Stop being a coffee addict and start being a matcha monk

the science behind the drink of monks and samurai

If you have ever had a good cup of green tea you have probably experienced the buzz of energy and general feeling of well being the follows. What you may not have noticed is the absence of the symptoms that habitual coffee, and to a lesser extent black tea, drinkers typically experience: jitters, head aches, and withdrawal fatigue. Green tea is able to counter these effects, while maintaining a zen like energized state, with the help of high concentrations of the amino acid L-theanine. Matcha is a more concentrated form of green tea and so it has more… lots more… of all the amazing components including L-theanine.

The science

Studies have shown that concentrations of at least 50 mg of L-theanine significantly increases alpha brain waves and “increased alpha activity in the brain induced by L-theanine has been associated with increased creativity, increased performance under stress, and improved learning and concentration as well as decreased anxiety.” [1].

Everyone knows that tea contains caffeine, but matcha (and green tea in general) have caffeine tamers. Current studies show “L-theanine appears to antagonize the stimulatory effects of caffeine by decreasing serotonin levels that have been artificially elevated by caffeine” [2]. What that means is that you can sustain the feeling of alertness longer without the crazy side effects that traditionally accompany caffeine.

If that wasn’t amazing enough L-theanine also works to counteract the addiction of caffeine (and as the study show opioids), and “improves the ability to multi-task” [3]

So… where can we find this amazing amino acid? You can find about 20 mg (remember we need at least 50 mg for a noticeable effect) of L-theanine in black tea and 100–200 mg in sencha green tea. Matcha contains 10 to 100 times more.

In addition to the energy boosting properties of caffeine+L-theanine, matcha also contains catechin polyphenols, which raise the rate at which calories are burned. As you burn more calories you get more energy, and a warm flush feeling. Lets not forget the #1 popular side effect of burning more calories, weight loss.

And wait there’s more! Improved memory, LOADS of antioxidants which help protect against cancer…

The net result is amazing. A long lasting state of calm contented alertness. Zen. The perfect state for monks and warriors.

And in fact this is true. There are records of Zen Buddhists developing the tea ceremony in Sung dynasty China, elevating the preparation of tea to a symbol of spiritual practice. Later in the 13th century the Samurai learned the art of matcha from the Buddhists, and how it helped in meditation before battle, as well as providing an extended energy boost and increased endurance.

What is it that makes matcha so much better than other teas?

It’s all in the brewing. The basic principles of the recipe are simple, take the matcha powder (finely ground raw tea leaves), add hot water between 70°C/158°F and 80°C/176°F (any hotter and you burn the tea), whisk and drink. Yes all of it, so when you drink a cup of matcha you are getting the whole tea experience not just transfer from the infusion.

What is a great cup of matcha

Now that I have suitably excited you to the possibilities I need to tell you that not all matcha is created equal. I had A LOT of bad cups of matcha before I learned what a good one was suppose to taste like. Check out JagaSilk (buy the refill it is $5 less and gets shipped FREE worldwide… store in a mason jar and refrigerate) they are my matcha gurus and they ship their amazing matcha worldwide. Don’t be afraid to explore, and don’t be discouraged by a few (or more) bad experiences, because believe me it all becomes worth it when you may find that hidden gem.

From a high level, when you are shopping for matcha try to use the same terms you would for veggies at super market. Look for freshness (vivid vibrant green is better than dull dark), check dates (when it was harvested and how long ago it was ground, the more recent the better), store in a vacuum sealed container (stop it from oxidizing and absorbing ambient aromas) like a mason jar, and keep it in a cool place (keeps it fresh longer).

One last thing, not everyone appreciates the taste of pure matcha, and if you don’t thats ok, I didn’t either. My appreciation grew over time, but stemmed from blended drinks like Macchai lattes and iced lemon matcha from Township coffee (a shot of matcha, a lemon wedge in a cup of water and ice with a little simple syrup… yum!!).

fun fact: black tea (which is oxidized), green tea, and matcha are all made from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis, but prepared differently.

[1] Eschenauer G, Sweet BV. Pharmacology and Therapeutic Uses of Theanine. AM J Health-Sys Ph 2006; 63–26–30.
[2] Bryan, Janet. “Psychological Effects of Dietary Components of Tea: Caffeine and L-theanine.” Nutrition Reviews 66.2 (2008): 82–90. Web
[3] Giesbrecht, T., J. A. Rycroft, M. J. Rowson, and E. A. De Bruin. “The Combination of L-theanine and Caffeine Improves Cognitive Per…” Nutritional Neuroscience 13.6 (2010): 283–90.