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What’s the Deal with Matcha?

A matcha latte in a porcelain tea cup.
Anna Pustynnikova/Shutterstock

Matcha is packed with health benefits, and you can add it to many foods or just serve this delicious, earthy tea by itself. We’re diving into the traditional tea ceremonies, and why people around the globe love this unique beverage so much.

What Is Matcha?

Matcha is a highly concentrated version of green tea created by carefully powdering high-grade tea leaves. “Coffee” refers to both the ground up coffee beans and resulting drink, and it’s the same with “matcha.” The term refers to both the powder and the tea you can make from it.

While matcha is usually consumed as a tea, there are two things that differentiate it from regular old green tea.

First, standard green tea is made by infusing green tea leaves in water, drinking it, and then discarding the leaves. When you drink matcha, you drink the leaves, which (due to its fine powder form) are totally dissolved. This, of course, creates a very different beverage than a regular cup of green tea.

Second, because of its powder form, you can easily add matcha to food in a way that would be unpleasant with whole tea leaves. For example, no one would sprinkle tea leaves over popcorn, let them float freely in a latte, or dust a smoothie with bits of them.

Matcha, however, lends itself well to incorporation in food without the texture or astringency of tea leaves.

Preparation and Types of Matcha

The preparation of matcha is a very involved process that’s taken very seriously. The plants are covered with shade cloths before being harvested, which helps activate their growth. It’s believed this makes the leaves exude a better taste and texture.

The leaves are then selected by hand during a short season, which is why this tea is more expensive than others. Tea leaves intended for matcha are first treated with steam to bring out the vibrant green color and halt the oxidation process. The dried, aged leaves are then ground into a fine powder and ready for consumption.

You can usually purchase matcha in two grades:

  • Ceremonial: This grade is much higher quality because it’s made from the most carefully harvested leaves and buds. You should enjoy this grade on its own, without altering the delicate, fresh flavors with additives or sweeteners.
  • Culinary: This grade has a deeper flavor, and it’s intended to be added to foods, but people also use it to make a tea. In addition to cooking, people also use it in alcoholic drinks. It’s more affordable than ceremonial matcha. And, because the flavor profile is less delicate and nuanced, you can mix with into whatever your heart desires.

Traditional Tea Ceremonies

People worldwide love the green hue and earthy flavors of matcha in food and beverages, but it means much more in Japanese culture.

The matcha tea ceremony has been practiced for centuries, and it requires a series of specific, graceful hand movements. The ceremony can be performed anywhere and by anyone. However, you must prepare and understand the precise hand movements, which you can learn in a tea club.

Guests gather in a room called a machiai, which has been specially set up by the person hosting the tea ceremony. Matcha tea ceremonies symbolize peace and harmony and promote social bonding. In Japanese culture, these ceremonies are taken seriously and demonstrate grace.

While the ceremonies are a lovely cultural practice, you might find emulating them meditative and relaxing. However, you certainly don’t have to perform the ritual to enjoy the flavor and benefits of matcha.

Health Benefits

Speaking of benefits, when it comes to health, matcha is like green tea on steroids. Because it’s a very concentrated form of green tea, you get more of everything you would get in a regular cup of green tea. This includes more caffeine, more L-theanine (a powerful stress-relieving compound), and more antioxidants and vitamins.

For Beverages, Snacks, and More

Matcha has enjoyed quite a rise in global recognition over the last several years. Baristas, lifestyle bloggers, and chefs have all noticed and now many incorporate it in their recipes.

Here are some ways you can add matcha to your favorite beverages and foods:

  • Traditional tea: Add one or two tablespoons of matcha powder to a teacup. Then, add a few ounces of hot water and whisk.
  • Matcha latte: After whisking matcha powder and a small amount of hot water, add some hot milk and the sweetener of your choice. You can also allow this to cool, and drink it on ice.
  • Iced matcha: Add a small amount of water to matcha powder, whisk until smooth, and then add more water with ice. You can also add honey, maple syrup, or lemon to this cold beverage.
  • Matcha lemonade: Prepare this the same as you would an iced matcha, but add the green powder to lemonade instead.
  • Smoothie or shake: Add a tablespoon to any protein shake, smoothie, or smoothie bowl for an extra kick of caffeine and to reap all the health benefits.
  • Matcha-enriched recipe: Whether you try overnight oats with matcha or sprinkle some on your scrambled eggs, there are several recipes you can try.
Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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