With a long history in one of the healthiest countries in the world, matcha tea has more recently gained interest all around the world. This Japanese green tea can now be found in cafes and shops around the globe. And you won’t be limited to drinking it purely as a hot tea. Because it is produced as a powdered form, it can also be added to smoothies, granola bars, muffins, puddings and more. Now you know what the green latte your favorite café has started serving probably has in it! Shortly we’re going to share some matcha powder benefits with you so you understand why so many people are going crazy for it.
The bright green shade of matcha shade makes it stand out from its traditional green tea counterpart (ones that are brewed like normal tea, with the leaves infused in water). Not only that, but the studies that are available on this specific type of green tea rate it pretty highly too.
Now before we share a bit about how it’s produced, its history, and it’s amazing potential for health, let’s just mention the taste. Are you almost ready to quit reading about it because you simply don’t like the taste of green tea? If so, you’re not alone. Many people find the taste of regular green tea to be pretty bitter. Of course you can disguise it a little with a squeeze of lemon but sometimes it’s hard to mask the underlying taste. Stop right there! Matcha green tea has a different taste to regular green tea. Quality matcha green tea should be smoother and much less bitter than regular green tea. It is even described as being a little sweet, so don’t discount it simply on the basis that you don’t like regular green tea.
What is in matcha green tea powder?
As you know now, matcha green tea is a type of green tea. It differs from regular green tea because the young leaves are ground into a powder instead of being brewed in water. You can sift the powder and then whisk it into a bowl of hot water. Alternatively you could brew it in a cup by mixing the powder with a little hot water to form a paste, and then topping it with hot water. If you don’t sift and whisk it or form a paste first you might find that it becomes a bit “lumpy”.
Ideally, matcha green tea should be the only ingredient in your powder. Check the label to confirm that unnecessary sugar, sweeteners or other additives haven’t been included. As many trendy cafes are now serving matcha green tea and matcha lattes, check that they’re not adding sugar or sweeteners either. Some may add a lot of sugar or sweetener if you don’t say anything. It’s best to try it without a sweetener first (as it does have a slightly sweet taste). Then add a little sweetness to it yourself if you need to.
Matcha tea contains caffeine but less than black tea and coffee. It may have more than other green teas. It contains the same health promoting compounds as regular green tea. Arguably, these are amplified in matcha. We’ll discuss this shortly when we cover matcha powder benefits.
Production, history and rituals of matcha green tea
Matcha green tea is grown on bushes that are kept under shade for a few weeks before harvesting. This helps produce their brilliant bright green color, indicating increased levels of chlorophyll. It also increases the nutrient levels in the plant, specifically amino acids such as theanine[i]. Leaves are picked by hand and slowly ground by granite stones in the dark, to further protect the nutrients.
It is thought that the history of tea dates back to around 4000 years. Matcha’s history is a little more recent. Several hundred years ago, tea was steamed, dried, powdered, and then pressed into bricks to help prevent it from rotting, and to make transportation easier. Originally produced in China, the powdered tea concept eventually fizzled out in China, but became popular with Japanese monks. They enjoyed breaking off a section of the powdered brick and mixing it up into a tea. It is believed that this helped them to remain both calm and focused during meditation[ii].
In the modern day, high-grade matcha green tea is used in tea ceremony rituals. These ceremonies are based on four basic principles – harmony, respect, purity and tranquility[iii].
Now that you know a little bit about this special type of green tea, let’s explore some of the matcha powder benefits for health.
Matcha powder benefits
Studies on matcha powder benefits are still emerging. Most studies have been based on observing populations as a whole, or on animal studies, rather than on clinical trials with humans. Many associations have certainly been found with green tea and health benefits[iv], however these can’t prove that the green tea was the root cause for good health. There are likely other contributing factors. The majority of studies have been done on regular green tea infused from leaves, or on green tea extract, which is not necessarily matcha. Therefore, more clinical trials are needed before placing it on a pedestal above normal green tea.
Early research certainly looks promising however. Here are a few of the reasons that matcha green tea is gaining traction as a popular health product.
A little goes a long way nutrition-wise
As you already know, the growing and production processes of matcha tea help to retain the plants nutrients. Additionally, you don’t throw any of the leaves away like you do when brewing regular green tea. This helps to provide you with further nutrition.
Matcha green tea powder benefits can also be extended to the fact that it can be mixed at a lower temperature than traditional green tea. Tea leaves often have boiling water poured straight over them. You can mix slightly cooler water with your matcha powder in order to further preserve the nutrients.
It’s worth noting that matcha tea should be considered as a concentrated form of green tea. It has more antioxidants (as you will see in the next point!) and potentially more nutritional benefits. Just remember that it also contains more caffeine, and that a little goes a long way. When you first purchase high quality matcha tea you might be surprised that the price is somewhat higher than regular green tea. However, by understanding the careful production process and the fact that it’s a somewhat concentrated form of green tea, you’ll probably be able to respect the reasons why you pay a bit more for it.
An anti-oxidant powerhouse
It’s highly likely that you’ve heard a bit about the benefits of antioxidants. They’re those wonderful little compounds that help fight free radicals and protect cells against damage and disease. Green tea contains antioxidants called catechins, specifically EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate). An analysis of the level of catechins contained in matcha tea as compared to a popular regular green tea found the levels to be 137 times higher in matcha and at least three times higher than the largest literature value for other green teas[v]!
The level of catechins between various green tea products and between different matcha products can vary immensely[vi]. Therefore it pays to do your research when looking at your product choices and deciding on the best one to buy.
High levels of chlorophyll
The bright green color of matcha indicates a high level of chlorophyll. Check that yours is bright green so that you know you’ve got a good quality powder. Due to the high levels of chlorophyll, pure matcha green tea powder benefits can potentially include:
- Immune system support
- Purifying the blood and eliminating molds in the body
- Rejuvenating and energizing the body
- Detoxifying the liver
- Cleaning the intestines
- Ability to normalize blood pressure
- Potential to combat anemia
Note that these are some of the therapeutic properties of chlorophyll[vii] but further clinical studies are needed with matcha.
Matcha powder benefits for lowering blood pressure
A meta-analysis of five studies covering 1476 subjects found that long term consumption of tea lowered blood pressure readings. This was the case for both black tea and green tea consumption, but the blood pressure lowering effects of the green tea were greater than the black[viii]. The meta-analysis was not necessarily specific to matcha green tea.
Matcha green tea benefits for lowering cholesterol
Green tea studies have shown some promising results in terms of the potential to lower cholesterol. A meta-analysis of 14 randomized controlled trials including a total of 1136 subjects showed significant positive results in the reduction of LDL (the “bad” type) cholesterol concentrations. No effects on HDL (the “good” type) of cholesterol were observed[ix] [x].
One study on mice, specific to matcha green tea showed positive results for the mice that were fed the highest levels of matcha. Serum total cholesterol levels decreased, HDL levels were elevated, and LDL cholesterol levels were suppressed[xi].
Matcha tea weight loss
Studies on green tea have produced some promising results for weight loss. Green tea and green tea extracts are often used as part of an overall weight loss plan, due to their thermogenic effects. These effects are produced from the caffeine, and possibly the EGCG content. 14 human subjects were given either placebo capsules or capsules containing a caffeine-EGCG mix. Similar results were obtained for all the subjects who took the caffeine-EGCG combination, irrespective of the dosage level. No effect was observed for fat oxidation[xii].
Other studies have found positive results for fat oxidation during exercise after green tea supplementation[xiii][xiv]. Positive effects have also been highlighted for body fat and/or body weight reduction after a period of green tea supplementation[xv][xvi][xvii]. There is also some early evidence for enhanced fat oxidation after supplementation with matcha[xviii], thus adding to the list of potential matcha powder benefits.
If you want to know how to use matcha powder for weight loss, use it sensibly as part of a balanced overall weight loss plan.
Matcha powder benefits for cancer prevention
The antioxidant EGCG contained in regular green teas and at high levels in Matcha green tea could have a positive effect on cancer cells[xix]. Early research shows promising effects on prostate cancer cells[xx] and human breast cancer cells[xxi].
The health benefits of matcha powder for brain function
Some evidence suggests that green tea powder can help improve cognitive function or reduce the progression of cognitive dysfunction in elderly people[xxii]. A study specific to matcha green tea supplementation showed that matcha supplementation significantly improved attention levels and psychomotor speed in response to stimuli. However, a noticeable effect was not produced for other cognitive tasks[xxiii].
Much of the action of green tea on brain function could be explained by the L-theanine content. It has the ability to relax the mind without causing drowsiness. This is perhaps why the Japanese monks found it to be so beneficial for both calmness and focus during meditation[xxiv]. The combination of caffeine and l-theanine contained in green tea seems to create the biggest impact on cognition and brain function[xxv][xxvi].
Other emerging matcha powder benefits
As we’ve mentioned previously, most of the available studies on green tea and health are not specific to matcha. However, with the knowledge of the antioxidants content and other components of matcha and the centuries-old wisdom taken from Japan it’s certainly a health product well worth considering.
Other than the many benefits listed above, green tea studies have highlighted an array of additional potential health benefits. Positive effects have been found for periodontal disease[xxvii], anti-microbial properties[xxviii], atherosclerosis[xxix], liver disease[xxx], heart disease[xxxi] and stroke[xxxii]. One study specific to matcha green tea showed protective effects against renal damage in rats[xxxiii]. More clinical studies are needed in all areas but we think the overall health benefits of green tea and specifically matcha green tea, are looking pretty promising.
What are the potential dangers of consuming matcha green tea?
It’s worth taking a balanced look at any topic by considering the potential risks. There has been some concern about radiation levels in matcha green tea after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Since that time the Japanese government has been testing samples of tea for radiation on a regular basis without any red flags for concern. The major tea production areas are far enough away from Fukushima to make the chance of contamination unlikely. The further your matcha tea was grown from Fukushima, the less likely it is to be contaminated[xxxiv]. It is always wise to be away of where products like this are coming from, so you can make an educated decision on your purchasing choices.
Plants have the ability to absorb whatever is in the soil – good nutrients or otherwise. Tea in general (not specifically matcha) has the potential to absorb things like arsenic[xxxv], pesticides, lead and fluoride if they are contained in the soil. Although it’s likely that the contamination level is going to be within safety limits, it pays to select high quality, organic matcha if you have the option to.
Finally, it’s evident that matcha green tea isn’t short on potential benefits. As is the case with other health foods it doesn’t mean you should go overboard and think that a matcha green tea diet is the way forward. Overdoing your caffeine consumption can cause issues, and tea also has the ability to inhibit iron absorption[xxxvi]. The key is to take a balanced approach to health, a large part of this being your nutrition and supplementation choices.