Matcha is a finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea leaves. Like other types of green tea, it is derived from Camellia sinensis, a plant that is native to Asia but cultivated around the globe.
Unlike traditional green tea, matcha tea plants are grown in the shade for about three weeks before harvest. This results in increased amino acid content, particularly theanine, as well as chlorophyll production — creating its distinct bright green color. The entire tea leaf is crushed and used to make matcha resulting in a higher concentration of antioxidants and significantly more caffeine than traditional green tea.
Green tea is rich in catechin polyphenols, specifically epigallo-catechin gallate (EGCG). These compounds contain high antioxidant activity that research suggests may offer protection against various types of cancer, prevent cardiovascular disease and slow the aging process.
Studies have linked green tea to a variety of health benefits, including protection against heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer, and assisting in weight loss. Because matcha is a type of green tea, it may share similar benefits. However, there has not been enough research to substantiate such claims. Studies have found matcha to have a stress-reducing effect, thought to be a result of the high amounts of theanine, although studies are needed to understand this benefit.
Matcha has been used during traditional tea ceremonies for hundreds of years. In modern times, in addition to being used to brew beverages like lattes and teas, it is also used to flavor and dye foods, and it is found in smoothies, desserts and snacks.
Although matcha has virtually no calories, milk and sweeteners are often added to the powder resulting in a higher caloric beverage containing a significant amount of sugar. Green tea leaves can also absorb heavy metals from ground soil, and quality can vary among matcha teas, thus impacting its nutrient profile.
Drinking green tea and matcha is considered safe, but people sensitive to caffeine should be aware that it contains significant amounts of the stimulant. Like other caffeinated beverages, consuming matcha can result in increased heart rate, anxiety, hyperactivity, fidgeting and insomnia, and can result in withdrawal symptoms when discontinued.