Matcha has become increasingly popular in recent years, appearing in drinks, supplements and even desserts around the world. Its popularity can be attributed to its unique flavor profile as well as its countless health benefits.
Yet many are unfamiliar with what matcha really is. Read on for a quick explainer of what is often considered the “world’s healthiest drink.”
- Put simply, matcha is a kind of green tea. What differentiates it from other types of green tea is that it has been stone-ground into a fine powder. So, rather than steeping it in water like other teas, matcha is prepared by mixing it with water or, in some cases, milk.
- Because of this preparation, you are essentially consuming the entire tea leaf when you drink matcha (compared to just the infusion of the leaf with conventional tea.)
- Consuming the entire tea leaf means you’re getting a much higher concentration of all the good stuff, including disease-fighting antioxidants. A recent study found that a serving of matcha contains up to 137 times more antioxidants than a low-grade variety of green tea and up to 3 times more antioxidants than other high-quality teas.
- Matcha’s flavor profile can vary depending on the cultivar and quality of the tea leaf used, as well as how it is grown and processed. That said, most describe the taste of a high-quality matcha as being vegetal, nutty, grassy and subtly sweet.
- Although matcha’s roots trace back to Tang dynasty China, the tea did not evolve into what it is today until it was brought to Japan by a monk named Elsai in the 12th century. It quickly became popular among Buddhist monks, thanks to its concentration-enhancing properties that came in handy during long meditation sessions.
- About a month prior to being harvested, the spring tea leaves used to make matcha (called “tencha”) are shaded so that they are forced to produce more chlorophyll. This is why matcha is so green. (The greener the matcha, the higher quality it is.)
- Matcha is at the center of the Japanese tea ceremony, in which it is prepared with a variety of tools including a chasen (bamboo whisk), chashaku (bamboo scoop) and a chawan (matcha bowl). (The word “cha” means “tea,” in case you were wondering.)
- The traditional matcha brewing method is still used today, though matcha can prepared with more modern tools such as an electric frother, a blender bottle or even a simple kitchen whisk.
- There are many kinds of matcha available on the market today, with grades ranging from “Ceremonial” (the most premium grade typically reserved for the tea ceremony), “Drinking” (mid to high grade) and “Culinary” (often used in lattes and baking). Unsurprisingly, different grades will fetch different prices; expect ceremonial-grade matcha to fit into the “splurge” category.
- Because matcha is a powdered tea, it oxidizes quickly once exposed to air. It is best stored in a cool, dark place (such as a refrigerator) in an air-tight container.