By Kimberly Holland
June 26, 2019
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It’s green, powdery, and totally tasty. But what is matcha, exactly?

Leafy greens, green apples, green tea—if green is a sign of healthfulness, then matcha powder must be next-level beneficial with its vibrant jade hue, right? Indeed, it very well could be.

Matcha is a form of powdered tea. Traditional matcha is made by drying, then crushing young, supple tea leaves to form a light, airy green powder. That powder is dissolved in warm water and whisked until frothy. It’s meant to be sipped, not gulped, like some steeped teas, but it’s a bit of an acquired taste.

RELATED: The Science Behind Why Tea Is Healthy

Because you’re consuming the tea leaves themselves, and not just infused water, matcha presents more health benefits compared to steeped tea. How much more isn’t yet known—researchers are still investigating—but some studies give us clues as to precisely how good this green drink can be. Read on to learn more about this popular beverage and find creative ways to use it.

What Is Matcha?

Matcha is a powdered tea made from ground green tea leaves. Just before harvesting, farmers cover the tea plants with shade cloths. This forces the plants to produce more chlorophyll and leaves the leaves softer and sweeter with a brighter taste and smoother texture. After about three weeks of the shading, harvesters pluck select leaves—only a handful may be taken from each plant—and steam them to stop the oxidation process. This also turns the leaves a brilliant green shade.

Next, those leaves are dried. The stems and veins are removed, and then the leaves are stone-ground. What remains, the fine powder you recognize as matcha, is called tencha. It can be kept in cold storage or in air-tight storage for months to preserve the flavor.

Matcha powder is deeply flavorful with strong vegetal notes of grass, spinach, and wheatgrass. It manages to have a deeply satisfying umami quality, though it’s also quite creamy with a hint of sweetness. If it’s too bitter, a bit of sweetener can improve palatability, but you won’t need much.

Which Type of Matcha Should You Buy?

Matcha is made with some of the youngest leaves on a tea plant. That means the production window for true matcha is relatively short, unlike dried leaves, which can be made with more aged leaves from the plant. In turn, matcha can be quite pricey.

High-quality ceremonial grade matcha is the most expensive: a one-ounce bag can cost nearly $20 (amazon.com). Culinary grade, which is still drinkable but may not have the fresh, pure matcha taste you seek in the drink, is a bit cheaper: a one-ounce bag of that matcha variety is about $10 (amazon.com).

How to Make Matcha

Matcha is akin to espresso or a fine liquor. It’s meant to be enjoyed in small amounts and slowly. The flavors are quite refined, so unlike a cup of steeped tea, you should sip matcha with purpose and great attention.

The powdered tea comes in a tin or zip-top bag, both of which help keep air from reaching the tea and changing its flavor. As you’ll see, a little goes a long way, so don’t stock up on matcha too far in advance. You may have it for a while and lose some of its quality.

1. Bring a small pot of water to boil.

2. Remove the pot from the stove eye, and let it cool for two to three minutes. You want very warm water for your matcha, but not boiling.

3. Scoop one teaspoon of matcha powder into a tea cup.

4. Add 1/3 cup hot water.

5. Whisk with a bamboo brush. This specialty brush, which is part of traditional tea ceremonies in Japan, serves an important purpose in matcha prep. It invites air into the mixture and creates a scrumptious froth. You can use a spoon if you don’t have the brush, but the matcha mixture may feel a bit thin in comparison.

How to Use Matcha

If you like the flavor of matcha and want to be creative with it in your culinary experiments, you’ll be delighted to hear it’s quite versatile. In the drink realm, you can use matcha in place of coffee for just about any drink, hot or cold. Matcha lattes are delicious, as are iced matcha and matcha smoothies. You can stir a bit of matcha into your favorite dairy treats, like yogurt, ice cream, and cottage cheese.

The color will make quite a statement, but in salad dressings, matcha would be a great addition. With a Green Goddess dressing, however, the green hue would blend in beautifully. It would also fit right in with guacamole or edamame dips. Sprinkling some into oatmeal or granola would be a great way to get a bit of the green tea goodness, too.

Baked goods like Matcha Mexican Wedding Cookies get a colorful upgrade with the powdered tea, and Matcha Cake with Vanilla Buttermilk is a vibrantly hued twist on the classic layer cake.

Health Benefits of Matcha

High-quality matcha is a potent source of nutrients. The list of vitamins and minerals in this tea product is long, and their benefits are varied. For example, matcha is rich in a type of antioxidant called polyphenols. These substances are known to fight disease and reduce disease-causing inflammation.

A specific type of polyphenol, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), has been shown to slow or halt the growth of cancerous tumors and prevent Alzheimer’s. These same substances may even slow signs of aging and prevent oxidative stress. Matcha is also a good source of l-theanine, an amino acid that has been shown to have anti-stress properties. That may explain why matcha fans say the tea has a “calming” effect on them.

Matcha has a bit more caffeine than its leaved green tea counterpart. One study found that this may help increase attention and even improve memory to some degree, though more research is needed to understand these impacts. If you’re sensitive to the effects of caffeine, matcha may be too potent for you.

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