Some of the biggest issues to effect society relate to health, whether it is the recent increase in the level of obesity, progression in cancer related treatments, signs and symptoms of stroke or basic nutrition in schools. A health related news story appears daily. With good reason. The quality of our lives is important to us, not just now, but in the years to come. The foods we consume are becoming increasingly more and more important to us, the further our understanding develops.
Tea is the 2nd most consumed beverage in the world, second only to water, with an estimated 3 billion Kgs of tea produced each year. In the Western world black tea is the most popular, however Eastern countries such as Japan & China, Green Tea is a much more popular choice, a trend which is filtering into Western culture. The reason for this increase? Simple! Antioxidants!
Antioxidants are one of the biggest vogue subjects today, with a variety of foods lauded for their antioxidant content. The advent of ‘Superfoods’ has given rise to all sorts of claims regarding what we should eat & drink to get/stay healthy.
When it comes to Antioxidants, Green Tea is a big-hitter & ‘Matcha’ is the undisputed King!
One glass of matcha is the equivalent of at least 10 glasses of standard green tea in terms of its antioxidant content and nutritional value. Both blueberries and pomegranates are proven antioxidants with values of 91 and 105 units per gram (respectively) when tested using a method known as Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC). Matcha green tea has a value of 1300 units per gram!! 25 times greater! Matcha contains 9x the beta carotene content of the superfood spinach, 70x the antioxidants and 137x the level of standard green tea.
Matcha green tea is relatively new in the green tea world. Whilst tea cultivation dates back thousands and thousands of years, particularly in the Far East, matcha in its current form only dates back around 1000 years. It is the tea used in the famous ‘Japanese Tea Ceremony’. The main difference between matcha green tea and other teas is the when it is consumed. Normally black tea or other green teas are consumed via steeping the tea leaves infused with hot water. The water soluble content of the tea diffuses into the water and is consumed, with the tea leaves disposed of. This method is problematic as only a small part of the health benefits of tea are water soluble, depending on tea variety and preparation only 10% – 20% of the healthy nutrients are consumed when drinking steeped tea. With matcha, the whole leaf is ground down to a fine powder, therefore the entire leaf is consumed, thus avoiding any loss of health benefits.
The table below highlights the differences between standard steeped green tea & matcha.
The many benefits of matcha green tea include;
- Packed with antioxidants including the catechin Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg) (see below).
- Burns calories and boosts metabolism, with one recent study suggesting matcha may increase calorie burning by 400%
- High in the detoxifyer Chlorophyll, which helps eliminate heavy metals and chemicals from the body
- Mood enhancement
- Calming and relaxation effects due to its L-Theanine content (see below)
- Minimal effect of insulin levels
- Rich in fibre
- Provides Selenium, Zinc, Magnesium, Chromium and Vitamin C.
The catechin EGCg is the most abundant catechin in tea and is a potent antioxidant that may have therapeutic applications in the treatment of many disorders (e.g. cancer). It is found in green tea, but not black tea. Catechins are a highly potent form of antioxidants providing potent cancer fighting properties. Catechins counteract the effects of free radicals from influences such as UV rays, radiation, pollution and chemicals which can lead to cell and DNA damage. EGCg is regarded as on of the most powerful catechins, so anything containing a high amount is a good thing. Matcha contains a particularly high amount of catechins, of which over 60% are EGCg.
Matcha was introduced to the Japanese by a Monk named Eisai in 1200AD as an aid in the practice of meditation. During long hours of worship, monks would ceremoniously drink matcha to remain alert, yet calm. A rare amino acid, L-Theanine, promotes a state of relaxation and well being due to its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. Theanine has psychoactive properties and has been shown to reduce mental and physical stress, improve cognition and mood in a synergistic manner with caffeine. Theanine may also help memory and learning ability, whilst also inhibiting the side effects of caffeine.
When it comes to matcha, how it is to be used will place a bearing on the grade of matcha to be used. Traditionally, there are 2 ways of preparing matcha for drinking; ‘Koicha’ – Thick or ‘Usucha’ – Thin. It is also advised to use traditional utensils when preparing drinking matcha. After all, it is a ceremonial tea once described as “The Elixar of the Immortals”
Below are instructions on how to prepare both Koicha and Usucha using the correct utensils.
Preheat the matcha bowl with hot water and place the whisk with prongs facing down into the water to wet them. Once the bowl has thoroughly preheated, empty out the water and dry the bowl out preferably with a cloth such as a chakin. Set the wet whisk aside and then measure out 70ml (approx. 2.3oz) of hot water into a measuring cup and leave it to cool.
Use the bamboo scoop to measure about 2 scoops of matcha powder and place it into the bowl. Sifting the matcha into the bowl is advisable as it will remove any clumps of powder.
Once the water in the measuring cup drops to 70°C(158°F)-80°C(176°F) pour it into the matcha bowl.
Take the whisk in one hand and hold the rim of the matcha bowl with your other hand and start to whisk the matcha. Whisk briskly using your wrist (not arm). Whisk in a W motion until the matcha has a thick froth with many tiny bubbles on the surface. The matcha is now frothy and ready to drink!
Preheat the matcha bowl with hot water and place the whisk with prongs facing down into the water to wet them. Once the bowl has thoroughly preheated, empty out the water and dry the bowl out preferably with a cloth such as a chakin. Set the wet whisk aside and then measure out 40ml (approx. 1.3oz) of hot water into a measuring cup and leave it to cool.
Use the bamboo scoop to measure about 3-4 scoops of matcha powder and place it into the bowl. We highly recommend sifting matcha prior to preparing koicha.
Once the water in the measuring cup drops to 70°C(158°F)-80°C(176°F) pour it into the matcha bowl. The water should be just enough to cover the powder. For koicha, pouring the water in two parts (40% and 60%) often produces better results.
The idea with koicha is NOT to make a frothy consistency with a fast whisking action like usucha. Instead, a slower kneading action from left to right, up and down, and a gentle 360 degree rotating action can be used to make a thick consistency. The resulting tea should be reasonably thick, smooth and without froth.
There has been a considerable increase in the use of matcha in cooking and baking, where its rich green colour and distinctive taste has been applied to dishes from ice cream to pasta. One of the great things about cooking with matcha is that the grade does not have to be as high as that used for beverage preparation.