Green tea is one of the healthiest and most popular teas in the world, and one variety, known as matcha, is said to be the healthiest of them all. But are the claims made about this tea true? Can it really prevent cancer and lead to weight loss? And is it really stronger and healthier than green tea?
What is Matcha Tea?
Matcha is a Japanese tea that is grown under strict conditions, with the Camellia sinensis plant being shaded for 3 to 4 weeks prior to the harvest to block sunlight and increase the production of nutrients like amino acids.
This tea is then consumed whole, not simply steeped into a liquid like normal green tea. This method of consumption further increases the amount of nutrients that a drinker consumes and requires only small amounts of tea to be consumed at a time.
Matcha is sold as a green powder, often in small tubs, and can be labelled as “matcha tea” or “matcha powder”. There is no difference between the two.
The Benefits of Matcha
Green tea has been studied extensively over the years, but the same can’t be said for matcha tea. There are relatively few studies out there either confirming or denying the purported health benefits.
However, we can make assumptions based on what we know about green tea and the ways in which matcha tea is similar, and we can also judge whether there is any truth to the suggested health benefits of this drink by looking at why those claims have been made.
Here are the most commonly claimed benefits of matcha tea and the truth behind them:
1. It Can Help You Lose Weight
Tea in general may aid with weight loss, and the unique antioxidants and xanthines in green tea has led to it being the focus of many more weight-loss studies than any other type of tea. (1)
Green tea extract is often used in weight-loss supplements, but in most cases these supplements are ineffective and the same is likely going to be true for matcha tea. The truth is, while some animal and even human studies have been able to show slight improvements in weight loss following green tea consumption, the improvements were slight as was the amount needed to achieve them. (2)
It would be interesting to see if these results were the same with matcha tea, and right now we can only take what we know about green tea and extrapolate, which is to say that matcha tea probably won’t help with weight loss, and there is currently no conclusive evidence to suggest the contrary.
2. It May Help to Regulate Blood Sugar
As of yet, there are very few human studies concerning matcha’s ability to regulate blood sugar, but a 2009 study on diabetic rats found that it could reduce blood glucose and cholesterol levels, while animal studies on green tea have drawn similar conclusions. (3)
3. It May Prevent Heart Disease
A number of studies have found a direct correlation between catechin intake and lower incidences of heart disease. One study analysed data from 806 men and found those with a higher intake of catechins were less likely to die from heart disease. (4)
As the saying goes, correlation does not prove causation, but these studies have been performed time and time again and they keep drawing the same conclusions. When you combine this with the fact that matcha tea has one of the highest concentrations of catechins then it bodes well for drinkers of this tea.
Matcha versus Green Tea
A single cup of matcha has been compared to ten cups of green tea, but this is likely an exaggeration. Matcha tea does seem to be stronger and potentially healthier than green tea, just not by 1,000%.
- Caffeine: The amount of caffeine in matcha versus green tea is very similar. Matcha does have a much higher caffeine content on a gram-for-gram basis, but on a cup for cup basis, there is roughly between 5mg and 10mg more caffeine in matcha than there is in green tea.
- Antioxidants: Matcha has a higher concentration of antioxidants. One study was able to prove that a good-quality matcha tea contained more than 137 times the antioxidants of a low-grade green tea and 3 times the antioxidants of a good-quality green tea. (5) It would be unfair to compare a low-grade green tea to matcha considering matcha is technically a really high-quality green tea, but even if we use those high-grade comparisons, it’s still noteworthy.
- Cost: Matcha is expensive, much more so than a good-quality green tea. You will pay anywhere from £20 to £60 for a tin of premium matcha tea, which can be anywhere from 30g to 80g. Typically, it will work out at around £0.50 to £0.80 per serving. When bought loose in 100g to 500g quantities, a high-quality green tea such as Japanese Sencha or Chinese Mao Feng will typically cost between £0.07 and £0.15 per cup.
You can drink it like a tea, you can add it to foods and drinks like you do chia seeds, superfood powders, and healthy powdered herbs like moringa, or you can simply toss it into your mouth and wash it down with a glass of juice or water. How you drink matcha depends on what you think of the taste, and this is not a tea that will appeal to everyone in that department.
Is Matcha Safe?
There have been some concerns raised recently regarding the safety of matcha tea. The leaves of the plant can contain traces of heavy metals drawn from the soil in which it grows, and because you are consuming the whole leaf when you drink matcha, these may build up in your body.
Unfortunately, this is true for all teas, and some of the reading can be quite worrying. (6) There are also studies showing that green teas, and by association matcha teas, can be contaminated by significant levels of arsenic. (7) But most of these studies conclude that there is no significant risk to public health even in the face of these worrying findings, and providing you’re not buying your matcha direct from a nuclear fallout zone, you should be okay.
How to Drink Matcha Tea
Matcha is a big hit with Instagram foodies, and you can find all kinds of weird and wonderful recipes and flavour combinations on the photo-sharing site. It is added to smoothies, ice cream, and even cakes. But it’s not a subtle flavour and tends to overpower more neutral flavours, even in small doses, so make sure you actually like the taste before you start throwing spoonfuls into your own culinary creations.
The best way to enjoy matcha is the traditional way. Just take a small amount, add it to hot (not boiling) water, and then whisk until smooth. It doesn’t dissolve like instant coffee, but it will form a smooth, drinkable paste with a good whisk. You can enjoy the tea slowly, savouring each mouthful, or you can gulp it down—you only need a couple mouthfuls of water to get the right consistency. If the taste doesn’t agree with you then add a little honey to sweeten it.
What Does Matcha Taste Like?
Matcha is an acquired taste, something that won’t appeal to everyone. It has strong, earthy notes with floral undertones and a subtle sweetness akin to a strong cup of Sencha green tea.
Will I Like Matcha?
If you enjoy green tea, then matcha will likely appeal to your taste buds. It’s a taste that grows on you, and if your usual morning pick-me-up is a strong cup of coffee, a breakfast tea blend, or a cup of fragrant Greek mountain tea, then this one might take some getting used to.