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7 Things You Didn’t Know about Matcha

June 9, 2014

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Zen Buddhists have drunk matcha ceremoniously for centuries, and this potent green tea is now making its way into the spotlight as the go-to coffee alternative for the health conscious. 

Matcha’s bright green color makes for a beautiful morning drink meant to be savored, not slurped. And while you probably know how good matcha is for you—it’s loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, and delivers energy while being low in caffeine—I bet you don’t know these 7 interesting facts about matcha. 

Not all matcha is created equal: Just like wine, matcha is anything but a bulk commodity. It varies greatly in flavor and quality based on how it’s grown, harvested, and processed. It is a bit more labor-intensive than other tea to produce, so expect to pay a slight premium on it compared to standard green or white tea bags. 

The perfect hostess gift: In Japan, matcha tea is given the way a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers is here in America. It is revered as a special and thoughtful gift. 

Chlorophyll-packed powder:  Despite the fact that black, green, white, and matcha tea all come from the same plant,  the way matcha is grown and consumed is quite different. 

White, green, and black teas are all made from the buds and young leaves of the camellia sinesis plant and are prepared the same way: the leaves are typically steeped in hot water using a tea bag or strainer and then discarded, leaving only the remaining tea to drink. 

Matcha, however, is consumed as a ground tea leaf powder that is mixed with hot water. The growing method for matcha also requires extra care. A few weeks before harvesting, farmers cover the plants to keep them shaded and out of the sun. This concentrates the tea’s chlorophyll content, giving matcha its characteristic hue and higher nutrient content. 

A meditation tool: Some of the earliest adopters of matcha tea were Buddhist monks, who used it to stay calm, alert, and focused during their long meditations. In fact, they were the ones who created the tea ceremony in the 14th century, which is still practiced today.

 Tea ceremony: In Japan, matcha tea was traditionally reserved solely for a tea ceremony, a three to five hour formal experience built on the principles of harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. Concerning much more than just drinking tea, the tea ceremony has a very specific set of steps and procedures and can take years to master. 

The ceremony begins when the host cleans the tea bowl, scoop, and whisk in a specific and graceful way. For every guest, three scoops of matcha are added to the bowl. Hot water is ladled into the bowl, and then a wooden whisk is used to stir the mixture into a paste. Then, more water is added to make it into a frothy tea. Each guest drinks from the same bowl, in a ceremonious fashion, admiring the tea, rotating the cup, taking a sip, wiping the bowl, and then presenting it to the next guest.     

While the star of the ceremony is the tea, the real purpose of the ritual is to encourage participants to “live in the moment” with humility and without selfish desires. 

The new “It” drink: Based on the sheer number of wellness cognoscenti and celebrities who drink it (like Gwenyth Paltrow), matcha tea is breaking out to be the new “it” beverage, pushing cold-pressed juice, kombucha, and coconut water slightly out of the spotlight. 

Matcha ice cream, cake, and smoothies: While matcha is most commonly consumed as a tea, you will now find matcha popping up in various forms, from ice creams and cakes to smoothies and iced drinks. Try adding some to a banana and date smoothie, or sampling matcha mochi ice cream, which is available at some health food stores. 

How do you enjoy your matcha? Share your favorite recipes in the comment form below.