Matcha Is Super Trendy — But Do You Actually Know Why It's Good For You Or What It Is? Consider This Your Ultimate Guide

Photo by Theerawan Bangpran

I'm sure that, by now, you've heard of matcha—or at least seen it. It's the trendy drink you see all over Instagram, with a green hue that could blow millennial pink out of the water any day (in my humble opinion).

But what is matcha?

And how is it different from regular green tea? Matcha is made from the tea plant Camellia sinensis, which produces tencha tea. The big difference between matcha and other green tea is that matcha is grown in the shade, which increases the amount of cell-food chlorophyll in it, which gives it its bright-green color. Regular green tea comes from this same plant, but the leaves are usually consumed via tea bags. Matcha is made by grinding up the pure green tea leaves into a powder, creating a much more concentrated version. A study found that matcha has three times the amount of EGCG than regular green tea. EGCG is a catechin (a class of antioxidants) which has anti-tumor and cancer-preventing properties. Matcha may also provide relaxation and increased focus. It contains high levels of L-theanine, which promotes a sense of overall well-being and calm. When this is mixed with the caffeine content, it produces a relaxed type of alertness.

I never thought I'd be a matcha drinker over a coffee drinker, but recently it became evident to me that though I adored coffee, the feeling was not mutual. After experimenting and deciding to switch from coffee to matcha for a few weeks, I realized that coffee was the culprit that exacerbated my hormonal acne, aggravated my body's acidity levels and gave me acid reflux, and triggered my anxiety levels. Matcha still gives me that kick I need in the morning, but it offers a different and more steady level of energy; there are no highs and lows or crashes. I'm hooked.

There are a few main types of matcha—and it's easy to be confused.

One of the most common questions I'm asked is the difference between different types of matcha. There is ceremonial grade and culinary grade, then there are all sorts of "green tea powders" you may find online being marketed as matcha, but they're probably not at all, so be aware of that.

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Ceremonial-grade matcha

Ceremonial grade matcha is traditionally intended for a very special tea ceremony, one in which the tea would be consumed straight up and with hardly any water (the traditional tea ceremony is called "Koicha" meaning "thick tea.") Think of this as the tea you would use on a special occasion. The idea is that this matcha is so high quality that the flavors should be savored on their own, not diluted by milk in a latte.

Photo: @Quanthem

Culinary-grade matcha

Culinary matcha has a bad reputation because, in the American market, poorly made, processed, and oxidized green tea powder is often marketed as culinary matcha, and, to be frank, it tastes like dirt. These powders might taste OK in baking, but that's about it. This is a bad misconception, though, because if you are purchasing culinary-grade matcha from a reputable brand, then you can rest assured you are getting a very quality matcha. A culinary matcha is intended to be used if you plan on mixing your matcha with milk in a latte or into other beverages like a matcha lemonade.

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Related Class

Matcha quality has less to do with grade of matcha and more to do with the supplier.

There's an incorrect notion that ceremonial grade is always good, and culinary grade is always, well, not so good. However, this is not the case at all. The quality of the matcha lies more so in the integrity and quality of the brand you are buying from.

For example, I've ordered some ceremonial-grade matcha on Amazon, and it was a dusty light-green color, not the deep vibrant green color I had come to expect from a ceremonial-grade matcha. Similarly, I ordered culinary-grade matcha from Mizuba Tea, which is an amazing brand that produces quality matcha, and that culinary grade was on par with some of the best ceremonial matcha I've ever tried.

When researching a brand, ask these questions:

  1. Is the matcha from Japan? (The good stuff is grown in Japan.)
  2. Is the matcha grown in the shade, and is it solely "tencha" leaves? True matcha isn't made of any other leaves, like sencha or gyokuro. Tencha can only be grown in the shade, so if your matcha was shade grown, you know it's the real deal.
  3. How was the matcha powder produced? Was it stone ground or mechanically ground? True authentic matcha is stone ground.

The best matcha brands.

With matcha, quality is super important. Here are a few varieties that are well-vetted:

Ritual Cosmic has high-quality culinary (they call theirs "habitual") and ceremonial-grade matcha (not to mention the cutest pastel-pink packaging!).

Matchaful is based in Brooklyn, and has super-high-quality product.

Mizuba Tea is my favorite culinary-grade matcha, a great deal at $30 for a 100-gram pouch.

Ippodo Tea sells a wonderful ceremonial-grade matcha.

Laka Living has lots of cool products including a ceremonial-grade matcha, which is excellent.

Photo: @NatashaBreen

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How much matcha to consume daily—and how much is too much.

"Most of the research done on the benefits of green tea have found the optimal amount to be 100 to 200 milligrams of EGCG, which comes to about 2 to 5 cups a day depending on the strength you make your matcha or other green tea," says Will Cole, D.C. "If you want to get the most EGCG action out of matcha, or any tea, for that matter, stick to regular hot water. Adding different milks tends to have a dampening effect on the antioxidant bioavailability, so enjoy your matcha latte, but don't make it your only source of EGCG."

While matcha is fairly safe in normal amounts, you don't want to go overboard, as this can be hard on your liver. It's also still a caffeinated drink with 70 milligrams in an 8-ounce cup (compared to coffee's 95). The Mayo Clinic suggests that most healthy adults try to stay under 400 milligrams of caffeine daily, so based on that alone, you'd want to stay under 6 cups daily—and yes, that includes matcha cookies, smoothies, and other treats. In general, most doctors recommend two to three matcha drinks or treats daily—and be sure to watch the sugar you include in those as well!

How to make matcha tea.

You can consume matcha in a number of ways—as a tea, as a latte, or in foods. Matcha tea is, of course, the classic way. You can make matcha tea two ways: traditionally, with a whisk, or in a blender. If you want to go for a more ritualistic and ceremonial experience (as the ceremonial matcha is intended for) then definitely give a traditional sifting-bamboo-whisking method a shot! This would be a great opportunity to try the tea completely unadulterated and notice different flavors and nuances in the tea.

Traditional Matcha Tea Recipe

Serves 1

Ingredients & tools

  • ½ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon matcha
  • bamboo whisk
  • fine-mesh strainer
  • small bowl or round mug

Method

  1. Bring water to a boil in a kettle, then let it sit for at least 5 minutes or until it is between the temperatures 165°F and 180°F. You don’t want to use boiling water to make matcha.
  2. Measure out ½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of matcha, and sift the tea with a fine-mesh strainer to get rid of any clumps. You can sift the matcha into a round mug or a small bowl.
  3. Add about ½ cup of hot water to the matcha and whisk away. The final product should be clump-free, bubbly, and creamy on top.

To make it in a blender, just add the matcha and water to a blender and blend until it's frothy.

Nine times out of 10, you'll find me making my matcha in a blender because it's just such a time saver and I love the no-hassle creamy and frothy result this method yields.

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How to make matcha lattes.

I tend to recommend that newbies start with matcha lattes, so they can get used to matcha's earthy flavor with the milk before drinking it in more intense, straight forms. Once you become a matcha lover and want to really get into the traditional practices and taste it in its purest form, I'd recommend dabbling in the sifting and whisking method.

Matcha Latte Recipe

Serves 1

Ingredients & tools

  • ½ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon matcha
  • ¼ to ½ cup milk of choice
  • blender

Method

  1. Bring water to a boil in a kettle, then let it sit for at least 5 minutes or until it is between the temperatures 165°F and 180°F. You don’t want to use boiling water to make matcha.
  2. Add matcha, water, and milk to blender, and blend until very smooth.
  3. Add any desired flavor variations (see below).
  4. If you prefer an iced latte, pour over ice when finished.

You can also add a ton of different flavor variations to customize your latte. Here are a few of my favorites.

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Rosewater Matcha Latte

Add in 1 teaspoon of rosewater and ⅓ to ½ cup of your favorite milk. Mix with a spoon or combine in your blender.

Vanilla Matcha Latte

Add in ½ teaspoon of vanilla bean powder or extract along with ⅓ to ½ cup of your favorite milk for a vanilla matcha latte. Mix with a spoon or combine in your blender.

Dirty Matcha Latte

Add in 1 shot of espresso along with ⅓ to ½ cup of your favorite milk. Mix with a spoon or combine in your blender.

Bulletproof Matcha

Add in 1 to 2 teaspoons (or up to a tablespoon) of MCT oil, coconut oil, ghee, or grass-fed butter with the hot water and matcha so that the fat can melt. Blend on high in your blender to emulsify with ⅓ to ½ cup of your favorite milk.

You can upgrade your matcha for glowing skin, to alleviate anxiety, and to heal your gut with these simple recipes.

This Iced Rosewater Matcha Lemonade is perfect for summer.

These matcha black sesame cookies are grain-free and so easy to make.

And, yes, matcha can be mixed with coffee for the ultimate treat. Try this dirty mint matcha and see for yourself how delicious it can be.

Feeling a little fatigued? Feel like something's just not right, but Western Medicine tells you, "you're fine"? Jason Wachob, founder & CEO of mindbodygreen, tells all in his health story. Sign up now for FREE!

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