What’s all the fuss about matcha and green tea?

The world is going through a serious health obsession. One in 5 articles I read has something to do with exercise or eating better, whether that’s 15 reasons why avocados are good for you or the next diet craze, 16:8. I don’t know whether that says more about my reading patterns than the world, but there’s no denying that we have become a lot more aware about how food and drink affects us. And it’s probably about time!

With this health focus, a type of tea has been featured in the press A LOT. Adding matcha to cakes, smoothies or having it as a matcha latte are just some of the examples I’ve seen. But what exactly is it? And why are health, sports and nutrition companies pushing it so much?

A powerhouse of goodness

Matcha is a powdered green tea originating from Japan from a plant called Gyokuro. Because the plant is shaded, it produces more chlorophyll which contributes to enriched antioxidant levels. As opposed to green tea where you steep the leaves and discard them, matcha is mixed with water and ingested, so naturally, one would think it’s better for you. However, studies have been inconclusive on how much our bodies are actually capable of absorbing from this goodness. Inconclusive but not disproving so what are the potential benefits?

Matcha:

  • Has 60x more antioxidants than spinach and 137x more than green tea (source)
  • Offers some protection against heart problems like high blood pressure and cancer development through a powerful antioxidant group called catechins
  • Boosts metabolism, helping you burn up to 25% more fat
  • Increases energy and exercise endurance – the special type of caffeine it contains will give you energy without the side effects of coffee so you’ll have energy for longer without crashing
  • Strengthens the immune systems through the combination of nutrients: Potassium, Vitamins A & C, Iron, Protein, and Calcium.

Isn’t that just green tea though?

Yes, it is, but it’s stronger and it’s more versatile in a powder form. But it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, quite literally! Matcha has a very strong earthy flavour (a bit like boiled spinach) and in it can be quite bitter to the inexperienced tea drinker. While mixing it into brownies and lattes and smoothies sounds like a good idea, you need to remember that just by adding vitamins to a brownie, it doesn’t make it a healthy brownie, just a better one. You’re still consuming sugar and fat. Also, matcha is a very expensive ingredient to be wasting in baking! 30g could set you back as much as £20, though prices vary on the internet. Sports nutrition company MyProtein sell 100g for £19.99 and it’s organic so it’s unlikely to have lead contamination as that’s a worry with ingesting green tea, particularly from China.


The good news is that regular green tea provides many of the same benefits because at the end of the day matcha is still green tea. So if you don’t find the taste particularly appealing, you can just drink regular green tea. The results might be slightly diminished as you’re not ingesting the leaves, but remember that studies have been inconclusive regarding how much our bodies process by ingesting the stuff.

How do you make a cup of tea using them?

Both matcha and green tea are great. But what all that press doesn’t tell you is that matcha is very bitter. Even for me and I have tea without sugar! So while you’re drinking something healthy because of its many benefits, you will need to add some sort of sweetener (syrup, sugar, honey or whatever you use) which diminishes its nutritional value. Even so, here’s how I use it: mix 1/2 teaspoon with 80-100ml of water. The water should be about 70-80 degrees not boiling, in the same way as green tea. Whisk it until it turns frothy (traditionally done with a bamboo whisk in a warm container). Top up with frothy or ice cold milk depending on the season and preference to make a matcha latte. Or if you’re brave enough, drink it as it is.

And to make a cup of green tea like Green Tea & Apple for example, measure one teaspoon per cup if you make it in a teapot or about 1 1/2 for a mug. Add hot water at 70-80 degrees – my personal trick for that is to stop the kettle from boiling when the bubbles are forming just before it reaches boiling point. Steep for 2-3 minutes, remove the leaves and enjoy!

So whichever one you fancy drinking, or develop a taste for, one thing is for sure: green tea is incredibly good for you and it’s a great way of having a flavoursome drink while avoiding those nasty sweetened drinks and even alcohol!

Tea review: Green Tea & Apple Blend

After one of my most recent posts on how to recognise good quality tea, I’ll bet you’ll judge my pictures below with fresh eyes!

This review is dedicated to one of my favourite summer teas, which my generous husband indulged me with for my birthday this year. He knows how much I love Fortnum & Mason (which I have nicknamed ‘The Mothership’), so he couldn’t go wrong with buying me one of their teas. And it’s become an instant success.

I also recommend it if you’re just starting to experiment with alternative teas to your regular black cup of tea. A fruity blend is naturally sweetened and more pleasing to the palette so you should find it an easy experiment.

How to enjoy the Green Tea & Apple Blend

Dry leaves: small dark and light green leaves with a potent apple fragrance

Green Tea & Apple blend
Water temperature: 80 degrees (you can use a thermometer or you can wait until the bubbles start to form and stop it). Always use freshly poured water!

Amount: 3-4g or a teaspoon per cup. Hunt for some apple pieces too for a flavourful brew, or double up the quantity if you’re making ice tea (recipe for that here).

Brewing time: 2-3 minutes

Wet leaves: expanded light green leaves, with a fresh, dewy aroma and a slight fruity tone. You’ll notice the dry leaves smell much stronger of apple. It’s common for many fruit and flower blends that the scent is stronger before undergoing the brewing process.

Green Tea & Apple blend
Brew: Fresh and zingy, this tea has the familiar earthy or grassy taste of a green tea with a sweet and sour fruity twist. The apple flavour is actually a lot milder than you might expect, but it complements the green tea beautifully, livening it up a bit. And it’s a brilliant ice tea blend!

Green Tea & Apple blend infusion

Ready to try it?

Of course, green tea and apple is not the exclusive blend of a particular company, so you might be able to find it from your favourite supplier. The one I’ve use for this post and love is from Fortnum & Mason, priced at £6.25 per 125g (at the time of writing) – it should be enough for at least 30 cups.

How is green tea made?

Last time I shared the processes that tea leaves have to go through to become black tea. Bet you didn’t think all that effort goes into making your daily brew (or brews, the more the merrier I am!). So if all tea comes from the same plant, what makes green tea green?

Firing

Instead of being left to wilt, green tea goes straight to the firing process to kill the enzymes that cause oxidation (responsible for the black colour) straight away. This in done in a hot pan which looks very similar to a wok (the Chinese method) exposing them to a temperature of 100 degrees Celsius anywhere between 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Or it can be done by steaming them (the Japanese method) which helps preserve the fresh flavours and aromas. That’s why Japanese green teas have a brighter green colour and a higher vitamin content.

green-tea-firing

Before they can move on to the next step, the leaves are left to cool down completely.

Rolling

Once the tea leaves are cool, they will go through a shaping and rolling process. The shape they take depends on the tea – some are curly, some are twisted and Gunpowder (a tea we will review in future posts) is rolled into tiny balls which look like gun pellets.

green-tea-rolls gunpowder-tea

Depending on tradition, the drying and rolling processes might be repeated a few times. This is customary with Japanese teas, but not Chinese ones.

Drying

When the producer is happy with the tea leaves, they proceed to the drying step that black tea also goes through. This reduces the moisture content to 5% so the tea is ready to be brewed and produce a good cup but dry enough to prevent mould.

Because green tea goes through less processing than black tea and it skips the withering and oxidation steps, a higher level of antioxidants is preserved in the tea. And that’s why we see so many articles on its health benefits and weight-loss properties. Though don’t read too much into it, I drink green tea every day and it doesn’t affect my weight at all!

Next time, we’ll discover white tea – an even less processed and lighter bodied tea!