What Is Matcha, and Is it Really Better for You Than Coffee?
If this is the first time you're hearing about matcha, welcome back to planet earth! We hope that the rock you've been under since 2016 was a nice change of pace.
But seriously, it seems like matcha is everywhere today, from burgers to ramen to soda. But most traditionalists still use matcha for its originally intended purpose: tea. Warm and energizing cups of matcha have been enjoyed, first by monks, and then by millions of others, for centuries.
So, What Is Matcha?
Matcha is powdered green tea leaves. A few weeks before the leaves are harvested, farmers shade the plants, leaving them in almost total darkness. This contributes to leaves that are softer, sweeter, and brighter. This practice increases chlorophyll content, boosts amino acids, and gives the plants a darker hue. More chlorophyll means a higher concentration of polyphenols, which may diminish the risk of disease.
After harvest, the tea leaves are steamed, dried, and ground into powder. Unlike regular tea, which is steeped in hot water and strained, matcha powder is combined directly with water (or milk), or added to smoothies, granola, baked goods, etc. This makes matcha a more nutritious option than regular green tea.
What Are Some of Matcha's Health Benefits?
Matcha boasts an impressive array of health benefits. It's high in antioxidants, which have been shown to reduce oxidative stress and bodily inflammation. Inflammation has been linked to a host of conditions: diabetes and other autoimmune disorders, heart disease, cancer, and infertility. Although the research is preliminary, likely, matcha can also improve heart health by lowering both cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
When paired with diet and exercise, matcha can also help you manage your weight, by allowing your metabolism to burn fat more quickly and effectively. Lastly, current research also suggests that matcha can reduce anxiety and depression by activating dopamine and serotonin receptors. Dopamine and serotonin are both "feel good" hormones, and their presence in your body leads to general feelings of peace and well-being.
Is Matcha Really Better for You Than Coffee?
Matcha contains caffeine, which means that many people use it to replace their morning or mid-afternoon coffee. This begs the question of whether the replacement is advantageous, especially given that coffee boasts some powerful health benefits of its own. Coffee and matcha both contain antioxidants, boost brain function, and may promote heart health.
Both drinks can also make you feel awake and energized, though they do this in different ways. Coffee's impact is felt nearly instantaneously, because your body rapidly absorbs up to 99% of its caffeine, meaning your blood reaches peak concentration levels as soon as 15 minutes after consumption. This rapidity is also what contributes to the crash that often happens when your blood rapidly decaffeinates.
Matcha's caffeine, on the other hand, is absorbed more slowly because of the L-theanine that matcha contains. The L-theanine in matcha means you are absorbing the caffeine more steadily, and that your increased alertness is paired with calmness, which promotes relaxation and avoids those "coffee jitters" that can put us on edge. Ingesting L-theanine leads to a milder caffeine buzz by reducing the sensitivity of neurotransmitters that contribute to stress and anxiety. L-theanine also boosts alpha brain waves that are associated with increased mental focus, but also tranquility (alpha waves are also produced during meditation). L-theanine also helps prevent the crash that often comes with coffee consumption.
Last but not least, matcha can eliminate bad breath. The catechins found in matcha act as a sort of sterilizing agent, which hinders the growth of germs that lead to gum disease and halitosis. Granted, it's a little thing, but the world would be a happier place with less coffee breath!
Considering the ample mental and physical health benefits of matcha, it is a great way to start your day or power through your afternoon, while still contributing to a restful night's sleep.
Sadly though, all matcha is not created equal, and low-quality matcha can taste bitter and have reduced water solubility. Additionally, it can also contain lead and other harmful toxins. For some of the freshest, safest, and most nutrient-rich matcha available, check out Zen Tea Leaf matcha. At Zen Tea Leaf, we are passionate about our products and fully believe that they can bring health and focus to your days and deep relaxation to your nights!
Here's to your health!