What is Matcha? (Part 1)

What is Matcha?

No this isn't the latest fad beverage that's promulgated at coffee chains in your neighbourhood. Instead, matcha green tea has been enjoyed for over 800 years initially as a meditational drink by Buddhist Monks who would drink matcha to remain alert and focused, yet calm and relaxed.

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You don't need to have meditated, to surely know that calming the mind is not easy. The monks realized that drinking matcha helped them with their meditation practice. Of course, a scientific analysis wasn't available to confirm what they observed through direct experience which was that the caffeine in the green tea leaves promoted alertness while the L-Theanine increased focus and concentration.

Despite matcha containing roughly 30mg of caffeine per cup, it remains significantly less than a typical cup of coffee which usually holds 200mg of caffeine. Unlike coffee which, for some, can create unpleasant anxiety with a final crescendo being that hard crash, the combination of L-Theanine + caffeine is the perfect yin-yang alchemy. Enjoying a cup of matcha will provide for an extended, bright and clean boost of energy that could last all day without the nervousness or the crash.

Theanine is an amino acid found in green tea. People use theanine for treating anxiety and high blood pressure, for preventing Alzheimer's disease, and for making cancer drugs more effective. Credited with an array of health benefits studies reveal that matcha is a nutritional powerhouse.

MATCHA CULTIVATION

Matcha tea is a finely powdered form of shade-grown green tea leaves. At its essence, matcha tea is the purest and most nutritionally dense form of the tea plant Camellia sinensis, the evergreen tree plant from which all basic teas originate. What defines if tea is green, yellow, black, white, or blue is the level of oxidation that has occurred from the fermentation process.

Since green teas are non-fermented, they retain their flush green colour as and their nutritional profile. Matcha tea especially is shaded for several weeks during the last stage of cultivation, protecting the tea leaves from direct sunlight.

In this way, matcha remains delicious due to the development of theanine, a cordial flavour arising from amino acids. Teas which are grown and then cultivated in full sunlight develop catechins, which add an astringent flavour to the brew. Growing the leaves in the shade also increases their chlorophyll content, giving them a bright green colour and rich taste.

When you drink matcha tea, you are consuming the leaf in entirety and all of its nutritional properties as well. Premium grades of matcha contain only the creme de la creme of green tea leaves. Many of which have undergone the most careful and meticulous growing, harvesting, and preparation procedures that have been passed down by generation and is reminiscent of craft wineries.

7 HEALTH BENEFITS OF MATCHA

1. Antioxidant Rich

Matcha contains many varieties of antioxidants (polyphenols) which are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in food. Antioxidants, like the ones in matcha, fight free radicals caused by oxidants; in other words, matcha contains healthy soldiers (antioxidants) that make us healthy by taking on free radicals (oxidants). When it comes to substantive antioxidant content, matcha tea is unrivalled.

One cup of matcha has ten times the antioxidants of a cup of regular green tea. The ORAC value (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) measures the per serving volume of antioxidants of a given food. Based on the ORAC rating scale, matcha contains the highest antioxidant rating of any other food.

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2. Anticancer

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Further studies demonstrate that it slows the growth of cancer cells, and can help prevent them from forming. A study conducted at the University of Colorado in 2003 confirmed that drinking 1 cup of Matcha Green Tea has 137 times the amount of catechins compared to a traditional cup of green tea. "The effects on human breast cancer cells were very striking, the active ingredients in matcha having a surgical effect in knocking out certain signalling pathways. Our results are consistent with the idea that matcha may have significant therapeutic potential, mediating the metabolic reprogramming of cancer cells." Michael Lisanti | Biomedical Research Centre at the University of Salford

3. Thermogenesis

That's a $10 word for the body’s rate of burning calories. Consume matcha to enhance the body's metabolic capability to burn more efficiently.

Nearly calorie free, matcha promotes weight loss by stimulating the body’s metabolic processes which, in turn, burns fat. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in their research, discovered that consuming matcha boosts thermogenesis from the typical 8%-10% of daily energy expenditure to among 35% and 43% of daily energy expenditure (and it does so without increasing blood pressure or heart rate). The results don't end there: enjoying a cup of matcha before physical activity resulted in 25% more fat burning during the activity.

4. Sustained Energy, Calmness, Clarity and Concentration

Similar to the monks who drank matcha to be alert and focused, yet calm and relaxed during meditation, historians report that Samurai Warriors often drank matcha before entering battle. It's mechanisms increase the brain's production volume of alpha waves which, while in this disposition, coaxes a state of relaxation.

Matcha is loaded with L-Theanine, an amino acid that encourages the brain's functioning to a state of extended (non-nervous) energy, well-being, alertness, and relaxation. I have zero doubt that this prebattle tradition, like the monks, was only ever a tradition because of L-Theanine and its ability for non-anxious sustained energy.

5. Heart Health

Since matcha is made from whole leaves that have been finely ground, this translates into more nutrients being ingested than with drinking regular tea.

A Harvard research study of over 40,000 Japanese adults determined that participants who drank more than five cups of green tea a day had a 26% lower risk of death from heart attack or stroke and a 16% lower risk of death from all causes than people who drank less than one cup of green tea a day.

6. Protects The Liver

Several studies have revealed that matcha may play a role in protecting our liver. The liver is vital to health because it's responsible for flushing out toxins, metabolizing drugs and processing nutrients.

One study gave diabetic rats matcha for 16 weeks and found that it helped prevent damage to both the kidneys and liver.

In a different study, 80 people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease were either given a placebo or 500 mg of green tea extract daily for 90 days. After 3 months, the green tea extract significantly reduced liver enzyme levels. Elevated levels of these enzymes are a marker of liver damage.

Another analysis of 15 research studies found that drinking green tea was correlated with a decreased risk of liver disease.

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7. Neurogenesis

One study in 23 people looked at how people performed on a series of tasks designed to measure cognitive performance. Some participants consumed either matcha tea or a matcha bar with 4 grams of matcha, while the control group consumed a placebo tea or bar.

The researchers found that matcha caused improvements in attention, reaction time and memory, compared to the placebo. Another small study showed that consuming 2 grams of green tea powder daily for two months helped improve brain function in elderly people.

Touted as “miracle grow“ for brain cells by Dr. Brant Cortright, this amazing compound contains the key compound ECGS. ECGS is a polyphenol that favourably influences cardiovascular health, lipid balance, glucose tolerance, DNA support, prostate, breast health, healthy cell division and neurogenesis. Green tea extract also contains L-Theanine, which has been shown to reduce stress, improve the quality of sleep, increase brain levels of serotonin, dopamine and GABA levels.

It's important to remember that there are no magic bullets when it comes to your health and that there may be other factors involved in these research associations, for example lifestyle and diet. More research is needed to look at the effects of matcha on the general population since most research is limited to studies examining the effects of green tea extract in animals.

However, does this mean you shouldn't try it?

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Of course not, matcha is delicious and just as the Buddhist Monks and Samurai Warriors of the past, today millions of Japanese enjoy their daily matcha ritual, and it’s not just because of the flavour, but because of all those health benefits matcha brings to the table just by drinking it once a day.

Avoid Milk In Your Matcha

If you're drinking matcha for health reasons, odds are you want to get its maximum health benefit. If this is you, avoid having milk with your matcha because it will decrease its potency. What are some of those health benefits of catechins again? A possible reduction in diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular, and neurodegenerative diseases.

As milk and matcha are combined, a chemical reaction occurs when casein, a type of protein found in milk, is mixed with catechin, an antioxidant in matcha. Milk sticks to the polyphenols (remember those anti-oxidants), which negatively alters the bioavailability (how thoroughly your body can ingest nutrients) of matcha. Best avoid watering down those health benefits of your matcha by NOT using milk.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I'll cover a few ways how to prepare matcha best!


Joseph Aiello

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