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Many may not have heard of the matcha tea 20 years ago, but this drink has been brewed and enjoyed for centuries by the Japanese.

The unique tea — once only shared amongst the highest nobility in Japan — has transcended from simply being an aristocratic beverage to one of the most lauded superfoods today. Besides its long list of health benefits, matcha is also backed by remarkable culture and tradition, which should still be celebrated, more so in our fast-paced modern world.

Like all teas, matcha tea is graded by quality and provenance and comes with its own set of rules for preparation. We break down everything you need to know about this verdant super-drink, as well as the best ones to shop for today.

Matcha vs green tea

Matcha is derived from the same Camellia Sinesis plant that all true teas come from, including oolong, black tea, and regular green tea. The only difference lies in the growing, harvesting, and production style.

Image: Courtesy Hitoshi Suzuki/Unsplash

Unlike other teas, matcha is the only form of green tea where you consume the whole leaf. These leaves are gradually shade-grown — often in near-darkness by harvest time — to crank up production of chlorophyll and amino acids. Only the smallest and youngest parts of the plant are chosen, steamed, dried, and sorted for a grade in a laborious, time-consuming process to ensure the integrity of the tea, before getting de-stemmed and de-veined to become tencha. These leaves are then stone-ground into a delicate powder, hence the name “matcha”, or “ground tea” in English.

Matcha is always a brighter and frothier green than regular green tea thanks to its high levels of chlorophyll. Equipment is an essential part of the experience and key to making good matcha. In contrast to contemporary matcha culture ( think a green tea latte from Starbucks), traditional Japanese tea ceremonies called chanoyu are centred around the preparation and offering of matcha, and involves specific tools like the chawan (tea bowl), chashaku (bamboo teaspoon), and chasen (tea whisk). Its roots in Zen Buddhism means that its preparation is still considered a mindful practice today.

Choosing high-grade matcha

Uji, Japan. Image: Courtesy David Emrich/Unsplash

High-grade matcha is made from leaves that are hand-picked and is sweet/umami and smooth with no traces of bitterness thanks to its high amino acid content. Because the main area of matcha cultivation in Japan is in Uji, a city south of Kyoto, it’s considered to have the ultimate terroir and is responsible for a majority of the country’s most distinguished (and also expensive) varieties.

Ceremonial grade matcha sits at the pinnacle of quality with a vibrant green hue. It’s incredibly pricey and should be reserved for whisking in water and not your DIY matcha latte. To make fancy drinks, cakes, and other recipes, use culinary grade matcha, which is cheaper and wouldn’t mind being subjected to high heat and your manhandling. Colour is a telling indication of quality too, so avoid the ones that have a brownish-green colour.

Matcha powder is also best mixed with water under 80 degrees Celsius. On the other hand, regular green tea is often boiled to 100 degrees Celsius, which destroys its nutritional benefits.

Benefits

To put the nutritional profile of matcha into perspective, you’d have to drink 10 to 15 cups of regular green tea to match the nutrients of one cup of matcha.

Image: Courtesy Matcha & Co/Unsplash

This is because it’s higher in a catechin called EGCG, a potent antioxidant that stabilises harmful free radicals that typically damage cells and cause chronic disease and cancer. Besides being a nearly calorie-free beverage, matcha is also a great addition for those looking to shave grams off by also boosting metabolism and burning fat.

The high concentration of the amino acid L-theanine also promotes a state of relaxation and well-being, which makes it a much better alternative than coffee if you need caffeine but don’t want to get highly strung. Matcha is, after all, the choice of drink for monks who want to remain alert yet calm during hours of meditation.

Check out the best places selling matcha tea for a cup full of zen.

1
Tea Trunk

Start your day with a cup of matcha tea from Tea Trunk, starting at Rs 798. The healthy concoction is available in many other flavour variations such as activated charcoal match, berry matcha green tea, mint matcha green tea. And they are not just flavours, but mixtures customised to different needs for detox. Inspired by the Japanese culture, Tea Trunk also offers supplement products like matcha bamboo whisk, ceramic bowls, matcha lovers kits and samples so that you enjoy your detox session.

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2
Vahdam Teas

Give authentic matcha blend a try and see fitness-friendly results. That’s what Vahdam Tea promises, offering matcha tea from Rs 499 onwards. Their garden-fresh matcha tea corners your body toxins and will brew up your health. Their line of matcha tea promises 100% purity included in a range of delectable flavours.

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3
TDT World

Tasse De The is a choice if you love celebrating the art of tea, with its brilliant matcha green tea collection starting at Rs 499. TDT urges people to enjoy a cup of tea elegantly. Matcha tea is not just a simple beverage, but it’s a perfect way to start a healthy way of living, and TDT understands it. They prepare the matcha menu with care and store it in attractive boxes to give it a homely, organic vibe.

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4
Urban Platter

Show your body some love a get matcha tea mix from Urban Platter. Mumbai-based food supplier Urban Platter is famous for its organic collection of grocery and gourmet. Its exotic and high-quality matcha green tea is undoubtedly the best option to kick heartily start your day.

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5
Starbucks

People still cringe over the thought of green tea products, but Starbucks has a solution for it, with their epic kind of contemporizing. They serve a matcha brew in style, which ranges from creamy matcha latte to iced pineapple matcha drink. Globally-renowned coffee-maker Starbucks is providing people with an option to enjoy healthy drinks without compromising on taste.

This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Singapore

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