Contributed post by Eric Gower
I wouldn’t dream of getting in between anyone and their morning coffee. Talk about multilayered hazards! But for those who can’t drink coffee or who just don’t care for its taste or effects, there’s a wonderful alternative that’s been a mainstay in Japan for more than 800 years: a special green tea called matcha, and it sets the tone for an exceedingly productive yet very calm day.
Matcha is special. It’s not steeped. Most teas are either loose-leaf or bagged, and one steeps the tea and tosses the bag or leaves at the end. But matcha is different: it’s stoneground, using big granite wheels, into a fine powder that looks like a hallucinogenic green cocoa. One simply scoops out a half teaspoon or so of the electric-green powder into a bowl or cup, adds some hot (not boiling) water, whisks it up with a traditional bamboo whisk (or, for the more modern among us, a handheld electric milk frothing wand) into a frothy brew, and sips. If whisked well, the fine texture of the matcha crema resembles espresso. Great matcha can rival some of the most coveted wines in the world in terms of flavor complexity and pure enjoyment (and, some would say, price).
Matcha is old. The founder of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, Eisai Myoan, is credited with bringing matcha (and zen; the two have a longstanding affinity with one another) to Japan from China, where powdered green tea arose during the 8th century, in the late 12th century. Somehow along the way, the use and enjoyment of matcha in China waned, but it was transmitted to Japan, where it developed independently, at first in zen monasteries, and then on to the general public in the form of chanoyu, or the tea ceremony.
Matcha is healthy. It has more antioxidants by weight than all the popular superfoods – gojiberry, pomegranate, acai berry, wild blueberry, kale, and dark chocolate – combined. One key antioxidant is actually a flavanoid/catechin called EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), and matcha is crazy full of EGCGs. It has roughly 140x the EGCGs of regular green tea, for the simple reason that matcha is consumed whole. The soluble and insoluble fiber in matcha work in synergy, something that can’t happen in tea that is steeped. It’s this synergistic effect that is responsible for its off-the-charts EGCG count.
There are studies that indicate matcha can be beneficial in treating a variety of cancers and other diseases, as well as assisting digestion and bolstering overall immunity. It’s also packed with an amino acid called L-theanine, which has been widely studied for its potential ability to reduce mental and physical stress and to elevate mood in a synergistic manner with caffeine (at 25 mg per serving, matcha has about a quarter the caffeine of brewed coffee).
A thick, creamy cup in the morning, perhaps with a couple of poached eggs dusted with matcha and sea salt, is my preferred way to start the day. It’s an epicurean AND phytonutrient experience unlike any other.
Editor’s note: Eric Gower is an author and founder of Breakaway Matcha, a specialty tea company focused squarely on sourcing the most exceptional matcha and educating people about how to best enjoy it. He has written four cookbooks, among them The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen and The Breakaway Cook. He blogs regularly here and also writes “The Breakaway Cook” column for the San Francisco Chronicle.
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