Green tea came to prominence for its health benefits and health antioxidants centuries ago. Matcha was also recognized for these same benefits centuries ago, but it wasn’t always accessible to the majority of the world. Matcha started to gain popularity with American tea enthusiasts sometime in the early to mid 2010’s. Now, it’s so popular that every major coffee chain offers a matcha latte.
Matcha and green tea are both teas, and they’re both green. Surprisingly enough, they’re both the exact same plant. The way they’re grown, harvested, and prepared is significantly different. These differences drastically change the flavor and benefits of the tea, even though they’re genetically identical.
All Tea is The Same Plant
Camellia sinensis is the only tea plant. It’s the source of black tea, oolong tea, white tea, green tea, and matcha. All other teas are herbal teas, and they’re made from blends of fruit and herbs or other plants. They aren’t technically tea because they don’t contain any Camellia sinensis.
Camellia sinensis is a versatile plant. Growing it in different ways, harvesting it at different times, and trying it with different methods can produce teas that are so distinct from each other that most people would never guess that each of them could come from the exact same plant.
Matcha and green tea don’t look anything alike. They don’t taste very similar, and they boast completely different antioxidant profiles. The way the Camellia sinensis plant is grown, treated, and processed can significantly impact the resulting tea. Matcha and green tea are proof.
What is Green Tea?
Green tea is the step between white tea and black tea in the leaf cycle of the Camellia sinensis plant. White tea is made of younger leaves that aren’t fully formed, and black tea is usually made of the oldest tea leaves. Green leaves are harvested while they’re on the verge of full maturity or the very moment they reach full maturity. This is what gives green tea its uniquely sweet and floral flavor.
Green tea leaves are steamed as soon as they’re harvested to prevent them from oxidizing. Oxidation changes the colors, flavors, and antioxidant profiles of a tea. By rapidly preserving the tea leaves in their freshly harvested state, the leaves retain their green color and natural compounds.
After steaming, the leaves are dried and sent to be packaged into loose leaf tea or ground up and placed into sachets.
What is Matcha Tea?
Matcha is a very young green tea that’s grown in the shade for the final month before harvest. Protecting the plant from direct sunlight helps the leaves to accumulate chlorophyll and important vital nutrients that the sun may otherwise damage.
Matcha leaves are harvested, steamed immediately, and sorted by hand. These leaves go into a grading system. Some matcha leaves are deemed good enough only for culinary purposes, and other matcha leaves are deemed suitable for consumption as tea. The highest grade of matcha, called ceremonial matcha, is usually the brightest in color and sweetest in aroma.
After the leaves are sorted, they’re ground into a very fine powder. This grinding process is sometimes performed by hand, at least partially. The tea is packaged in containers that keep it from being exposed to light or the elements until it reaches the person who is going to drink it. The manufacturers of matcha often suggest refrigerating the container after it’s been opened to help preserve the tea.
Preparing a Cup of Matcha vs. Preparing a Cup of Green Tea
Matcha tea is the only tea that you drink. This may seem confusing at first. After all, you’ve been sipping on mugs of tea your entire life. Technically, you’ve been sipping on mugs of tea flavored water. Your tea bag or sachet infuses the flavors of the tea into the water, and the tea itself is discarded. This is how green tea is prepared.
Matcha tea is prepared by dropping finely ground tea leaves into water and thoroughly incorporating them. Nothing is getting tossed away. The actual leaves of the plant are in your cup, and you’re drinking them.
This makes the prep process for matcha a little more complicated. It needs to be blended or whisked into the water, which takes more time than dropping in a tea bag and coming back a few minutes later. Matcha is something you have to prepare, where green tea is something that prepares itself with time.
The Nutritional Differences Between Green Tea and Matcha Tea
Traditional green tea and matcha are both valuable sources of antioxidants. They both contain caffeine, and they both contain catechins. Catechins are antioxidants that are unique to tea. These antioxidants are among the most powerful, and they protect the cells in your body from damage by free radicals.
Your body ultimately receives more of these beneficial catechins, specifically a catechin called EGCG, from matcha. When you steep a cup of green tea, you’re receiving limited catechins. A cup of weak tea has less than a cup of strong tea, and a cup of strong tea has less than the whole tea leaves. With matcha, you’re getting the entire tea leaf. This means that every antioxidant contained within the tea makes its way into your body.
How To Enjoy Matcha
If you want to enjoy the unique benefits of matcha tea, there are many ways you can add them into your diet. Matcha is a versatile ingredient, and it’s naturally sweet and umami flavor plays well with tons of things you eat and drink every day.
On Its Own
The best way to enjoy the benefits of matcha is to prepare the tea and drink it without any sweetener or cream. Ceremonial grade matcha is naturally sweeter than other kinds of tea, making it easier to sip a cup the way nature intended.
In a Latte
If you’re using matcha to replace your usual morning latte, you might want to treat it like coffee. Taste the matcha on its own before you mix in any other ingredients. Honey (for non-vegans) and coconut sugar used in small amounts can sweeten your matcha. Mix it with your favorite plant milk and enjoy.
Matcha powder can be mixed into every kind of baked good. You can make matcha pancakes, waffles, cupcakes, and bread. Snow Monkey uses matcha green tea in our ice cream. We combined the goodness of matcha with the nutritional benefits of fruit, seeds, and maple syrup to make the perfect dairy free and allergen safe dessert.
Both matcha and green tea are good for you, but matcha is just a little better. The way matcha is prepared includes more of the plant’s benefits in your cup, or your pancakes, or your ice cream. Matcha is the healthiest and most versatile way to enjoy the benefits of green tea. If you haven’t tried matcha yet, you’re really missing out.
You can always try a pint of Snow Monkey matcha green tea. Our ice creams are vegan, paleo friendly, wheat free, peanut free, and treenut free. Everyone can enjoy Snow Monkey, and everyone can enjoy matcha.
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