Health benefits of matcha powdered green tea
Matcha is a fine bright green powder made from leaves of the tea plant Camellia sinensis. Green tea leaves dry for less time before processing and so keep their leaf colour - unlike black tea, where leaves are allowed to dry completely, changing to the traditional dark colour. Tea plants used for matcha are shaded for two weeks before leaves are harvested to boost chlorophyll levels. The leaves are then steamed, dried and ground into fine powder.
Image credit: koumei-matcha.de
Matcha tea and other uses
Matcha came from ancient China, then spread to Japan, and is now a popular choice in health food shops. Matcha comes in different grades, from ceremonial or premium grade, to grades used in cooking and to add to drinks.
Like all teas, hot water is used to brew matcha tea. Infusing tea leaves allows substances such as caffeine and tea polyphenols (natural plant antioxidants) to leach into the hot water. Tea made from green or black tea leaves is 'strained' before drinking to remove the leaves. The fine powder of matcha means the powdered leaf is drunk as well. For this reason matcha producers claim matcha tea is higher in caffeine and tea anti-oxidants than traditionally produced teas. Although this may be the case, there is no scientific evidence to support claims that matcha is any 'healthier' than normal tea.
Matcha tea can be made as a concentrated drink ('thick' matcha - koicha) or a weaker, less astringent drink ('thin' matcha - usucha).
All teas, including matcha, contain L-theanine, a natural amino acid associated with feeling mentally alert but also relaxed. Although this effect has been demonstrated by EEG measurements that record brain electrical activity, it is not possible to show whether it is the L-theanine that creates the effect, or that the ritual of 'putting the kettle on' to make a cup of tea is causing the effect.
Matcha is rich in antioxidants from flavonoids and the amino acid L-theanine. Matcha has been used as a traditional remedy for many ailments over the years, such as protecting against heart disease, helping blood sugar control, reducing blood pressure and even for slowing cancer cell growth. However, in the absence of good quality scientific evidence none of these claims can be confirmed.
No health claims have been approved for matcha or green tea by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), so it cannot be advertised as having any proven health benefits.
However, experts say green tea and matcha is safe in moderate amounts as a drink and as an addition to foods and drink. Tea leaves contain lead as a natural soil contaminant in growing areas. However, the brewing of tea and discarding tea leaves from the drink means 'traditionally' brewed teas contain very little lead. However, the use of powdered leaf tea in matcha means that the lead in the leaves is consumed as well. A single cup of matcha may exceed safe daily allowances for lead. For this reason it is best to limit consumption to one or fewer cups a day, and it is best to avoid this drink in pregnancy and if breastfeeding.
Dietitian reviewed by Catherine Collins RD