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Matcha powder and serving bowls at Vital A Tea in Riverhead. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Matcha. Perhaps you’ve pinned a recipe for green-hued muffins made with its powder on Pinterest or maybe you saw a friend post the green, bubbling beverage on Instagram.

This ancient Japanese beverage, a health trend that burst onto the scene in 2015, can now readily be found in lattes at coffee shops across the country. While the earthy, green flavor of this drink might take some getting used to, proponents say it provides antioxidants, enhances calm and can even boost memory.

“Green tea is great for levelling blood sugar,” said Carolyn Poncato, owner of Vital A Tea, a tea shop in Riverhead. “And it has enough caffeine that it gives you a boost.”

Matcha lovers say all those benefits are increased in this drink, which has historically been associated with Japanese tea ceremonies (rather than every day drinking.) That is probably because when you drink matcha, you are actually imbibing the whole pulverized tea leaf blended in water.

“When you drink traditional tea, components from the tea leaves are infused into hot water,” said Maryann Birmingham, a community nutrition educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension. “With matcha, you’re ingesting the entire leaf.”

The tea leaf, which has been ground into a powder, is made into a drinkable solution by mixing about one teaspoon of the matcha powder with one third a cup of hot (not boiling) water. It is then typically whisked with a bamboo brush until frothy.

Traditional green tea typically has less caffeine than coffee, but a cup of matcha may contain three times the caffeine in a steeped cup of tea or as much as a large cup of coffee, Birmingham said. So you probably want to limit yourself to one cup per day and avoid giving it to children. And definitely avoid drinking it less than six hours before bedtime, she said.

Still, the selling points are undeniable.

“Tea’s health benefits are largely due to its high content of flavonoids — plant-derived compounds that are antioxidants,” Birmingham told us. “Green tea is the best food source of a group called catechins, phytochemical compounds found in high concentrations in a variety of plant-based foods and/or beverages. Catechins are more powerful than vitamins C and E in halting oxidative damage to cells and appear to have other disease-fighting properties.”

Tea perks include a lower risk for heart disease, improved artery function and, according to a Chinese study published recently in the Archives of Internal Medicine, a 46 percent to 65 percent reduction in hypertension in regular drinkers of oolong or green tea compared to non-drinkers, Birmingham said.

Consumer Labs, which in October 2015 added a matcha section to its green tea report, found that a cup of brewed tea contains 30 to 60 mg of EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate, the most abundant catechin in green tea) while a cup of tea from powdered matcha will contain 80 to 110 mg of EGCG.

A matcha latte at North Fork Roasting Co. in Southold. (Credit: Courtesy photo)
A matcha latte at North Fork Roasting Co. in Southold. (Credit: Courtesy photo)

Poncato recently showed us how the tea is usually prepared, using a matcha bowl (also known as a chawan) and a bamboo whisk in her Riverhead shop.

“It’s strong, it’s thick, it’s a little granular,” Poncato said while she whipped the tea.

She noted that the rise of this beverage coincides with the popularity of juicing green veggies like kale and spinach.

“It doesn’t even taste like tea,” Poncato said. “It tastes like a green juice.”

It may also have some digestive benefits, at least according to new age philosophy.

“It keeps your fire burning, ayurvedically speaking,” Poncato said.

While the powder is only available at Vital A Tea through large special orders, Poncato does sell matcha bowl sets ($19) in her store.

North Fork Roasting Co. in Southold also recently began offering cups of matcha ($4) and matcha lattes ($4.25) and it’s become one of the roastery’s best sellers.

At the urging of head barista Brianna Paige, co-owners Jennilee Morris and Jess Dunne began offering the drink last summer. Matcha now makes up about 25 percent of the café’s daily sales, Dunne said.

“Its probably one of the biggest things our staff here drinks,” she said. “This past summer people found out we had matcha and it started taking off.”

The NoFoRoCo staff prefers the drink with a bit of almond milk from the nearby juice bar and yoga studio The Giving Room to take off the grassy edge, Dunne said. It helps keep them energized while serving Southold’s thirsty masses.

“I like to have matcha if I’m feeling sick. It’s like a little bit of energy,” Dunne said. “Plus, it’s good for a hangover.”

This story was originally published in the 2016 edition of northforker’s Wellness magazine