If you’ve been looking for an alternative to your daily cuppa you may have spotted some brightly coloured drinks on the menu of your local coffee shop - green matcha, golden turmeric or even pink beetroot latte anyone? Weird sounding perhaps, but packed with nutrients and amazing health benefits that will convince you to give these rainbow drinks a try.
What is matcha?
Matcha is a type of green tea grown from the Camellia sinensis plant – the same plant that gives you your morning cup of breakfast tea (black tea), as well as white and green tea. However, it is grown, harvested and consumed very differently from the regular black, white and green teas.
It has origins in both China and Japan, dating back several hundreds of years but it is the Japanese-grown matcha that is vibrant green in colour and jam-packed with powerful nutrients.
The tea plants are covered and kept in the shade for the last three weeks before harvest. This increases their chlorophyll production (hence the bright green colour) and the production of the amino acid L-theanine. The leaves are then handpicked, de-stemmed, de-veined, dried and ground to fine powder.
Unlike other teas, which are consumed by steeping the leaves in water, matcha is consumed by drinking (or eating) the whole leaf (powdered) so you are getting the health benefits of a higher concentration of nutrients.
1) Packed with powerful antioxidants
Antioxidants help protect the body against harmful free radicals from pollution, UV exposure, smoking and chemicals, as well as from normal metabolic processes. These free radicals can cause cell damage and lead to chronic disease and ageing.
Matcha tea is rich in a powerful group of antioxidants called catechins and in particular, EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate). One study estimated that the concentration of EGCG from Japanese matcha tea is 137 times greater than from Chinese green tea and at least three times higher than other types of green tea. EGCG has also been shown to have powerful anti-cancer properties.
2) May improve brain function
As well as EGCG, matcha tea contains other active compounds such as caffeine and L-theanine, which are linked to cognitive function. EGCG crosses the blood brain barrier to provide neuroprotective benefits and caffeine enhances alertness and energy. L-theanine may support relaxation, decreased anxiety and improve mood and it also protects against some of the negative effects of the caffeine. It has also been shown to increase glutathione, another powerful antioxidant.
3) May protect against cardiovascular diseases
Drinking green tea may help reduce some of the risk factors for heart disease. Studies show that green tea consumption may reduce total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and also triglycerides. This is likely to be due to the high concentration of antioxidants in green tea, which are in even higher amounts in matcha tea.
4) May contribute to a healthy liver
The liver is an essential organ that performs hundreds of vital functions, including processing and eliminating harmful toxins, metabolising drugs, hormones and nutrients, bile production, storage of iron and other essential vitamins.
Some studies have shown that matcha may help prevent liver damage and decrease the risk of liver disease. In one study, supplementing with green tea extract significantly reduced levels of liver enzymes in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Elevated liver enzymes are a marker of liver damage.
5) May support weight loss
Green tea extract is a common ingredient in weight loss supplements – and whilst I would not recommend relying on these supplements as a weight management tool, there is some evidence to show that green tea may speed up the metabolism, increase energy expenditure and accelerate fat burning throughout the day.
Tips for matcha success!
Choose a good quality matcha
Ideally choose Japanese organic matcha – it is more likely to be grown, harvested and ground to produce and retain the most nutrients. Look for a super fine powder that is vibrant green in colour, with no hint of coarseness and avoid dull olive or brown powders. It should have a distinctive grassy smell – if it doesn’t then chances are it’s old or not of a high quality and is likely to be more bitter.
Matcha doesn’t come cheap so don’t be fooled by bargains or heavy discounts here – you really do get what you pay for.
Casein is a protein in dairy that binds to the powerful antioxidant catechins in matcha and blocks their absorption.
To fully enjoy the health benefits prepare it with plant-based milk and avoid eating any dairy alongside it.
Invest in a bamboo whisk
If you’re ready to add matcha to your daily routine then you might consider investing in a traditional Japanese whisk, called a chasen. It is made from a single piece of bamboo that is handcrafted into a handle and anything up to 120 prongs.
It is perfect for blending the matcha powder and creating a light green foam on top of your drink to give it that smooth, creamy texture.
How to prepare your matcha
You can drink your matcha with hot or cold water or as a latte with plant milk. It can also be added to smoothies, yoghurts, oats and baked goods and it makes a great food colouring for cake decorating.
It has a slightly grassy or vegetal taste that can take a bit of getting used to. You might want to start with a lower dose or add a bit more honey or maple syrup to sweeten it up.
Matcha Green Tea
- Sift ½ teaspoon of matcha powder into a cup (sifting helps reduce clumping but you can leave that bit out if you can’t be bothered!) then add about 50ml of boiled water. Mix or whisk vigorously to ensure the powder is fully combined and any clumps are dispersed. This also creates a bit of froth.
- Fill the cup with more hot water, whisk again and sweeten to taste.
Vanilla & Cinnamon Matcha Latte
- Follow step 1 above for tea
- Heat a cup of your favourite plant milk, in a pan, microwave or ideally a milk frother.
- Add the milk to the pre-mixed matcha
- Add ½ teaspoon of honey or maple syrup, 1 drop of vanilla extract then sprinkle with cinnamon