Why Everyone’s Sipping Matcha Tea

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(Photo: Le Palais des Thes)
(Photo: Le Palais des Thes)

Popular yoga instructors start their day with it. Paleo celebrity chef and author Nell Stephenson loves it. And Turmeric Alive just launched a new drink spiked with it. The wellness cognoscenti has spoken: Matcha is the new trendy tea around town.

"The first time I had matcha, it was in ice cream at a restaurant. I loved it right away," says celebrity chef and author Melissa d'Arabian. "Now, I drink matcha probably five times a week." (So do those living or working near Birdbath in New York, which makes an out-of-this world iced version with cucumber.)

The powdered green tea has been in high demand recently in the United States as a drink, and in France as a baking ingredient, confirms Le Palais des Thes USA general manager Aurelie Bessiere, whose company sells multiple varieties. So should you start sipping it now? We got the details on its history, health benefits, and how to whip it up at home.

History: The Chinese brought matcha to Japan around the twelfth century, Bessiere says, where an elaborate ceremony surrounded its preparation. "Matcha is used in the Chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony)," she explains, where the powdered form of the tea leaves are whisked together with hot water. It's a practice also said to be enjoyed by Zen Buddhist monks who drank it for meditation focus. The method of preparation stuck once the tea began to be shipped to other places, so you'll almost exclusively find it in powder form.

Tumeric Alive's new Japanese Matcha drink.
Tumeric Alive's new Japanese Matcha blend.

Benefits:  Matcha is particularly high in antioxidants called catechin polyphenols—linked to numerous health benefits from decreased cancer risk to reducing cholesterol and blood pressure—and since you actually drink the ground leaves, you ingest more of the nutrients than with brewed leaf teas.

And drinkers, including the aforementioned monks, say it works as a coffee substitute, providing energy that promotes prolonged concentration, without the jittery java buzz. “Matcha is my perfect afternoon pick-me-up, because it gives a gentle increase in energy and focus without making me feel over-caffeinated,” d’Arabian says.

How to make matcha: To make it the traditional way, Bessiere says to heat water to about 180 degrees—not quite boiling. “Whisk the powder in a W shape until you have a bit of foam,” she explains. It’ll usually take about 30 second to achieve the frothy texture, and you should refer to the package for measurements.

But matcha is also very versatile, so you can get creative if straight sipping isn’t your style. “I use matcha in three ways—in a latte, in a smoothie, and mixed with chia seeds into a pudding,” d’Arabian says. “Probably my favorite smoothie is frozen banana, milk, matcha, almond or peanut butter, spinach, and cinnamon.” Your favorite smoothie bar may even stock it as an add-in ingredient. And if not, it’s only a matter of time. —Lisa Elaine Held

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