Whole tea leaves were initially eaten as medicine long before tea became a popular drink. The consumption of matcha is believed to have been first introduced in Japan by the Zen monk Eisai in 1191 A.D. as an aid to meditation, allowing the monks to sit quietly for hours while remaining calm and alert. In Japanese, “ma” means tea and “cha” means powder, thus the literal translation of matcha is “powdered tea.”
Benefits of Matcha
It’s no wonder that matcha is considered a super-ingredient in health and beauty. Among its many touted benefits, matcha is believed to:
- Encourage clear skin
- Act as a natural detox
- Boost metabolism and burn calories
- Increase energy
- Enhance mood and focus
- Deliver vitamin C, selenium, chromium, zinc, and magnesium
- Provide more of an antioxidant boost than any other superfood!
In Japanese, “ma” means tea and “cha” means powder, thus the literal translation of matcha is “powdered tea.”
The “Whole” Story: Matcha vs. Loose Leaf Tea
When green tea is brewed, only a fraction of the tea leaf’s many benefits are extracted; the majority of nutrients are discarded along with the leaf. Because matcha powder is ground from the whole tea leaf, it’s a much more potent source of vitamins, antioxidants, and amino acids than traditionally brewed tea. In fact, just one cup of matcha is believed to have as many antioxidants as 10 cups of brewed green tea!
Not All Antioxidants Are Equal
Catechins are potent antioxidants that help protect cells from free radicals. The catechin epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg) makes up over half the catechins found in matcha. Out of all the antioxidants, EGCg has been implicated in benefitting almost every organ system in the body. Researchers continue to study EGCg for its potential benefits as a cardioprotective, neuroprotective, anti-obesity, and hepatoprotective agent.
While the practice of drinking matcha as a meditation enhancer is centuries old, modern science has only recently validated the tradition. The key to these findings? It’s L-theanine, an amino acid that occurs in all green and black teas — and in amounts of up to five times more in matcha.
Research shows that L-theanine increases alpha waves in the brain, which indicate that it helps to produce a relaxed state of mind, without drowsiness. When L-theanine is combined with caffeine, as it naturally is in matcha, clinical studies suggest they work together synergistically to help improve concentration, cognitive performance, and mood. While the caffeine content in coffee and other caffeinated beverages tends to give many people the “jitters,” the L-theanine in matcha appears to counteract caffeine’s negative nervous side effects and boost its more desirable cognitive-enhancing benefits.
So if caffeinated beverages often leave you with a feeling of jittery restlessness, try opting for a sip of serenity that ups the ante in antioxidants. It’s pronounced “MA-cha.”