Do the health benefits of matcha match the hype?

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Matcha, matcha, matcha. This gorgeously green tea seems to be getting a whole lot of attention these days. But does it live up to the healthy hype? Check out our FAQs to find out.

What is matcha?

Matcha is a powder made from green tea leaves. While matcha comes from the same plant as typical green and black tea (Camellia sinensis), the growing and processing is a bit different. The first difference is that the tea plants are covered to prevent direct sunlight several weeks before harvest, which causes them to produce more L-theanine (an amino acid) and caffeine. The finest buds are handpicked, steamed to stop fermentation, and laid flat to dry. Unlike typical tea, the dried leaves are then de-veined and de-stemmed before being stoneground into a fine powder.  

The preparation is different from regular tea as well. Rather than steeping tea leaves in hot water then removing them, matcha powder gets whisked into hot water or milk. So when you drink matcha, you’re drinking the tea leaves themselves.

Matcha has also been popping up in a variety of foods — from pastries and ice cream to soup and soba noodles.

How much caffeine is in matcha?

Matcha has more caffeine than regular green tea but less than coffee or espresso — about 34 mg of caffeine for a tea made with ½ teaspoon of matcha compared to about 30 mg for an 8 oz traditional green tea, 63 mg for one espresso shot, and 95 to 125 mg for an 8 oz coffee.

Some people report that matcha creates a calmer buzz than they get from coffee and they don’t experience the jitteriness, spikes, and crashes associated with caffeine when they drink matcha. One theory people have for this is that it may be due to the L-theanine in matcha, which some find to have a calming effect. If you’re sensitive to the caffeine in coffee, matcha may be a better alternative for you.

What are the health benefits?

Like regular green tea, matcha is packed with antioxidants known as polyphenols, including epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). While more research is needed, some smaller studies and observational research have suggested the polyphenols in green tea may play a role in reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, protecting against cancer, lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease and dementia, and more.

Because you ingest the leaves when you drink matcha, you’ll likely get more of these healthy compounds than you would with steeped green tea. For instance, research suggests you’ll get at least three times more EGCG from matcha than other green teas.  

The L-theanine in matcha may also have health benefits beyond the anecdotal reports of reducing the negative effects of caffeine. Some research suggests this amino acid may help improve brain function and reduce the symptoms of anxiety.

The combination of L-theanine and caffeine in matcha may provide additional benefits. This dynamic duo may improve attention, alertness, and memory.

Are there any concerns about matcha?

Some green teas have been found to be contaminated with lead and other heavy metals absorbed from the soil it’s grown in. However, ConsumerLab.com, an independent testing group, tested six popular matcha brands and found no lead in them. Tea from China may be more likely to contain lead due to industrial pollution.

And while the antioxidants in green tea possibly offer a number of health benefits, too much of a good thing has the potential to be dangerous. There have been a small number of cases of liver toxicity which may be linked to green tea extracts in supplements.

You may also want to avoid drinking matcha in the afternoon or evening due to the caffeine. Even if it doesn’t cause jitteriness, it can still impact your sleep. Caffeine can also be an addictive substance and may not be for everyone.

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While the research is far from definitive at this point, the early evidence suggests that matcha may offer some health benefits. But as with most things, we recommend drinking matcha in moderation. A cup or two a day is a great way to reap any potential benefits of matcha while limiting risks.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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