Matcha and Green Tea – Similarities, Differences and Health Benefits
In this blog we analyse the similarities and differences between Matcha and Green Tea and benefits of matcha overall. Matcha and standard green tea are similar in many ways. But is matcha better for you than green tea? Some key differences between matcha and green tea are due to the different growing and processing methods and variations in how they are consumed. Both have health benefits supported by conventional wisdom and some scientific studies, but in this article we look at how they are similar and yet different.
Matcha and Green Tea both originated in China. While some records date green tea back to almost 4000-5000 years, the origin of Matcha is believed to be during the Tang Dynasty in China between 7th – 10th century AD. During the 12th century, a Japanese Buddhist, Eisai, took tea seeds to Japan, planted them in the fields of Kyoto and introduced the concept of powdered green tea. By 16th century Matcha was part of various Japanese rituals and ceremonies, particularly in upper society. However, a Japanese Zen student, consolidated individual rituals of Matcha, such as dress codes, garden surroundings, tearoom settings, tea preparations, utensils, etc. into one unified ceremony that became a symbol of Japanese harmony, purity, and calmness.
Both Matcha and Green Tea are made from the same plant called Camellia sinensis. It is also known as tea plant or tea shrub. The leaves of Camellia sinensis are used to make both Matcha and Green tea. In fact, black tea and oolong are also from the same plant. The taste and grade of both green tea and matcha varies with the maturity of the leaves. So the young and fresh leaves in Spring will create higher grade of matcha and green tea, compared to more mature leaves later in the year.
The difference comes from when and how the leaves are harvested and how they are processed. For matcha, the tea plants are grown in shade (at least for the last 20 days) before harvesting. This increases the chlorophyll and nutritional content of the leaves. The young and supple leaves are quickly steamed after harvesting to prevent oxidation and discolouration. The leaves are dried and stems and veins are removed. The leaves are then ground in extremely fine powder which can be actually mixed in water for wholesome consumption.
In case of green tea, the plants are not intentionally shade grown. The leaves are steamed, dried and left for some oxidation, without removing stems and veins. Once the leaves wither and are crisp and dry, they are ground into small particles. Green tea is typically steeped in water for consumption, rather than consuming as whole in water.
The colour of matcha powder is bright green. This is because the plants are grown in shade. The leaves of shade grown plants have a much higher concentration of chlorophyll than plants grown in sun. This gives the leaves bright green colour. On the other hand, the green tea leaves are dull green and may lose colouration when they are dried. It should be noted that the colour of matcha will vary depending on the age of the harvest leaves and season in which they are harvested. Young and tender leaves from the first harvest in Spring will have brighter green colour than the mature leaves from the harvests later in the year.
Matcha powder is processed into extremely powder fine (less than 20 micron sized particles) because it is intended to be dissolved and consumed in entirety. While green leaves are sold loose or in tea bags and are not as fine powder because they are intended to be steeped in water.
Green tea has mild and subtle flavour, but matcha has a much bolder, grassy, earthy or umami flavour. One reason for a subtle flavour of green tea is because it is steeped in water and hence only the essence of the leaves comes into the water, while matcha powder is consumed as a whole and hence feels stronger and prominent. Also, the flavour of matcha will vary based on the grade of matcha, which is determined on many factors such as age of leaves, season of harvest, whether or not stems and veins are removed, and other variations. Matcha from the young and supple leaves in Spring will be less-bodied and will have subtle umami flavour, while matcha from later harvest is full-bodied and will have a more prominent umami flavour and may taste a little bitter.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
While Matcha and Green Tea come from the same plant, the methods in which they are grown, processed and consumed makes a difference in their health benefits. Green tea is nutritious as proven by thousands of years of conventional wisdom and several scientific studies. However, Matcha has much higher concentration of minerals and antioxidants because of how it is grown and the fact that the powder is fully consumed. A study conducted in 2003 concluded that Matcha has at least 3 times more Catechins, specifically EGCG (a type of antioxidants), than largest documented value in best green teas and up to 137 times more than certain variety of green tea . Hence, all the health benefits listed below are obtained from much smaller quantity but regular consumption of matcha than similar amount of green tea.
Several recent studies have concluded that matcha may have positive mental and physical health benefits, including prevention and reduction of chronic and degenerative diseases . We explore some of these benefits below.
Matcha tea has higher concentration of caffeine and L-theanine when compared to standard green tea. According to research published in December 2020 , matcha can contain up to twice the amount of caffeine than green tea and same amount (or even higher) as coffee, depending on amount of consumption and concentration in each cup. However, caffeine in matcha is not known to cause jittery feeling due to the presence of an amino acid called L-theanine. L-theaine molecules are seen to attach to caffeine in matcha and slow down the increase of cortisol levels, hence not causing the anxiety or tension that coffee can cause in some people. Hence people who consume matcha often report a feeling of alertness while still feeling calm at the same time. Regular consumption of caffeine combined with L-theanine may decrease the cognitive degeneration that occurs with age, including diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia. The combination of caffeine and L-theanine as well as antioxidants such as EGCG in matcha, make it a great food for mental health – reducing degenerative mental diseases with a rare combination of inducing alert and calm feelings, both at the same time. Further analysis of matcha on brain functions is given in the another blog.
Holistic Physical Health – Heart, Arteries, Diabetes, Liver, Inflammations, Viral infections and Cancer
According to a recent research , one of the key benefits of matcha tea is that they have high concentration of catechins, compounds that are extremely beneficial to human health, as these are potent antioxidants which fight free radicals and boost detoxification enzymes. In addition to catechins, matcha also contains high concentration of polyphenols (Phenolic acid, Rutin) and phytochemicals (Quercetin), all of which together have significant antioxidant and immunity boosting properties.
- Anti-cancer effect, inhibiting growth of cancer cells
- Anti-inflammatory effect, preventing inflammation in arteries and hence promoting heart health and joints movement
- Reducing LDL (bad cholesterol) and promoting HDL (good cholesterol) and hence keeping arteries unclogged, which is often the reason for sudden heart attacks and failures
- Preventing viral infections
- Anti-diabetic properties
Skin and Hair
Drinking matcha with high concentration of antioxidants may do wonders to skin from within while also helping reduce acne. Matcha may be combined with other skin and hair promoting natural ingredients like Aloe Vera, Coconut oil and Olive oil and applied to skin and hair to promote glowing, healthy and younger looking appearance, while also feeling good from within.
Gut health (2023 research update)
We all know that gut health is very important for the normal functioning of our body, from absorbing food to eliminating toxic waste. A healthy gut can keep hormonal balance in check, prevent inflammatory diseases and give us physical and mental energy. Gut contains good bacteria and bad bacteria. If the good bacteria out number the bad bacteria and function properly, then we have an overall good health. A recent study, published in the ‘Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition’ in 2023, based on a study concluded in late 2022, identified that matcha tea consumption increased the amount of beneficial Coprococcus bacteria and reduced the amount of harmful Fusobacterium on the participants. [Reference: https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jcbn/advpub/0/advpub_22-81/_article/-char/en]
Adverse effects of Matcha and Green tea
Nothing is a “silver bullet” or “one-stop-solution” when it comes to holistic health. It is very important to maintain an overall healthy lifestyle that includes well-balanced and nutritious diet and physical activity. Matcha and Green Tea can both be very health options to include in your daily routine, however, ensure that you always choose the best quality teas, which are not contaminated with pesticides and heavy substances. Hence always choose organic or products that have certified quality checks in both processing and end product. It should also be noted that when consuming Matcha or Green Tea, you are taking plant compounds and in case of matcha that concentration is high. Hence moderation is always important. Too much intake may cause liver toxicity in the body. Same caution should be observed as you would for coffee and other drinks.
Ultimately, matcha and green tea both come from same plant source and contain the same compounds and nutrients. But overall, matcha is better than green tea in terms of health benefits. If drinking several (3-6) cups of green tea is not possible each day, having 1-2 cups of matcha may give a sustainable boost to your health, body and mind. It is important to note that only good quality matcha or green tea will give maximum health benefits. Given the variations in growing and processing methods across the world, the concentration of nutrients varies widely between brands.
Tencha is another name you will come across in relation to matcha. Find out more on Tencha from our blog – Tencha leaves for making matcha.