Matcha is a unique form of bright emerald green tea. Here we discuss its amazing health benefits and tradition of use.
Written by Sebastian Pole
Matcha is green gold. It is made from a special type of powdered green tea that is grown under shade for a few weeks before being harvested. The stem and veins are then removed before being powdered into the finest verdant grains that dissolve easily in water. Matcha is the tea used in the ancient Japanese tea ceremony and has been used by Buddhist monks for the last 1,000 years. Its light and ascendant properties take ones awareness and energy upwards through the heart to the head bringing clarity and insight. It’s this almost spiritual quality that makes Matcha such an appropriate drink for today’s busy world.
Growing the Matcha under shade increases the volume of healing chlorophyll as well as the L-Theanine, amino acids and polyphenols such as EGCG (epi-gallo-catechin-gallate). These natural compounds add to the sweet and savoury-mineral flavour, known as umami- umami, helping to reduce the bitterness of the iridescent green Matcha. The rare amino acid L-Theanine helps to nourish neurotransmitters in the brain having a positive influence on our mood and sense of inner peace. L-Theanine works synergistically with the low levels of caffeine in green tea and Matcha; it is one of the reasons why it brings such a deep sense of calm as well as alertness. (L-Theanine is five times higher in Matcha than green tea). It actually increases serotonin, dopamine and GABA - all essential neurotransmitters associated with the feel-good factor bringing happiness, inner peace and the general all-round clarity of shanti-ness. We all know that these qualities help us feel at our best in the midst of our over-stimulated world because they help us focus and feel centered. These more subjective experiences flow into measurable affects such as lowering blood pressure, reducing anxiety and influencing alpha-waves (associated with a relaxed state of mind and also regulated by deep meditation).
We get these effects because humans and plants have evolved so closely together. We can benefit from eating plants that have developed these special compounds because they evolved the ability to protect themselves from invasion by microbes as well as adapting to stressful environments to be successful reproducers. For example, many of the colourful pigments in plants that protect them from extreme climates help protect us from extreme stresses. It’s now well known that the traditional Indian diet full of healthy spices such as turmeric, cinnamon and ginger help to protect from inflammatory disorders such as heart disease and cancer that are the scourge of modern healthcare. And green tea is a powerful addition to this protective diet with Matcha being the king of all green tea protectors; one cup of Matcha has 100 times the antioxidants compared to green tea (and green has about double the levels in black tea). Gram for gram it is about 15 times more antioxidant than pomegranates and 100 times more than spinach. So a little goes a long way.
In fact a little can help you to become a little more little because Matcha also helps to burn body fat through a process known as thermogenesis. By enhancing metabolic processes the nearly calorie-free Matcha helps you burn fat four times faster than your usual metabolism.
It’s also important to ensure your Matcha and your green tea (and black for that matter) are organic. Conventionally grown tea has had numerous reports of its pervasive contamination with fat-stored and life-depleting pesticides and herbicides. This has recently been highlighted by a report by Greenpeace India ‘Trouble brewing: Pesticide residues in tea samples from India.’
Green tea and Matcha don’t have a long history of use in India as the British introduction of the sweet-milky chai has had a more prominent place. Whilst a masala-chai from our favourite chai-wallah is a delight, it’s now questionable if so much sugar and milk are actually healthy. Perhaps it’s worth reflecting on the goal of Ayurveda; ‘swasta samatva’ or ‘to be established in yourself with balanced health’ and consider how you can include some delicious, uplifting and even spiritual Matcha in your daily experience of drinking some green gold.
Brunswick Laboratories, Lipophilic and Hydrophilic Antioxidant Capacities of Common Foods in the United States, Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry 2004, 52, 4026-4037 // ORAC Analysis on Matcha Green Tea.
Ferrucci et al, Measurement of spices and seasonings in India: Opportunities for cancer epidemiology and prevention, Asian Pac J Cancer Prev . 2010; 11(6): 1621–1629.
Greenpeace India 2014, Trouble Brewing: Pesticide residues from tea sample in India.
Hutchins-Wolfbrandt et al,Dietary Turmeric Potentially Reduces the Risk of Cancer, Asian Pacific J Cancer Prev, 12, 3169-3173.
Mason, R. 200 mg of Zen. L-Theanine Boosts Alpha Waves, Promotes Alert Relaxation. Alternative and Complementary Therapies 2001.
Weiss, D.J. et al. Determination Of Catechins In Matcha Green Tea By Micellar Electrokinetic Chromatography. Journal of Chromatography. 2003; 1011(1-2): 173-180.