In terms of caffeine-containing beverages, coffee’s never had a real rival. Tea, though older and wiser, could never stand up to the deliciousness of roasted, ground, steeped, hot coffee. Until now.
Besides being tastier, coffee has about three times more caffeine than green tea. And, let’s be honest: a lot of people drink coffee for the caffeine, same with tea. But if coffee is three times more effective at waking us up, then we’d rather drink one cup of coffee than a whole lot of green tea.
This has recently changed thanks to the discovery of Matcha by the western world.
What is Matcha?
Matcha is a completely different kind of tea. White tea, green tea, red tea and black tea are all harvested from the same tree, grown in the same way. The only thing that changes is when they are harvested. But the tea trees used to grow matcha get a very special treatment to improve the quality of the leaves.
For one, they are grown in the shade, which means they never receive direct sunlight. This makes the tree adapt by accumulating more chlorophyll in the leaves. This triggers a whole series of changes that makes for a deeper flavor. They also contain more amino acids, more theanine and more caffeine.
In short, these tea leaves are grown to be more flavorful than other tea leaves which, quite fortunately for us, also results in them being more nutritious and having a higher amount of antioxidants than regular tea leaves.
After being harvested during their prime, the leaves are dried and ground down to a fine powder. That is what is called matcha.
It started in China and was popularized in Japan, like a lot of East Asian things.
Matcha is not something that Japanese people drink every day. Think about it: this is a product that requires a lot of special attention, thus it is way more expensive than regular green tea.
Usually, matcha is reserved for very special occasions. Ceremonial-grade matcha is produced for performing the Tea Ceremony, a mindful way of preparing this type of tea. It’s no surprise, as this type of green tea was brought to Japan by a Zen Buddhism monk after a pilgrimage to China.
But when it comes to drinking, preparing matcha, the whole ordeal is quite easy. It is a fine powder that will dissolve easily if you use hot water (or milk), and in some cases you can use a bamboo whisk that’s particularly designed for matcha.
Matcha powder, a measuring spoon, and a bamboo whisk (Chasen)
Once dissolved, you’ve got a concentrated, rich, aromatic beverage. It is the espresso version of tea. It is the true espresso rival. You can make matcha latte, matcha cappuccinos… And the taste is wonderful.
A clear green foam forms on top of the drink, creating something akin to a espresso’s crema.
So, if this left you interested, you’ll probably try to buy some Matcha for yourself. Here’s a couple things you should know:
- It’s expensive, yes. But keep in mind that just 1 gram powder Matcha equals one beverage.
You don’t need to spend extra on ceremonial-grade matcha. It’s usually meant to enjoy plain, no milk and no sugar. It’s naturally sweeter -and worth it, don’t get me wrong- but not something you need if you don’t actually perform the Tea Ceremony.
Aside from ceremonial grade, you’ve also got premium grade and culinary grade. Choose according to your needs.
- Buy Japanese matcha. With the increase in popularity, there’s a lot of countries now producing their own, which is not very good. The difference in taste is mind blowing.
Matcha and coffee: a match made in heaven
With the great popularity of coffee in Japan, it was only a matter of time before they got around to fusing these two beverages. And, to be honest, the rest of the world seems to be going crazy for matcha, too.
So there have been many matcha and coffee drinks popping up all over the world, one better than the other. Here are some of the most popular ones:
The matcha latte is the basic combination of espresso culture with the latte as its peak and matcha.
It uses one, maybe two shots of espresso and plenty of steamed milk. Matcha powder can be added to either the coffee or the milk to create the matcha latte.
Surprisingly enough, the combination of green tea and coffee is quite delicious. Tea and coffee have been a thing before, but matcha has a deep, slightly bitter flavor that is more similar to that of coffee than other teas, which is probably why coffee + matcha is now a more popular combination than coffee + any other type of tea.
Matcha chai latte
Another great combination. The chai latte is quite similar to the matcha latte: it takes a traditional drink (chai) and combines it with the latte to create a delicious drink.
Chai is a traditional Hindu beverage which consists of several spices like cinnamon, cardamom and star anise.
By incorporating matcha into the equation, you get a beverage that is much more flavorful than a simple latte or even a matcha latte for that regard. The fragrant aroma of chai and its sophisticated flavor make for a better, enhanced experience.
Although the name implies a milk-less drink, the matcha espresso actually does have milk in it. How is it different from a matcha latte, then?
Well, for one, it doesn’t have any foam in it. And it isn’t a matcha latte because the milk isn’t typically steamed or frothed, but because of the nature of the drink, it’s usually not processed in any way.
The beauty of the matcha espresso is, for the most part, visual. The three main ingredients, brewed matcha, espresso, and milk and poured in succession into a tall glass to create a visual of deep green, white, and brown.
A skilled barista is able to pull off three separate levels, making your drink look like a flag with three color stripes.
But beyond looking cool, the matcha espresso is a whole experience which allows you to enjoy the drink not as a whole thing but, because the three ingredients aren’t really mixed, you get to enjoy these three flavors separately and yet together.
Health Benefits of matcha & coffee
Coffee and matcha are both seen as incredibly healthy beverages. They are both very high in antioxidants, which protect you from aging and all sorts of diseases, such as cancer. In fact, coffee is the most important source of antioxidants in the Western world, which is kind of a big deal.
With that in mind, matcha has been said to have almost two times the amount of antioxidants that coffee has. That is, honestly, way too much. It makes matcha nothing short of a superfood.
Even when talking about caffeine, which can be a health concern for many, matcha comes out having slightly less caffeine than coffee. So it makes matcha a preferable option for those who need to limit their caffeine intake.
Is matcha perfect? Well, almost. There is only one thing that seems to be a problem: lead.
Depending on where the matcha was harvested, and the quality of the air, your matcha could contain a somewhat alarming quantity of lead that, when consumed in great quantities, can be mildly toxic to your body.
Since you’re consuming the whole leaf, it poses a risk that brewed tea doesn’t necessarily have.
However, studies are still being conducted on this. Consume it in moderation, just to be on the safe side.
Either drink is quite healthy and both coffee and matcha, consumed moderately and routinely, are a great addition to your diet.
The bottomline seems to be that tea -particularly green tea- is, in several aspects, a healthier alternative. And Matcha is the only alternative that can rival the deliciousness of the espresso, making it less of a sacrifice and more of a choice between two equally delicious beverages!