My Farmers' Market Favorite for this month is Matcha Green Tea from The Loose Leaf, a local company from Master Herbalist Meghan Mercier that has fantastic blends of teas and the most adorable Tea Bar in Oceanside . This tea was initially my pick as a Favorite for all of the reasons that matcha has become so increasingly popular in our culture: the health benefits are significant! Some estimate that it has 137 times more antioxidants than regular green tea. Others say is it much less than this in reality. In either case, it is still has a LOT of anti-oxidants and particularly ECGCs. These little free radical scavengers have been shown to be especially helpful in cancer prevention.
Matcha is said to come from two Japanese words, "ma" meaning powder and "cha" meaning tea. It is made through a special process that begins before the leaves are even picked. Camelia sinensis is the Latin name for the shrub that produces leaves that will be processed in a variety of ways to produce most of the green and black teas that we commonly drink. In the case of matcha, these shrubs are apparently sheltered from the sun for a few days before harvesting. This process seems to decrease the growth of the plant and increases the concentration of chlorophyll and other substances in the leaves. The extra chlorophyll adds more green to the leaves of the Camelia sinensis plant, like chlorophyll does for many other plants.... chlorophyll also seems to help us to detoxify. There are a variety of steps along the way to produce matcha (all with a lot of very interesting history), but finally these dried leaves are ground into a fine green powder. (This site seemed to do a great job of explaining this process in more details, it is really quite fascinating.)
When matcha powder is used, we are essentially digesting the entire leaf of this plant. Whereas in regular green tea, we generally discard the "used" leaves. This means that the powder is far more concentrated compared to regular green tea in most every chemical, including caffeine. Some suggest that there is nearly as much caffeine in a cup of matcha as there is in a small cup of coffee. So, many people experience increased alertness and concentration, like with a cup of coffee. Unlike with most other substances with high levels of caffeine, most people seem to also describe a "calm alertness" when drinking matcha. The alertness largely comes from the caffeine, the calmness is largely attributed to the increased levels of l-theanine. L-theanine is an amino acid that has been shown to decrease anxiety and improve cognitive function.
Many associated matcha consumption with improved blood pressure, decreased risk of some cancer, lower levels of stress markers, brain function protection, and increased weight loss. As you can likely imagine, the matcha story started to have this "too good to be true" feel for me. Maybe, maybe not. A couple of concerns did seem to arise though. Similar to concentrating the beneficial chemicals from the Camelia sinesis plant, it is likely that harmful chemicals are also concentrated into this powder form. One of chemicals of concern is lead and other contaminants. Consumer Lab recently did a study of green teas and discovered a variety of things such as surprisingly high levels of lead in some green teas, including some matcha. So, best to spend the extra on better quality, use it with moderation, and talk with your doctor first if you are taking medications or have other health concerns. Oh, and make sure to read the labels... more and more matcha products in the marketplace have added sweeteners. For example, a 16-ounce Starbucks matcha latte comes in at a shocking 32g of sugars, more sugar than the American Heart Association recommends we consume in total each day.
Most often, I have just been making my own version of a matcha latte with a teaspoon of matcha, 1/4 cup hot water, 3/4 cup almond milk, and a couple of stevia leaves from my garden. The sweetness of the stevia is helpful in making the "greeny" taste of the matcha more palatable. There are so many other fun uses though! There are plenty of other matcha latte recipes. Matcha can also be added to recipes ranging from Matcha Chia Pudding (definitely going to try this one) to Matcha Crepes with Chocolate Granache (sounds delicious) to Tahini Matcha Salad Dressing. Here are some others that are definitely on my list to try:
Chocolate Matcha Butter Cups: are you serious? A matcha-infused, healthy twist on my childhood favorite peanut butter cups?! This one is happening very soon.
Mango Green Tea Pops: I realized the other day that being an "adult" means that I don't have nearly enough popsicles in my life any more, especially in the summer heat. I have been reading a lot of popsicle recipes and this one seems like a great place to start. Though stevia will probably replace the maple syrup.
Matcha Mochi Yogurt Pops: since we are on the topic of popsicles, probably better try these too. It will give a good excuse to try the newest non-dairy yogurts. Again, stevia will probably replace the honey.
I have been drinking matcha tea regularly since Dr. Brad Lichtenstein started to educate me on it a few years ago. Dr. Brad has one of the best tea collections and deepest knowledge level about tea as most anyone else I know. (He also has a great collection of guided meditations on his website.) The health benefits were so fascinating to me at the time, that the historical significance of matcha kind of slipped by me. And the historical significance may actually be the most interesting aspect of this "superfood".
Many suggest that matcha and Zen Buddhism are necessarily linked. The tea was used medicinally, it was also used in ritual. Meditation was an essential component of making and drinking matcha. Tea ceremonies would promote mindfulness and artful expression through ceramics, painting, calligraphy, food preparation, etc.
In the end, Matcha Green Tea from The Loose Leaf was my Favorite this time because it reminded me that often the deeper you look into something, the more interesting it becomes. Next on my list is to do this short "Masterclass" on matcha... hope these were enough reasons to inspire you to explore the world of matcha also! Please do share any of your experiences in the comments below.