Maybe you’re curious about matcha green tea because you know it’s really healthy. This post is not at all about the high concentration of disease-fighting antioxidants found in this Japanese superfood. It’s not about catechin polyphenols, L-Theanine (a rare amino acid), or epigallocatechin gallate.
At a quiet, little tea shop in Omotesando, Tokyo, I uncovered the secret reason why drinking matcha is so good for you. It’s one word I actually know how to pronounce. To learn more, I sat down with organic matcha expert, Masahiro Nagata, CEO of The Matcha Tokyo.
Matcha Green Tea – Why is it Healthy?
In the West, not so long ago, matcha was branded a “superfood”. Attached were all sorts of wondrous health claims: anti-aging effects, 20 times the concentration of antioxidants as regular green tea, fat-shedding catechin polyphenols.
A few years back, I even went through a phase of adding matcha powder to my regular green tea leaves. This was my insurance that would live past age 93, like the kimono-wrapped Japanese women I saw hosting the tea ceremonies I attended.
When you drink green tea that is steeped, the tea leaves are soaked in hot water. This means not all the nutrients in the leaves actually end up in your cup of tea. The green tea that you drink, steeped from a teabag, is something like 99.9% water.
Really, what you’re drinking is green tea-infused water. The rest of your loose-leaf tea, or tea bag, gets tossed in the garbage.
Matcha is made from the exact same green tea plant, Camellia sinensis, but the leaves are ground up into a fine powder. When you drink matcha, you’re actually consuming whole tea leaves in powdered form, mixed with water.
Makes sense, right, why matcha has a much higher concentration of antioxidants?
But like a said earlier, this post is not about the nutrients inside matcha.
The secret to matcha’s power to heal has nothing to do with what’s in the tea.
Matcha – Infused into Japanese Culture
The first time I tried matcha was at a tea ceremony.
In Japanese, the tradition is called sadō (茶道), “The Way of the Tea”.
As a green tea-lover, I always appreciated the matcha tea at every tea ceremony I’ve ever been to. After my third and final sip, I only wished they had served me a Starbucks’ size of it.
The cup is big. Why is the amount so small?
As a foreign guest living in Japan, I never really understood why they made such a big deal out of serving one single cup of tea.
Now I finally get it.
I have to laugh at myself for not seeing it sooner!
More Than Just a Healthy Drink?
There was a correlational study in Japan that showed that adults who drank the most green tea (5 or more cups per day) were significantly less likely to die during an 11-year period.
Green tea drinkers also have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Yes, Western doctors and nutritionists rave all about the higher concentration of antioxidants in matcha. Rightly so.
However, in Japan, there’s more to the story than matcha’s nutritional value.
Remember, correlation does not imply causation. Correlational studies do not prove that consuming green tea causes good health.
After my ‘aha moment’, I’m convinced that the real reason green tea drinkers in Japan live longer, healthier lives is not only about what they are drinking.
What matters, potentially even more, is how they are drinking what they are drinking.
It’s so obvious to me now.
In Japan, drinking tea is meditation.
Matcha for Meditation
What I didn’t realize is that I have been meditating like a Buddhist monk, for years, without even knowing it.
Thích Nhất Hạnh, a world-famous Zen Buddhist monk in Vietnam, spent one hour every day to drink one single, small cup of green tea.
Compare that to the last time you went through the drive-thru at Starbucks!
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future”.
-Thích Nhất Hạnh
The antioxidants in green tea may reduce inflammation in your body, yes.
But chugging down a tall matcha latte so you can rush back to your high-stress job, what does that do to your health?
It’s not just what you drink, it’s how you drink.
He took an hour to drink one cup of tea. One hour.
Thích Nhất Hạnh lived to age 95.
The Origins of Matcha Tea
My satori (moment of enlightenment) came to me when I began researching tea ceremony and the origins of tea in Japan.
I read that in the 12th century, a Japanese man named Myōan Eisai was studying in China. When he returned home to Japan, he brought back two things with him that would shape the culture of his home country for centuries to come.
One, he returned with him a new way of making green tea, where the tea leaves were dried, ground by stone into a fine powder, and mixed with hot water using a whisk.
And second, he brought back with him what he had been studying in China: Rinzai Zen.
Eisai (1141 – 1215), a Buddhist priest, was Japan’s first Zen master.
He wrote the book Kissa Yojoki (in English, Drinking Tea for Health).
Aha! Before my eyes, it was so clear. My body had felt the connection– my mind had just caught up.
The knowledge of how to make matcha and Zen came to Japan together…
Eisai is credited for bringing the seeds to grow green tea in Japan for the first time.
After I unearthed the history of growing green tea in Japan, all the dots connected.
Making a cup of matcha tea is Zen!
I continued my research. It turns out that monks in Japan have been preparing matcha tea the same way for over 500 years.
Next, I discovered that sadō, Japanese tea ceremony, originated as a Zen Buddhist ritual. It’s a practice.
Sen Rikyu, the most revered tea master in Japan’s past, is quoted saying,
“The most important purpose of tea…is… to arrive at spiritual enlightenment.”
I don’t know if you are as excited to learn this as I was–
For me, it was an awakening!
What Japanese Tea Ceremony Teaches Us About Life
The lesson of Japanese tea ceremony can be summed up by the Zen saying, “Ichi-go, ichi-e”. This can be translated, “One meeting, one time.”
Forget about the past and the future–
We must learn to fully appreciate the present moment. Each moment of life is unique and will never happen again.
By being fully present, you’re able to find beauty in something as simple as making one cup of tea.
There’s a well-known story about Sen no Rikyu, the founder of the Japanese tea ceremony. It exemplifies how we should be fully awake in the moment, with our heart fully open.
When asked by a student to say something about the most important teachings of the Tea Ceremony, Sen no Rikyu responded,
“First you must make a delicious bowl of tea; lay the charcoal so the water boils; arrange the flowers as they are in the field; in the summer suggest coolness, in the winter, warmth; do everything ahead of time; prepare for rain; and give those with whom you find yourself every consideration.”
The student was disappointed with this response and said he already knew all that. Rikyu told him if he could do all that well, then Rikyu himself would be his student.
Why not try it for yourself? Believe me, it’s not as easy as it would first appear.
Watch your thoughts. Are you really fully present when you’re making your delicious cup of tea?
Recently, I’ve incorporated my own Japanese tea ceremony as part of my morning routine on the weekend and my days off work. It’s a practice of concentration that results in mindfulness, being in the present moment.
This is still pretty new for me. I’ve been meditating regularly for about six years.
Learn more about my “Morning Matcha Meditation” below the recipe. Start your morning with a sacred ritual, the same as what monks in Japan have been doing for centuries.
Make your morning sacred.
My “Matcha Tea Meditation”
This is how I’ve incorporated drinking matcha green tea into my morning routine.
Most importantly, give every step in the ritual your full concentration.
If you witness your thoughts drifting to your problems from yesterday or worries about tomorrow, acknowledge it, and gently bring your awareness back to the present.
“We drink tea to forget the noise of the world.”
Step One– After gently scooping the matcha powder into your tea bowl, take time to admire the brilliant green color and texture of the powder. Lift the bowl with two hands to smell the matcha. You may like to imagine the tea farm where it was grown, the farmer, and other people who worked hard to make your tea powder. Growing organic green tea must be hard work. Breathe in, with a deep sense of gratitude for those people…the farm…the leaves… sunlight…the clean water.
Step Two– When mixing the matcha powder and hot water together with a bamboo whisk, give your full attention to the mixing. With one hand, gently hold the tea bowl in place on the table. In your other hand, hold the whisk gently with your wrist completely relaxed. Notice how effortless you mix when your wrist is entirely limp. Exhale, letting the rest of your body release all its tension.
Step Three– When you finish whisking, slowly pick up the tea bowl in both hands. Pause. Feel the warmth of the bowl. Take some breaths. In your mind or out loud, say thank you for the tea. Feel the warmth and gratitude inside of you. Feel your heart opening.
Step Four– Raise the tea bowl up to your nose. Take in the smell. Lower the bowl, appreciate the beauty of the tiny bubbles and froth on top. I like to look for patterns or signs in the bubbles, or constellations from the sky. Appreciate the sacredness of this moment.
Step Five– Raise the tea bowl to your mouth. Slowly, slowly take your first sip. Bring your awareness to the taste: sweetness, the mild bitterness, the frothy bubbles.
Step Six– Continue to slowly appreciate it sip of matcha tea. If you catch your mind going through today’s to-do list, acknowledge it, and gently bring it back to the present.
Step Seven– Once you finish your last sip, say thank you again.
Step Eight– Wash and rinse your tea bowl and bamboo whisk when the same attention and presence that you had when preparing and drinking the tea. Give your full attention during the whole process. Complete it to the end.
What You’ll Need to Make Matcha Tea
If you’re first time making matcha, all you really need is matcha powder, a chasen (bamboo tea whisk), and a small bowl. You don’t need to go buy an expensive chawan just to enjoy a humble “tea ceremony” in your kitchen at home. A bamboo scoop, called a chashaku, is optional. A small spoon works fine.
Even Sen no Rikyu himself said,
“Tea is nought but this: first you heat the water, then you make the tea. Then you drink it properly. That is all you need to know.”
If you really get into making matcha, I would definitely recommend buying a bamboo tea ladle and a pretty Japanese bowl to get the whole experience. For a first-timer, I rather you first invest in some decent quality matcha powder.
With lower quality matcha, you’re better off making a latte or dessert.
The Best Matcha (My Go-To Brands)
This is the organic matcha I drink at home:
THE MATCHA TOKYO Organic Japan Premium (best quality, organic)
Organic "Tokyo Rich" Matcha (high quality, organic)
SUISOUEN Matcha *(affordable, good quality organic matcha)
*Sorry, this website is in Japanese. See the dark green package in the pictures at the beginning of this post.
A Taste of Zen– Where to Find High Quality, Organic Matcha Tea in Japan
If you visit Tokyo and you want a taste of Zen, I recommend The Matcha Tokyo in Omotesando or Shinjuku. If you’re in the Kansai region, The Matcha Tokyo opened its first shop in Osaka in 2020. (Update: this location closed during to Covid.)
Last month, I met with Masahiro Nagata, CEO of The Matcha Tokyo. Before opening his first shop, he traveled the entire country in search of the best quality, organic matcha and sencha green tea.
Mr. Nagata is so passionate about matcha. Last year after opening his first organic matcha-themed cafe, he quit his job at Sony to pursue his passion full time.
If you’re shopping in Omotesando/Harajuku, and looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, you’ll find your Zen in his shop.
Their “Japan Premium” Matcha is a blend of organic green tea grown in Kyoto and Kagoshima in Kyushu.
You can also try high quality matcha ice cream, soft serve ice cream, and matcha lattes made with alternative milks. At the store, you can purchase organic matcha powder, green tea bags made from whole leaf teas.
THE MATCHA TOKYO
Three Tokyo locations:
Omotesando/Harajuku (This is my favorite location.)
Shinjuku (inside NeWoMan Department Store)
Shibuya (inside Miyashita Park Shopping Mall)
Hong Kong 4 locations
China: Tianjin 1 location
Full disclosure: I did not receive any compensation for promoting either of these businesses. My recommendations are only my honest opinions. I go to The Matcha Tokyo often.
Until I wrote this post, I couldn’t explain my strange attraction to green tea. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
The question I’ve been asked a million times, “Why Japan? What brought you here in the first place?” –
My canned answer used to be: “I love Japanese food, obviously, drinking saké, hot springs, the nature, people are polite and nice.”
I knew it wasn’t really the answer. The truth was, “I don’t know. Somehow I ended up here.”
“I don’t know” isn’t the most polite thing to say when a Japanese person asks you, “What made you want to come to Japan?”
Now I know what I’ve been looking for.
The next person who asks me why I moved to Japan, I can finally tell the truth.
Zen. I came to Japan to find inner peace.
I just didn’t know it for the past 16 years.
Finally, I understood. Zen is the way in “The Way of Tea.”
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nutritionist, dietician, or Zen master. I have no medical training at all. The information I shared in this post is based on my own experiences and and information I learned during my own research. For Education and Informational Purposes only. Any product mentioned in this post is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please consult your doctor before changing your diet in any way, especially if you have a sensitivity to caffeine.
MATCHA TEA CULINARY VS CEREMONIAL GRADE
I noticed these two terms used on matcha in the United States and wondered what they meant. In Japan, this distinction between quality doesn't actually exist. My guess was that calling matcha 'ceremonial' was a marketing term that caught on.
The word ceremonial gives you the impression that it's the highest quality of matcha available. This is not the case. I did some research and found out that the use of these two terms are completely unregulated overseas.
When choosing matcha, I go by my own taste preferences and the quality brands I know. I recommended some of my favorites above in this post.
CUP OF COFFEE VS MATCHA
I've always thought matcha has a pleasant taste. Many people would describe it has having a mild grassy, earthy flavor.
It has a deep flavor. At the same time, it's smooth, light, and frothy with little tiny bubbles on top. If you aren't a green tea drinker, it may take some time to acquire the taste.
The typical serving size is smaller that a cup of coffee. As long as you stick to serving size, the caffeine content may be slightly less or on par with coffee.
Generally speaking, matcha contains 19–44 mg of caffeine per gram according to Healthline. A typical serving of matcha is between 2–4 grams (½–1 teaspoon), which contains anywhere between 38–176 mg of caffeine.
Matcha doesn't give you that same caffeine rush and crash as coffee. It makes me feel warm and calm, not jittery at all.
Drinking both matcha and coffee have their health benefits. The advantage of matcha is the powerful antioxidants, it gives you better breath, and it's easy to make.
Matcha is also alkaline, which is especially good news if you have a sensitive tummy.
The downside is good quality matcha can be expensive.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
1) Is matcha green tea green in color?
Yes, high quality matcha should be a vibrant green color. As a rule, always choose matcha that is a bright green powder and preferably organic.
If it's not a bright green color, that's an indication of poor quality. It could also mean that it's oxidized from exposure to air or it's too old.
2) Why is my green tea brown or yellow?
When exposed to air, matcha powder will oxidize and lose its vibrant green color. If you just purchased you matcha new, a dull color indicates that its poor quality. The other possible scenario with powdered tea, is you may have inadvertently bought a different kind of tea. For example, powdered hojicha (hoji tea), is a light brown color.
Some Japanese green teas (whole leaves) are lighter green or yellowish in color. It's normal. But that is not the case for matcha.
Oolong tea, also very popular in Japan, is brown.
3) What is the difference between matcha and green tea?
First off, matcha is green tea. It's made from the same tea leaves as other Japanese green teas. One difference is that matcha is a powder. However, you can purchase Japanese green tea powder that is not matcha. So what's the difference?
Before harvesting the leaves, the tea plants that are used to produce matcha are covered. Growing for about three weeks in the shade increases the amount of chlorophyll and caffeine.
When you drink a cup of matcha, you're actually consuming whole tea leaves. This means a cup of matcha will contain higher amounts of nutrition than regular green tea.
4) What is the best time to drink matcha tea?
Because of its relatively high caffeine content, I recommend that you drink your cup early in the morning. I rarely drink more than one cup of matcha. So it doesn't interfere with the quality of your sleep, I recommend that you avoid drinking matcha after 12 or 1 PM.
5) Is matcha tea acidic?
No, matcha is not acidic, compared to a cup of coffee. Matcha has a pH level of about 9. Anything above a pH of 7 is alkaline.
6) What is the best Japanese green tea?
One of the highest quality matcha is called Goko, grown in Uji, Kyoto. The highest quality green tea is called Gyokuro. It can be very expensive!
According to Nagata san, the best, sweet tasting matcha is from either Kagoshima in Kyushu and Uji, Kyoto. Shizuoka is the region that's famous for some of the best Japanese teas (loose leaf) in the country.
7) What is the best green tea for energy?
Matcha has the highest amount of caffeine out of all Japanese varieties of green tea. Drinking matcha, you'll feel the effects of the caffeine. It may help you stay awake, feel more alert, or help you concentrate better. But physiologically speaking, drinking tea doesn't actually give your body actual energy. Caffeinated teas will only give you a short boost of "energy".
8) What is the best green tea for immune system?
Out of all Japanese green teas, matcha has the greatest concentration of nutrition and the chemical compounds that support your immune system. According to WebMD, matcha contains specific antioxidants called catechins that help the body fight disease.
9) Is matcha green tea good for a hangover?
Umm, from personal experience (ha ha!), yes, the boost of caffeine does help with a mild headache. Just don't expect any miracles!
10) What are some healthy matcha drink recipes?
First, I recommend drinking just plain matcha, hot or cold. If you're still acquiring the taste, you can try out matcha lattes made with your favorite milk.
Here is my recipe for coconut milk matcha lattes. It's really good and don't require any special equipment. Oat milk is another alternative milk you could try.
11) What are some healthy matcha recipes?
These are my recipe for matcha dessert takoyaki and vegan matcha ice cream. If you want something sweet but don't want to derail your healthy diet, these are perfect for you! I've also seen matcha flavored protein bars, cookies, breads, pancakes, and chocolate. I've even dipped tempura into matcha salt before.