When I was a kid, my mother had these four panels hanging in our dining room.
They were Chinese depictions of the four seasons, and they went with us to every house or apartment we lived in. Being an army brat, there were a lot of places.
In the hallway we had a huge, Chinese vase my mother always claimed was as old as me. It broke once, and instead of getting rid of it, my mom glued it back together and kept it standing proudly in the hallway. There was something about depictions of Chinese culture that interested my mother. When it comes to matcha, I can definitely see why she was so fascinated.
Matcha originated in China during the Tang dynasty, spanning the seventh to tenth centuries. The literal translation of matcha is “powdered tea.” It is a form of tea that proves to be more potent than loose leaf tea because of its usage of the entire tea leaf, which is dried and ground into the powder that has become so popular as of late.
As with most trendy additives, matcha can be found in just about anything, not only tea. From matcha collagen that boasts improvements in hair, skin, nails, joints, ligaments and tendons to Boscia’s Matcha Magic Super-Antioxidant Mask that claims to reduce redness and inflammation, matcha has run the gamut from food to beauty products.
Even celebrities are taking notice. Two years ago Drake invested in a Brooklyn-based matcha cafe, MatchaBar, increasing his reach into lifestyle brands like Justin Timberlake did with Bai and Salma Hayek with Juice Generation. With its vibrant green hue that makes it incredibly Instagrammable, matcha is like the tiny dog of the late 2000s. The trend isn’t all about its picturesque quality, though.
According to Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, matcha has a number of health benefits. Matcha not only provides small amounts of vitamins and minerals, it also has plenty of antioxidants called polyphenols, which are known to protect against heart disease and cancer, as well as catalyze anti-aging and boost metabolism. Because it consists of whole leaves, a cup of matcha can contain as much caffeine as a cup of brewed coffee.
I’ve never been much of a coffee drinker, and I would say my favorite beverage is good old fashioned New York City tap water. But when I started my job at Squarespace, I needed something to keep me awake and focused at hours I haven’t seen since high school.
I considered coffee, but the taste is so grating on my tongue that I would have to add a ton of milk and sugar that greatly increased my carbohydrate intake in a way that didn’t align with my diet. I have been consuming less sugar but maintaining a steady consumption of various teas. This habit lead me to matcha as an obvious alternative to coffee. Although it’s not the most delicious beverage without any sugar, to me it is way more drinkable than sugarless coffee.
I haven’t had a nine to five before, so the idea of starting an eight to five was terrifying. My morning routine is quite lengthy, so I always wake up two hours before I have to leave the house, which is always an hour before I have to be anywhere, meaning 5 a.m. Monday through Friday.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it through a full work day without some sort of boost, but could matcha really do the trick? Could matcha do what coffee does without all of the empty calories? I was on a mission to find out!
At Squarespace they have this incredible array of beverages — all free for employees! Every morning I would grab a small can of matcha and ask it to carry me through the day. To ensure this experiment was pure, I refused to consume any other caffeinated beverages.
I cannot say for sure that it was the matcha that kept me going, but my first week of work went by without a desktop nap. Drinking the matcha every morning became a routine that signaled my brain to get up and go. Coffee may be more your speed, but matcha can be consumed in a number of ways that will allow you to enjoy its benefits without drinking both coffee and tea in the same day. With dishes like matcha ice cream and matcha soups, there’s always room for matcha!
Although the qualities of matcha sound incredible, there can be drawbacks to just about anything that offers health benefits. Sass explained that tea leaves grown in China often absorb lead from the environment. An independent study chronicled by The New York Times demonstrated that, because matcha uses the whole leaf, it may contain up to 30 times more lead than a cup of green tea.
Too much lead can cause serious illness, so it is recommended that you don’t drink more than one cup of matcha a day and that children don’t consume any at all. As the saying goes, everything in moderation!
I have been a fan of matcha for a while now. I would like to say I got in on the ground floor of the trend, but who can say when a trend really starts?
It was not the health benefits or the taste that drew me to matcha. There was just something about it that transported me — possibly its Chinese origins and its importance in Japanese tea ceremonies, Japan being one of my favorite countries with a culture that has greatly intrigued me since I was a child.
I highly doubt that matcha will become the new coffee or even continue to occupy the space it currently does. But much like its less potent counterpart, green tea, matcha isn’t going anywhere.
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