The Buzz with Matcha: A Coffee Alternative

Perhaps you’ve noticed the latest trend at coffee bars: the matcha latte. Though matcha is making a current debut in coffee shops everywhere, it has been around for ages across many cultures.

So, what exactly is matcha? Matcha is a powdered, strong, and pigmented version of green tea. Health.com explains that regular green tea is leaves that are soaked in hot water and removed after steeping, whereas the leaves used for matcha are powdered and mixed into hot water. When drinking matcha, you are consuming the actual plant, rather than just the steeped water. Actually consuming the leaves means that the body receives significantly more health benefits.

Photo courtesy of Leah Curtis

The process of growing matcha leaves differs from growing traditional green tea leaves. When growing matcha, harvesters cover the plants with shade cloths right before they are picked; this strengthens the bold flavor. The leaves are then briefly steamed to stop fermentation, then dried and aged in cold storage according to health.com. The final step is grinding the leaves into the powder.

Though it may be new to places like Starbucks, matcha has been around for ages. Pureleaf.com explains that matcha was originally founded in Southern China by Chinese Zen Buddhist monks nearly 1,000 years ago. The ritual of preparing and drinking matcha was brought over to Japan by these monks, where the beverage has remained popular ever since. Japan is where the crushed tea leaves were given their official name.

In addition to its being a crucial part of tea rituals, matcha also has many health and wellness benefits. These benefits have been proven true and are why people still continue to drink matcha tea today. Matcha is known for its rich antioxidant properties. It contains essential vitamins, including vitamin A, B-complex, C, E, and K. According to organicfacts.com, matcha has 137 times more antioxidants than regular green tea, such as the green tea you would find packaged in teabags at the grocery store. It also is a substantial source of healthy fiber and contains chlorophyll, which helps detoxify the body and cleanse the blood.

While matcha is a great way to easily get a bevy of vitamins and minerals, people are focused mostly on its caffeine content, and how much better the human body absorbs and reacts to this healthy form of caffeine. Matcha only has about a third of the caffeine content of coffee; however, according to lifehack.org, the presence of the L-theanine phytonutrient allows the caffeine to be stored in the body and released at a much slower pace. This slow-release prevents the body from getting jittery and eventually crashing. Essentially, matcha provides a more sustainable source of energy, keeping your body lively for hours without the tiring, late afternoon coffee-crash.

Matcha is becoming more readily available. You can find powdered matcha at health food stores, some grocery stores, and online at sites like Amazon. Matcha lattes are a popular choice at coffee bars recently, though be wary of the other ingredients in these beverages aside from the matcha. The traditional way to drink matcha, and the way to receive the most of its benefits, is to drink just the powder in hot water. In addition to containing some matcha, the popular matcha lattes also contain sweeteners and milk.

Sweetners and milk detract from the health benefits of pure matcha, though such ingredients are added to make matcha more palatable; by itself, matcha has a strong, earthy flavor, much stronger than that of traditional green tea. If the traditional way of drinking matcha isn’t desirable, give the latte a try and gradually introduce yourself the flavor, perhaps over time you will learn to love it. Matcha is also sneaking its way into food, such as pancakes, and skincare products, such as facemasks.

Yes, matcha is becoming a buzzword, joining things like goji berries, avocados, and raw cacao; but the health benefits of drinking matcha are worth the hype. Try skipping your morning coffee one day and giving matcha a try!

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