Why You Should Warm Up to Matcha
Demystifying the time-honored benefits of the insanely healthy green tea
By Jillian Engel
writer for The Natural
Growing up on a half-acre hillside farm where her parents were purveyors of fresh vegetables and herbs, Lauren Danson’s love of freshly grown plants is innate. From the moment her mother introduced her to tea as a child, Lauren began collecting tea from all over the world and took classes online to learn more. After becoming her college dorm’s resident tea party host, the decision to start a matcha company post-graduation was only natural.
Never turning down a cup of tea ourselves, Lauren invited us to her Portland-based studio for a matcha tasting flight and enlightened us on why this seemingly magical powder will likely outlive its 800-year-long moment.
The Town of Tea
During a 2013 trip to Japan, Lauren hopped off the Shinkansen bullet train serendipitously at Uji — the “Town of Tea.” It was in Uji that she experienced her second cup of matcha ever, despite the massive amounts of tea she had consumed over the years. Needless to say, it was a matcha made in heaven. Recounting that “every relationship I made in Japan was over a cup of tea,” Lauren exclusively sources Mizuba’s matcha from two certified organic farmers in Uji.
To Lauren, tea brings people together. And the reality is that it’s been bonding relationships and communities for centuries. The ancient ritual of the Japanese tea ceremony is traditionally set over a choreographed, spiritual preparation of matcha, where hosts and their guests come together in an intimate setting.
Photos courtesy of Mizuba Tea Co.
The spirituality of drinking matcha has since carried on to modern tea drinkers, as tea is commonly consumed for its healing benefits. Even the name of Lauren’s company, Mizuba, roughly translates to “living water” in Japanese and is a biblical term symbolizing the key to eternal life.
“The best thing about matcha to me is that you know this will be a beautiful experience, but it’s also really good for you,” Lauren says.
Matcha’s (Not So) Shady Secrets
All tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, though each variety is made differently. While matcha is stone-ground by hand, green tea is steamed and dried, and black tea is oxidized.
What’s even more unique about matcha is that it’s grown in the shade. The highest quality matcha is shade-grown for 20 to 40 days before harvest, according to Lauren. Because of the decreased sunlight, photosynthesis is slowed, stimulating chlorophyll production and provoking a brighter, greener hue than other teas. You can easily identify a quality matcha simply by its vibrant, electric green color.
The shade-growing process also increases production of amino acids. The longer the matcha is grown in the shade, the more amino acids are produced, yielding a fuller umami flavor profile. The highest quality matcha is creamy, full-bodied, slightly sweet, and vegetal — not bitter. Premium matcha should leave your whole mouth in a sensory experience.
Amino acids found in matcha are known to include high amounts of L‑theanine. L‑theanine is most commonly found in green teas, however, its properties are dramatically enhanced when the leaves are grown in shade. The powerful amino acid has been shown to significantly relax the mind without inducing drowsiness. It’s also been shown to be neuroprotective and have antiobesity and antitumor properties.
But it’s how matcha is consumed that really boosts its benefits. As opposed to drinking the steamed residuals of the tea leaves, matcha is consumed wholly as fine powder, allowing you to gain the health benefits of 10 cups of green tea in just one cup of matcha.
“Matcha doesn’t have as much caffeine as coffee — there’s about 72 milligrams in one cup* — but it’s sweet and calming,” Lauren says. “Your body binds better to the caffeine in matcha because of the theanine; it breaks down the caffeine more slowly instead of experiencing a kick right away. So you get a relaxing, awakening effect without your body reacting [adversely] afterward.”
*[Ed Note: there’s typically about 100 mg of caffeine in coffee]
Matcha My Menu
Once it’s time for harvest, matcha leaves are laid out to dry, becoming tencha. The tencha leaves are then deveined, destemmed, and stone-ground into the familiar matcha powder.
Lauren’s recommended matcha-making technique is as follows:
- Use a chashaku (a bamboo measuring spoon) to scoop approximately one teaspoon into a chawan (tea bowl).
- Barely wet the matcha with hot, but not boiling, water to create a paste.
- Then, slowly add about 4 to 6 more ounces of water into the chawan, and use a chasen (bamboo whisk) to whisk your matcha until creamy, using an “m” shape to create a frothy layer at top and limit aeration. Now, your matcha is ready for tasting.
“Matcha can sometimes taste really earthy for some people,” Lauren says. “I like to serve my matcha with complementing snacks.” Lauren’s easy accompaniments for a matcha tasting include berries, cookies, and matcha-infused chocolate.
Not only are snacks a great pairing for matcha’s full-bodied palate, but matcha can also be used as its own culinary ingredient as well.
Some other sweet ways to get your matcha fix include:
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
3 cups water
1/2 cup honey or agave nectar
1 tsp matcha powder
Sliced lemon for garnish
See the recipe from SevenKind
2.5 cups finely shredded coconut
2 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
3 tbsp coconut nectar
2 tbsp coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp matcha powder
1/8 tsp sea salt
See the recipe from DesignLoveFest
1 cup pistachios
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup walnuts
14 medjool dates
1/2 cup dried, shredded coconut
2 cups raw cashews, soaked in water overnight
1/2 cup coconut cream
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup coconut oil
juice from 1 – 2 lemons, to taste
2 1/2 tsp matcha powder
See the recipe from Wu Haus
Learn more about Lauren and Mizuba Tea Co. at mizubatea.com, and keep up with Mizuba and #MatchaMoment on Instagram. Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.