In trends, everything old is new again. The latest comeback kid to hit the health scene? Matcha tea. This new trend isn’t just old, it’s ancient—people have been sipping the stuff for centuries. More recently it has been invading urban cafes; major tea providers are selling matcha tea kits; and pics of beautiful ceramic bowls, bamboo whisks, and the vibrant (and verdant) drink have been popping up all over Instagram, all adding to the matcha mania.
What Is Matcha Tea?
“Matcha” means “powdered tea,” and it refers to powdered green tea in particular. To make matcha, green tea leaves are stone-ground into a super-fine, super-delicate powder, and that powder is then whisked with hot (not boiling) water until the mixture is frothy. The preparation is the cornerstone of the Japanese tea ceremony—and this ritual is a huge part of the appeal.
Another reason for its growing fanbase? Matcha advocates claim it has health benefits beyond regular brewed tea.
The Scientific Evidence
While green tea in general has been linked to a slew of health benefits—we’re talking everything from fighting cancer to boosting metabolism to protecting the skin to making you live longer—matcha may take these benefits to the next level.
Matcha tea is basically amped up green tea since you’re consuming the entire tea leaf, says Carlene Thomas, R.D.N. It’s significantly richer in the polyphenol epigallocatechin 3-O-gallate (a.k.a. EGCG), which stunts irregular cell growth Determination of Catechins in Matcha Green Tea by Micellar Electrokinetic Chromatography. Weiss D.J., Anderton, C.R. Journal of Chromatography A, 2003 Sep 5;1011(1-2):173-80. . In fact, one study suggests that the EGCG concentration in matcha tea is at least three times greater than most other green teas and up to 137 greater than some brands Determination of Catechins in Matcha Green Tea by Micellar Electrokinetic Chromatography. Weiss D.J., Anderton, C.R. Journal of Chromatography A, 2003 Sep 5;1011(1-2):173-80. . This may be the most important polyphenol in green tea, as it’s got the ability to suppress tumor production in cancers and may even prevent atherosclerosis, Thomas says. Sipping on just a cup of the powdered stuff is the same as downing 10 cups of brewed green tea, so you’re getting a whole lot more nutritional bang for your buck, she adds.
Matcha has also been shown to have more antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties than other green teas Anti-Infective Properties of Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a Component of Green Tea. Steinmann, J., Buer, J., Pietschmann, T., et al. British Journal of Pharmacology, 2013 Mar;168(5):1059-73. .
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that matcha packs around 70mg of caffeine per eight-ounce cup, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D., author of Read It Before You Eat It. So it may not be the thing to turn to if you’re looking for a calming ritual before you hit the sheets. Also, be sure you’re not inadvertently turning this good-for-you beverage into a sugar bomb by adding loads of cream and sweetners, Thomas adds.
Green tea in general has so many healthy benefits that you’re doing your body a world of good by brewing a cup. But since you’re getting a greater dose of cancer-fighting and heart-healthy EGCG with every sip of matcha, you might want to grab a bowl and a whisk.