Health Benefits of Matcha, According to a Registered Dietitian

Green is gorgeous—and this bright, mildly bitter drink is bursting with disease-fighting antioxidants that may play a role in heart health and help you finally de-stress. Here's what you need to know.

Health Benefits of Matcha, According to a Registered Dietitian
Photo: Keiko Oikawa

There's something about sitting down to a steaming or icy cup of matcha tea, which is particularly stunning in its bright green hue. Matcha is a type of Japanese green tea made from shade-grown tea leaves, which after drying are ground into a powder. Traditionally, matcha is used in tea ceremonies called chanoyu, or sado, where preparing and serving the tea is regarded as an art form.

More recently, matcha has exploded in popularity outside of Japan, and is whipped into lattes, baked into sweets, infused in chocolate bars, added to ice cream and yogurt and more, thanks to its rich content of antioxidants and thus wide range of potential health benefits.

If you've never tried matcha and want to know what it is, then read on to discover everything you need to know about this Japanese tea.

What Is Matcha?

Matcha tea is a type of green tea, but it differs from other green tea varieties through cultivation and processing.

About three weeks before harvesting, the green tea leaves meant for making matcha are shaded from direct sunlight. Doing so slows down growth and increases chlorophyll, allowing the tea leaves to develop a deep, dark green hue. Keeping the tea leaves away from the sunlight also increases theanine, a type of amino acid found in green and black tea, giving the leaves a distinctive aroma.

Once the leaves are ready for harvest, they are hand-picked, and the veins and stems are removed from the leaves. Leaves are steamed to retain their natural colors and prevent oxidation before they are cooled, dried and milled into a fine green powder.

Matcha green tea comes in different grades. Ceremonial grade is meant for use in tea ceremonies, whereas culinary or food grade is used for baking and cooking.

What Does Matcha Taste Like?

On your first sip, you may find matcha rich, strong, grassy and bitter, but as you take a few more sips, you may notice its slight sweet and nutty aftertaste. Matcha's high concentration of theanine and higher levels of caffeine (compared to green tea) may also contribute to its umami flavors.

Generally, though, the higher the quality of matcha tea, the less bitter it tastes. Ceremonial grades of matcha tea offer a sweet aroma and flavor with a smooth and delicate texture, while culinary grades of matcha are stronger and more bitter to stand up to the other ingredients in the food.

Does Matcha Have Caffeine?

Since matcha tea leaves are grown away from sunlight, their caffeine content can be almost twice as much as other green tea varieties, per 2021 research published in Molecules. The caffeine content also affects matcha's flavor and aroma.

The amount of caffeine in matcha tea depends on how much of the powder you add. Generally, the instructions on many brands say a serving size is 1/2 teaspoon of matcha (equal to 1 gram). The amount of caffeine depends on the brand and varies considerably, ranging from 18.9 to 44.4 milligrams of caffeine per gram. In comparison, one 8-ounce cup of coffee provides about 80 to 100 mg of caffeine, notes the Food and Drug Administration.

Matcha Nutrition

Matcha is a low-calorie, low-carb and fat-free tea. Depending on the brand, pure matcha powder provides the following per 1/2-teaspoon serving:

  • 5 calories
  • 0 g fat
  • 0 g protein
  • 0.5 g carb
  • 0.5 g fiber
  • 0 g sugars

Matcha Health Benefits

Matcha tea is best known for its powerful antioxidant properties, notes a 2020 analysis in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition. Drinking a small amount of matcha regularly may offer the following health benefits:

May Help Reduce the Risk of Cancer

A large part of green tea's reputation as a health-promoting beverage is its catechin content. Catechins are chemical compounds in tea, such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), that may help reduce inflammation and prevent cancer growth.

May Help Decrease the Risk of Heart Disease

Specifically, EGCG has been thoroughly studied for its effects on the heart. EGCG in green tea has been found to protect against cardiovascular disease and death, possibly by lowering blood lipids, such as LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, improving blood pressure and reducing oxidative stress, according to a 2019 review in the journal Antioxidants. The amounts of EGCG are much higher in matcha green tea than in other tea varieties, past research has found.

May Promote Relaxation

You may also notice a sense of calmness and relaxation as you enjoy your cup of matcha tea. Thanks to its theanine content, matcha may induce increased attention, reduced stress and greater levels of relaxation when consumed as a drink or an ingredient in food, per a 2022 review published in Frontiers in Nutrition. Similar to EGCG, the concentration of theanine present in matcha green tea is also higher than in other varieties due to its shade-growing process.

How to Enjoy Matcha

You can make a perfect cup of traditional matcha tea by using a Japanese chawan (tea bowl), a chasen (tea whisk), a chasaku (tea scoop) and a mini sieve. Then, follow these steps:

  • Use the tea scoop to place about 1/2 teaspoon of matcha powder in the sieve. Sift the powder into the tea bowl to remove any lumps.
  • Add a small amount of hot water (85°C/185°F) into the tea bowl. Use the tea whisk to thoroughly mix the tea powder with the water.
  • Once the powder is entirely dissolved, add more hot water into the tea bowl until you've added about 4 ounces of hot water total.
  • Continue whisking until a thick foam with tiny bubbles appears.

You can enjoy matcha as a hot beverage, pour it over ice for a chilled drink or add dairy or plant-based milk to make a latte. It's easy to switch up your morning coffee ritual with a cup of matcha latte.

Matcha's versatility appeals most to food lovers and health enthusiasts. You can reap its health benefits beyond drinking the tea by adding a small amount of matcha tea powder to Overnight Matcha Oats with Berries or your favorite smoothie bowl for an extra boost of energy to start your day.

These Whipped Matcha Fruit Smoothies also make a perfect beverage for the morning or a cooling treat on a hot day. Looking for a yummy treat? Add culinary matcha to puddings, muffins, cakes and other bakery goods.

Recipe to Try: Mini Pistachio Cakes

Bottom Line

Matcha tea can be a perfect alternative to coffee and other caffeinated beverages. Consuming matcha regularly, you may reap its potential health benefits, from stress relief to cardiovascular wellness. It's time to sip and sit back.

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