Matcha lattes appear to be replacing coffee as a new hot drink but what exactly is matcha and why is it good for us?
What is matcha?
Matcha is a finely ground powder made from the leaves of the Camellia sinesis plant. These leaves are the same leaves used to make black tea and green tea but what makes them different is the way in which they are processed. Black tea leaves are left to fully ferment, which changes their colour from green to black, whereas green tea leaves are immediately steamed to prevent this fermentation process. Matcha is actually powdered green tea, where the leaves are steamed, dried and then ground into a fine green powder.
What are the health benefits?
Matcha has become popular as a health food for many reasons. Compared to green tea, the whole tea leaf is used to make matcha and therefore it’s health benefits are more pronounced.
Most of the health benefits are attributed to its polyphenol content. Polyphenols are natural occurring compounds found in plants. Matcha is processed in a way that preserves most of these polyphenols. The most abundant polyphenols in tea are known as catechins, which have been suggested to exert strong antioxidant properties (1). Antioxidants help to reduce the build up of free radicals that can damage cells and play a role in the development of disease (2).
The energising effect of matcha is thought to be due to both caffeine and an amino acid called L-Theanine. Matcha contains around 34mg of caffeine, which is half that of a regular espresso. However, the effects of the caffeine are thought to last longer and be much more intense than coffee. This is partly due to the presence of L-Theanine, which has a calming, relaxing effect and slows the release of the caffeine (3).
There is some evidence to suggest that catechins can reduce the absorption of carbohydrates by 25% and therefore the rise in blood glucose levels. However, more research is needed to determine whether this can be a useful tool in the treatment of diabetes (4).
There is also research to suggest that matcha can enhance the conversion of fat into energy (5), however the evidence is inconsistent and more research is needed.
Take home message
Matcha appears to have many health benefits particularly as an antioxidant. If you’re looking for a drink to replace your coffee with, then a matcha latte may just be the drink. However, bear in mind that it still contains caffeine and if drunken too late in the day it can disturb sleep. If buying matcha powder is too expensive, then stick to green tea and other antioxidant rich foods like fruits (blueberries, raspberries), vegetables (kale, beans) and dark chocolate.