Hailed for its ability to improve mood and mental clarity, and loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, it’s no wonder that matcha has been enjoying a bit of a moment. To learn more about the ancient green tea, we turned to Colleen O’Bryant, practicing herbalist and owner of Hunt Country, Virginia’s Wild Roots Apothecary. Here, she breaks down the history of the tea, its benefits, and how to brew the perfect cup.
Consider the tea’s roots. According to O’Bryant, more than 1,000 years ago, tea farmers in Japan began crafting matcha, a powdered green tea made from the whole leaf, simply to enjoy another form of tea. Zen monks quickly discovered that it supported focus when sitting for long periods of meditation, while Samurai warriors turned to the tea for alertness during battles. “It wasn’t long before others starting enjoying a bowl of matcha for the pleasure it provides, as well as its positive effects on mood, energy, and general health,” O’Bryant shares.
Remember, this is not your everyday steeping tea. The delicious and highly-graded powdered green tea is not water-extracted like normal tea. “If you think about a traditional green tea, you pull the leaves out,” O’Bryant explains. “But with matcha, you consume the whole leaf, so you’re getting all the phytonutrients of the green tea.” Some of the allure, O’Bryant notes, is the vibrant green shade of the final brew.
Consider it a good-for-you alternative to coffee. “Matcha tea is loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, which help our bodies fight off the radical damage of just being human,” O’Bryant says. Among some of the health claims (though not backed by the FDA), matcha is known to support cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, and help fight cancer. O’Bryant enjoys it for the mental clarity and alertness it offers without the jittery caffeine surge associated with coffee.
Know that buying high-quality tea matters. “If you purchase an inferior tea, it tastes like grass and is a total turn-off,” O’Bryant says. Therefore, it’s key to find a really good tea purveyor and to try one of their ceremonial grade matchas. “It tastes completely different than anything else and needs to be handled with care and not chemicals,” she says. Like wine, quality teas are all graded. In O’Bryant’s experience, the better the matcha, the more delicious the experience. When determining the authenticity of the tea, she says the following qualities come into play: the matcha should be from Japan, it should be shade-grown, it should be produced only from tencha tea leaves, and it should be stone-ground.
Purchase the essential supplies. For ceremonial matcha, or matcha that you consume daily, O’Bryant recommends purchasing a matcha kit, which will come with a matcha bowl, tea whisk, wooden measuring spoon, and a stainless steel sifter. Then you simply add high-quality matcha and hot water.
Follow the brewing instructions for a perfect cup. Just like making a really good pour over coffee, the process for making a cup of matcha takes some time. But that’s a lot of the appeal, O’Bryant says. “Seeing the green powder come to life is such a treat,” she notes. Here’s how to make it at home:
- Heat water in a kettle until steam first appears; this will be well below boiling, about 180°F. Turn off heat. If you go over this temperature, your matcha will turn bitter.
- Pour about half a cup of the hot water into a matcha bowl to warm it; discard the water and dry the inside of the bowl.
- Measure one teaspoon of sifted matcha powder into the warmed bowl.
- Add about 1/4 cup (2 ounces) of hot water.
- Use a tea whisk to mix the matcha tea into the water. Begin with a slow, back-and-forth stroke, then agitate the mixture to a froth with quick strokes.
- Rinse the scoop and whisk.
- Sip and savor.