Like so many things in the alternative health industry, we have the East to thank for green tea, specifically China.
From China, green tea went to Japan. In Japan, it underwent further honing and optimization. Eventually, it spread to the rest of the world.
So both Japan and China gave us matcha and green tea. Do you know the difference between the two? In what way is matcha different from green tea?
What is Matcha? What is Green Tea?
Green tea does not undergo the oxidation process used to make black tea (full oxidation) and oolong tea (partial oxidation).
The leaves and leaf buds of Camelia sinensis, an evergreen shrub from China, are the source of both matcha tea and green tea. Matcha is only a higher-quality version of green tea, with the variations emerging due to the differences in growing and preparation styles.
Due to its numerous health benefits, green tea is a highly popular drink – for instance, with people who intend to lose weight. It also improves your heart’s health.
1. How They are Grown
Twenty to thirty days before harvest, the farmer will cover the tea bushes with a shade of cloth to prevent the sunlight from directly touching them.
As a result, the levels of chlorophyll increase, and the leaves of the Camelia sinensis become darker. This leads to an increase in the production of amino acids.
The farmer uses the older outer leaves after harvest to make standard green tea (called Sencha in Japan). The younger, inner leaves, on the other hand, he handpicks, steams, and grades to produce a deeply flavored, vibrantly colored matcha.
After the harvest, the farmer dries the sencha leaves which will make the regular green tea. But for the matcha, he removes the veins and stems from the leaves. Next, he uses a stone to grind the leaves into a fine, bright powder, green in color. It is this powder that has the name matcha.
This style of preparation enables you to ingest the whole leaf. Contrast this to regular green tea, which involves soaking the leaves in water.
Let me tell you of the traditional Japanese way of preparing Matcha:
- Measure the tea using a shakasku (a bamboo spoon), and put it in a heated chawan (tea bowl).
- Add hot water (70 degrees Celsius) to the chawan.
- Whisk the tea using a chasen (special bamboo whisk) until the tea is a smooth froth on top of the water.
- In Japan, there are three main consistencies in which you can prepare matcha:
- Standard – mix one teaspoon of the powder with two ounces of hot water.
- Usucha (thin) – mix a half teaspoon of matcha with three to four ounces of hot water.
- Koicha (thick) – mix two teaspoons of matcha with one ounce of hot water. For this version, you need a higher grade of matcha. It will not foam.
- Do not be daunted by these Japanese terminologies – all you require is a cup, a teaspoon, and a small flywhisk.
3. Health Benefits
Due to matcha’s enabling of whole-leaf ingestion, it gives you a higher concentration of substances such as caffeine and antioxidants than green tea.
For that reason, matcha tea is more nutritious and has more health benefits. The concentration of antioxidants in matcha is so high that it can only be compared to three cups of regular green tea.
A good example of these antioxidants are the catechins – the most powerful being epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). EGCG helps maintain the health of your arteries, promotes cell repair, and fights inflammation in your body.
No studies have been done on the effects of matcha on human beings, but we can draw conclusions from the animal studies. The findings of these studies suggest that matcha can reduce the risk of liver and kidney damage, and lower the levels of cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood sugar.
4. Caffeine Content
Matcha has more caffeine content than green tea, but only slightly. A cup of matcha comprising half a teaspoon of the powder will yield 35 milligrams of caffeine. Green tea will yield slightly less.
When you infuse standard loose-leaf green tea in water, the color it makes lies somewhere in the spectrum between greenish-yellow and light brown.
But matcha gives you a vibrant green, which is opaque and dense.
Now, I must tell of the negative side of things. Matcha enables you to ingest the whole leaf, and as you have seen, that is an advantage. But it also has a downside.
You ingest the whole leaf and everything it contains. For instance, when the leaf has contaminants from the soil it grows in – pesticides, fluoride, heavy metals, and so forth.
And as I have said, the concentration of substances in matcha is higher, and, therefore, the risk of contamination is greater when you drink matcha tea than when you take regular green tea.
You can reduce this risk by using organic matcha; still, this does not remove the risk from the equation if the soil contains harmful substances.
7. Concentration of Plant Compounds
Another factor which can act as both an advantage and a disadvantage is the higher concentration of antioxidants and other plant compounds in matcha as compared to regular green tea.
If you have a low tolerance for these plant compounds, matcha may not be for you. One cup of matcha is the equivalent of at least three cups of high-quality green tea – more if it is a lower quality green tea.
Individuals who have low tolerance may suffer nausea and show symptoms of kidney or liver toxicity. For that reason, you should keep your consumption rate to not more than two cups of matcha per day.
The main takeaway is that matcha and regular green tea both come from the same shrub. In fact, the farmer will grow and prepare both types of tea from the same bush. What makes them different is how you grow them and how you prepare them.
But my, what a difference it is – with matcha having three times the potency of green tea! And that’s why you should take care not to drink an excess amount of matcha – two daily cups are enough!