Matcha is a bright but unassuming green powder with way more benefits for your health than you might expect. Or perhaps you would expect it, if you're familiar with all of the health benefits of tea.
What is Matcha?
Matcha is a type of green tea, but it's no ordinary tea. Rather than drying, oxidizing, and packaging the leaves of the tea plant Camellia sinensis, matcha is produced in a different way.
Most tea preparations are Chinese in origin, but matcha is unique in that it hails from Japan. The plant is the same, but the preparation is different.
The first difference in preparation begins before the leaves are even harvested. Tea plants are covered, to prevent direct sunlight on the leaves for up to 20 days before harvesting. This forces the plant to have to adapt to a lower light environment, stimulating the development of chlorophyll and forcing the leaves to turn a darker shade of green. Nutritionally, this stimulates the production of valuable amino acids.
Traditionally, the best tea buds are then hand-picked, though in major production now it's likely that most every leaf is picked for harvest. High grade matcha is produced with just the softer, more supple leaves from the top of the plant, while low grade matcha is made from the harder, coarser leaves lower down on the plant.
These leaves can be rolled up to dry, which produces Sencha. The leaves that are left flat to dry are deveined, destemmed, and finally ground up into a fine powder. This preparation is called Tencha, and the resulting powder is matcha.
This is a slow process; grinding up the tea leaves requires slow and careful milling to avoid letting the tools or the leaves get too hot. If they get too hot, it partially cooks the tea, altering the aromas and destroying some of the healthy benefits of the resulting tea.
Matcha is often marketed according to grade. Culinary grade is the cheapest level of matcha, suitable for cooking. It's often coarse and slightly sandy, and more bitter than other forms of matcha. High grade is better and is typically the best grade for drinking as a tea.
There is also a "ceremonial grade", which takes advantage of westerners who aren't familiar with historic tea culture. It's not an official grade of matcha in Japan, but it's used to market a premium-style upgrade on what is still basically high grade matcha.
Uses for Matcha
Matcha has an extremely wide variety of uses today.
First of all it is, of course, still used as a tea. Matcha can be brewed hot, or brewed and chilled for an iced tea preparation. Using high grade match provides the best flavor and the best nutritional profile here.
There are two preparations of matcha in traditional tea ceremonies. One, called usucha or "thin tea", is a normal tea preparation. It's watery and tea-like with a distinctive umami flavor that comes from the presence of theanine, the amino acid most prominent in matcha.
The other preparation is called koicha, or "thick tea". This preparation cuts the amount of water used in the tea in half while doubling the amount of matcha powder, thus making a preparation four times as thick. It has the consistency of a thin shake or something like paint, and is very potent. Rather than being brewed and whisked to stir, it is almost kneaded to thoroughly mix the powder.
Matcha must be consumed quickly in these preparations. Unlike a steeped tea, matcha dissolves the powder of the tea into the water itself. Left alone too long, the tea will separate as the powder settles out. Thus, part of a tea ceremony involving matcha is a consistent flow between preparing and consuming the tea.
Matcha is increasingly used in cooking as both a color and a flavor additive. The distinctive green color of the matcha carries through into preparations like ice cream, cake, and icing. While food coloring can serve the same purpose, matcha is organic and significantly healthier. The tea also adds a unique flavor to goods it colors.
Matcha is also used as a preparation as part of a face mask, used for skin treatments. This doesn't have the same range of health benefits as consuming the tea, but many believe it's excellent for the skin.
The Health Benefits of Matcha
At first, you might think that matcha is great simply because it's green tea, with all of the associated benefits that come with that tea. Indeed, tea is beneficial in a variety of ways. It is packed with chlorophyll, a healthy phytonutrient that provides energy to your body. It has a range of vitamins your body needs for everything from digestion to fat burning to clear thinking. It's also filled with a range of antioxidants, which your body can use to help hunt down and bind free radicals, which themselves can cause all manner of health issues when left alone.
In addition to the above, green tea has a natural amount of caffeine in it. This small amount of caffeine is sufficient to help give you energy and stimulate awareness, without stressing your body out or making you reliant on the drug.
Matcha is more than just that. For one thing, it's a highly concentrated version of green tea. With normal green tea, you're steeping the leaves in hot water, letting the water absorb some of the nutrients from the leaves. This is healthy, of course, but it's also inefficient. You don't consume the leaves themselves, just the nutrients that seep out of them. This leaves a lot behind in the leaves that are then discarded.
With matcha, you're consuming the whole leaf, ground and mixed with water. This gives you a massive boost to the level of nutrition you get out of the tea. One cup of matcha can be the equivalent of ten cups of green tea, when brewed properly.
We've mentioned it before, but one of the key nutrients in matcha is theanine. Theanine is a natural amino acid. It has been known to be part of green tea since 1949. It's also the nutrient responsible for the umami taste of green tea. Matcha has it in spades compared to normal green tea.
So what benefits does theanine have for your body? Well, it's a chemical that is able to cross the blood-brain barrier, and brings with it some powerful effects. It has psychoactive properties, but not the kind you might think. It won't cause hallucinations, no; rather, it helps reduce mental stress, improve cognition, and boosts your mood.
On top of this, it works alongside caffeine to enhance these effects. Caffeine already has some means of improving your brain chemistry, at least in small doses. When coupled with theanine, it's very powerful.
Matcha is also high in the catechin epigallocatechin gallate, which is a potent antioxidant that helps boost the immune system and can even aid slightly in weight loss.
Plus, this is all just what we know so far! Matcha and other forms of tea are still being studied for their range of potential health benefits. It's entirely possible that there are more we haven't even pinned down yet.
The Benefits of Matcha for Skin
Matcha can benefit the skin in two ways; as a beverage and as a skincare product.
As a beverage, matcha has wide-reaching benefits throughout the body. The most relevant among these is the range of antioxidant properties, which help reduce redness and inflammation throughout the body. It can also help fight off the effects of toxins in the atmosphere.
Many of the skin-based benefits of matcha come from using it as a component in a skin mask or cream. There are a wide range of products out there that include matcha as a primary ingredient, or as one ingredient among many. Potentially the best, however, is making your own. We'll talk more about that in a moment.
Using matcha on your skin has several tangible benefits. First of all, the chlorophyll present in the green substance helps protect your skin against sun damage and the aging effects that come along with it. This is why you'll often see matcha coupled with collagen as a skin product. Matcha protects from the outside, while collagen helps restore from the inside.
In addition to protecting your skin from sun damage, matcha helps ward off environmental grime and chemicals that can settle in your pores and lead to skin conditions like acne.
Mentioned above, matcha contains a high level of catechins, specifically EGCG. This is an antibacterial and antibiotic chemical when applied to the skin. It's great for helping to heal small blemishes or helping reduce the redness, inflammation, and pain associated with acne flare-ups. It helps heal and rejuvenate affected skin.
One of the primary vitamins in matcha is vitamin K, which helps promote blood circulation and can reduce puffiness and those dark circles you may get under your eyes.
How to Use Matcha for Your Skin
There are a lot of different ways you can include matcha in your routine.
The first is, of course, dietary. Simply drink a cup or two of matcha every day, and you'll soon me awash in the health benefits of the simple beverage. It's easy to prepare, though you may need to read up on it a time or two before you're used to it, since it doesn't brew the same as normal tea. Some people prefer to go all-in and buy a special matcha whisk and other tools, but those aren't strictly necessary.
You can add matcha to other foods and drinks you consume as well, if you like. Nothing will be quite as potent as pure matcha, but adding some matcha powder to a diet smoothie or a meal replacement shake can help with added nutrition. Unfortunately, just eating some matcha-flavored cake is unlikely to help much.
You can use matcha as a face mask quite easily. We recommend using the lower grade matcha for this; it's cheaper, and the coarser texture actually helps with exfoliation in a natural way. One good recipe is to mix about 1.5 tablespoons of clay with a half a teaspoon of matcha and a tablespoon of water to mix up a mask.
Another mask recipe, one that doesn't use clay, is to mix a teaspoon of matcha with two teaspoons of water, a teaspoon of making soda, and a teaspoon of honey. This creates a nice thick paste – add less honey if it's too thick – and spread evenly across your face. As with any mask, leave it for 10-20 minutes before washing off carefully.
You can add a bit of matcha to pretty much any other homemade skin treatment you want. We've seen it added to a mix with lemongrass to make an anti-acne skin treatment, or mixing it with coconut oil to make a mask for revitalization. Another great option is to mix it with some sugar and coconut oil for an organic facial scrub.
Matcha also works as part of a toner. Mixing some matcha with water with a drop or two of essential oil in a spray bottle creates a great basic toner.
Being both a healthy beverage to consume and a great additive to skin treatments makes matcha one of the best little powders to keep around the house. We recommend keeping two sets, in fact; one of high grade matcha for consumption and one of lower grade for use in skin treatments.
What's your favorite way to prepare matcha, either as a beverage or as a skin treatment? Leave us a note in the comments.