is more than just a hot beverage. Nowadays it is being used more and more as an ingredient for various treats such as ice cream, ice-blended beverages, cheesecake, pastries and other desserts and savory recipes.
It can help you to de-stress and detoxify. Matcha’s highly concentrated chlorophyll can help flush out chemicals and heavy metal toxins from the body. Its multiple amino acid contents, such as L-Theanine, boost the alpha waves in your brain, which stimulates relaxation and calmness. No wonder, Zen Buddhist monks drink it prior to meditation.
It can help you become more alert and energetic. Matcha also contains caffeine, which when mixed with the other nutrients of the powdered leaves can help produce dopamine and serotonin in your body that boosts alertness, cognitive ability and active energy. You can forget the synthetic energy drinks. If matcha is good enough for Samurai warriors of old as a pre-battle beverage, then it can also be good enough to aid you in your workouts and sports activities.
It helps you become leaner and healthier. Regular consumption of matcha has been proven to improve metabolism that helps in burning down body fats as well as lowering bad cholesterol (LDL or low density lipoprotein) and increasing good cholesterol (HDL or high density lipoprotein) in people, which in turn helps prevent cardiovascular diseases.
It aids in fighting off diseases. Matcha is brimming with catechins including epigallocathecin gallate (EGCg) that are said to aid in preventing cancer. It is likewise loaded with potassium, vitamins A, C, and B complex, iron, calcium, and protein that can boost your immune system. Other medical studies even suggest that it helps shield the T-cells from HIV attack.
It can help you keep fit and look younger. Matcha is rich in polyphenols and phytochemicals that protect your skin and internal organs from the harmful effects of exposure to UV rays and various environmental pollutants. A good serving of matcha has been scientifically determined to contain higher antioxidants than other natural healthy foods such as vegetables and fruits.