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Matcha: The One Healthy Tea to Rule Them All?

Izu Matcha (ETS image)
Izu Matcha (ETS image)

Here’s my oft-repeated opinion on the health benefits of tea, condensed to one sentence: I don’t deny that there’s evidence that tea can be healthy, but there’s no shortage of people who are eager to stretch those claims in the interest of selling tea.

While many claims for tea’s benefits center on green tea, there have also been efforts to call attention to the alleged health-giving properties of white tea and puerh, in particular. Then there’s matcha, which often seems to be the focus of health claims nowadays.

Which is another of the many varieties of green tea, mind you. It’s a powdered tea, often of high quality, that comes from Japan. Once upon a time, at least in the West, matcha was an obscure tea that was used mostly by those few people who took part in the Japanese tea ceremony. But in the last few years matcha has rallied to become something of a phenomenon, with a number of tea merchants who sell nothing else.

I decided to do a quick and completely unscientific survey of some matcha offerings from a few well-known tea companies and a few of these specialists. One simply mentions health benefits, while another zeros in on the vitamins, minerals and fiber therein. One claims that matcha contains 137 times more antioxidants than steeped green tea, while another makes the lofty claim that matcha has an “intense cleansing effect on the body” and “helps to pull the toxins into the blood stream and then filters them out of the body.”

It’s these last two claims or some variation of that I’ve noticed being put forth quite often for matcha. The theory, as I understand it, is that because matcha is made from the entire tea leaf (which is usually just steeped in hot water and thrown away), it contains more antioxidants than other teas. But is that true or just a nice way to sell more tea?

As it turns out, it seems that there’s some evidence to support these claims. In 2003, researchers at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs published a paper they titled Determination of Catechins in Matcha Green Tea by Micellar Electrokinetic Chromatography. Which sounds like pretty daunting stuff, but what it boils down to is this, “results indicate that the concentration of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) available from drinking matcha is 137 times greater than the amount of EGCG available from China Green Tips green tea, and at least three times higher than the largest literature value for other green teas.”

In a more recent study, researchers from Croatia tested the antioxidant content of nine varieties of tea that ran the gamut and included matcha. At the top of the heap, along with a variety simply described as Twinings, was matcha. Gyokuro, which is also a type of Japanese green tea, also took a top spot in the rankings. To see the results in PDF format, click here.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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