Find out what to look for in your favorite matcha treat.
At trendy cafés, upscale bakeries, and dessert bars, gone are the days of espresso-filled drinks and pastries. Now, bright green matcha-infused lattes, cakes, ice creams, and cookies are the staple, and for good reason, too; the green tea powder is a probiotic powerhouse that boosts metabolism and heart health. Before you order one of these bright green treats, read this guide for the scoop on everything matcha.
Green Tea vs. Matcha
Green tea is a broad category of teas that includes sencha, Longjing, Genmaicha, and, of course, matcha. Regular green tea contains EGCG, a catechin that research has suggested acts as antioxidants in the body and has the potential to protect against cardiovascular disease and hypertension. One cup of matcha, however, contains as much EGCG as three cups of regular green tea, says Dr. William Li, a cancer prevention expert and the medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation. This nutrient boost is a result of the steeping process: when you steep green tea in a bag or strainer by pouring water over it, you’re also steeping out some of the natural bioactive elements. But when you brew matcha made from ground powder, the entire leaf — except the stems and veins — is placed in the water, allowing all of its nutrients to be absorbed into the drink. Just by looking at the lighter color of the steeped green tea, it’s clear that matcha produces a more nutrient-concentrated beverage.
Matcha and Your Health
Not only does matcha offer benefits for your gut health, but new laboratory research has also shown that it has the potential to prevent breast cancer by cutting off the fuel lines from cancer stem cells. In doing so, the cancer cells can’t function and eventually die, Dr. Li says. Though the study wasn’t conducted on women with breast cancer, it points to the possible additional health benefits of matcha.
Shopping for Matcha
When purchasing matcha from the grocery store, choose a variety that lists only “matcha” in the ingredients, is an emerald-green color, and has the “product of Japan” label, Dr. Li says. In Japan, tea leaves are grown in the shade to preserve the color and are steam dried quickly to prevent them from long exposure with oxygen, ensuring you have a high-quality beverage every time. Also consider the grade of matcha: tea packages labeled “ceremonial” are the highest quality, “premium grade” teas are a decent blend at a slightly lower price than “ceremonial,” making it perfect for everyday consumption, and “cooking grade” varieties are best used in baked goods. Lastly, choose a brand that sells its matcha in a resealable tin — if it’s sold in bags or wrapped in foil, it’s not being preserved properly.
While your favorite coffee house’s matcha latte may be delicious, it’s likely not too beneficial for your health if “ground Japanese green tea” is listed as the fourth ingredient, and it’s after sugar. If you’re planning to satisfy your tea craving with a pre-made smoothie or other matcha-infused beverage, chef Ming Tsai recommends checking the labels first, as there could be food dye or other additives that offset the benefits of drinking the green tea. To ensure your matcha drinks are pure as possible, shake your own cold brew matcha in a mason jar or blend together a smoothie made from almond milk, ginger, mangoes, or other sweet ingredients that balance the bitterness of the matcha.