Why We Love Matcha
(and everyone else does too!)
Within the past decade, matcha, the vibrant green tea powder, which has been cultivated and enjoyed in Japan since the 12th century, has conquered the entire globe. No longer confined to specialty tea shops, the highly concentrated green tea can be found in mainstream cafes everywhere. It’s not used just for drinking, but as a popular flavor in baking and, yes, even in some of our seasonal popcorn. But can you blame us? Matcha is IN, and with its unique flavor and well-earned reputation as a “superfood,” for good reason!
Matcha begins its life as other green teas do– growing on a bush. The tea bushes lie semi-dormant during the winter, gathering nutrition from the soil. In early spring, the bushes begin to bud, creating the fresh new leaves that will become matcha. A few weeks after budding, tea farmers spread screens over the bushes to first partially, then almost completely shade them. This is a crucial part of the process, as it’s photosynthesis that causes the amino acids in the leaves to transform into antioxidants, but too much sun gives the tea a bitter taste. By late spring, the leaves are ready to be harvested, immediately after which they are steamed and dried at high temperatures to preserve their color and freshness. The dry leaves are then further refined, with any twigs and imperfections picked through, and combined with other batches of leaves to create a desirable blend of flavor, fragrance, and color. Up to this point, the product is actually not yet called “matcha,” but “tencha.” The tea becomes matcha once it’s ground into powder, which is done as close as possible to drinking or packaging time to keep the tea fresh. (Credit for all my new-found tea knowledge goes to Japanese tea instructor Tyas Sōsen for his informative blog posts on matcha production!)
Green tea in general is well known for its health benefits, chief among them being that they’re packed with antioxidants formed in the growing process. But regular green tea is most often prepared by infusing the leaves in hot water, then removing them, meaning that while some nutrients are left in the drink, a whole lot of goodness gets tossed out. Because matcha is consumed directly from its powdered form, whether stirred into hot water or cooked with, you get the full nutritional benefits of the entire tea leaf. As a result, one study found that the concentration of the powerful antioxidants known as catechins is at least 137 times greater in matcha than in ordinary green teas.
Thanks to the antioxidants and other nutritious compounds in matcha, the tea boasts tons of research-backed health benefits, from preventing heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, to promoting weight loss and better brain function. With more caffeine than regular green tea but less than coffee, matcha is a great source of this natural stimulant.
Though matcha was originally cultivated and still primarily consumed as a drink, its distinctive grassy flavor and wonderfully earthy green color have made it a favorite of modern chefs and bakers. Its herbaceous can be played up or down to add depth to a variety of dishes. In our popcorn, we harness matcha’s aromatic power subtly, pairing it with sweet white chocolate.
Matcha is one fad that’s got history, science, and taste to back up the hype. Maybe it’s too popular now to be considered an adventurous food anymore, but that certainly doesn’t mean we’ll stop enjoying it any time soon!