It’s already on the menu in most coffee shops – and it’s now finding its way into smoothies, ice cream, baking and even beauty products.
But what on earth is matcha green tea, and why is it having such a moment?
Far from just a fad, matcha green tea is actually a several thousand-year-old beverage which packs some seriously impressive nutritional benefits.
This article will explore what matcha green tea is, what makes it different from green tea, some matcha green tea benefits and whether there are any risks you should be aware of.
We’ll also tell you how to prepare it!
Matcha green tea is a bright green powder made from the ground-up leaves of the camellia sinensis plant, which is the same plant that regular green tea comes from.1
Matcha green tea hails from ancient China, and it is believed to have been introduced to Japan – where most of today’s matcha is produced – by travelling monks around 9th century.2,3 Since then, it’s enjoyed steady popularity in these countries and has recently gained popularity in the West alongside the growing interest in health and wellness.
In Japan, both hot and cold matcha tea is widely available in vending machines, cafés and street stalls.
Matcha tea is world-renowned for its health benefits, and matcha green tea has been used traditionally in Japan for relaxation and weight management.4 The best part is – these ancient matcha uses are also backed by modern science! But more on that later.
Sipping on an iced matcha latte makes you feel alert– and there’s a scientific reason for that.
Research has shown that three of matcha tea’s ingredients – l-theanine, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and caffeine – can affect cognitive performance.4
One study put this to the test by giving a group of 23 people either a product containing matcha green tea powder, or a placebo. The people consuming the matcha products compared to placebo versions experienced significant improvements in their attention spans.
The matcha products had mildly positive effects on memory, too.4
Matcha green tea powder benefits include an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effect, as demonstrated in studies.5
This is thought to be down to the amino acid l-theanine present in matcha green tea lowering the stress response in our bodies.6
Further, matcha tea is thought to activate both the serotonin and dopamine receptors in the brain – hormones responsible for wellbeing and relaxation.7
In a study featured in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1999, researchers revealed that people who consume matcha green tea can increase thermogenesis (the body’s rate of burning calories) to between 35% – 43% of daily energy expenditure. The standard rate is 8%-10% of daily energy expenditure, so it’s a huge increase.8
None of the research subjects reported any side effects and there was no change in their heart rates. (A temporary increase in heart rate is usually what’s at play when energy expenditure is increased without exercise.)
Drinking matcha green tea could help protect the heart and circulatory system from disease.
Drinking lots of green tea rich in catechins – such as matcha – can significantly reduce your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.9
Furthermore, drinking daily matcha and green teas are also associated with a lower risk of experiencing a stroke.10
A 2015 analysis of the research studies available revealed that among green tea drinkers, there was a significant reduction in the risk of liver disease.17
This could be down to the high levels of polyphenolic antioxidants which green tea has, which matcha tea is especially rich in.18
Matcha tea contains a high level of antioxidant substances, including flavonoids, polyphenols and vitamin C.13
In fact, these substances make up around 30% of matcha teas dry mass.13
Antioxidants help us fight off oxidative stress to our cells – which causes a wide range of diseases and contributes to skin ageing.
Studies have shown that the polyphenols (plant compounds) which are especially rich in matcha green tea has cleansing properties and can significantly improve bad breath.
The green tea is thought to neutralise the two smelly sulphur compounds present in the mouth, leaving a fresh result similar to toothpaste.14
High levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol can lead to heart attacks and strokes. But there are certain foods and drinks can help reduce diet-induced high cholesterol – and matcha is one of them.
One study found that daily matcha tea extract lowers of LDL (bad) cholesterol, and a review of the available research concluded that drinking green tea beverages including matcha reduced both LDL and total cholesterol in the subjects studied.15,16
Based on traditional use, matcha tea has been used to support skin health for years.
Now, we have the science to back it up.
Matcha is also absolutely packed with antioxidants, which are skin’s best friend due to their ability to help reduce damage to skin cells caused by environmental pollutions and UV rays.17
OK, so this isn’t a health benefit exactly. But how often does something with this many health benefits feel like a treat?
Matcha is a wonderful way to benefit from the health-boosting properties of antioxidants and plant compounds while feeling like you’re indulging in a little of what you fancy.
It’s perfectly safe to drink matcha tea every day. If you’re pregnant or sensitive to caffeine, you should keep an eye on your consumption as it’s relatively high in caffeine.
Ingesting excessive amounts of green tea have been linked with toxicity, so it’s important you don’t drink too much matcha. Remember, matcha is a more concentrated version of green tea.
For example, the anti-inflammatory polyphenol catechin EGCG can cause toxicity in extremely high doses. Liver toxicity has been reported in cases where people have taken very high amounts of green tea extract (700 – 2000mg EGCG per day) in supplement form. However, with only around 100mg EGCG in a cup of matcha, you’d have to drink an unrealistic amount before you saw any issues.18
Too much green tea may affect blood-thinning medications, and the tannins in green tea can hinder the absorption of non-meat sources of iron (such as beans19,20
Matcha green tea has various impressive science-backed health benefits. These include boosting cognitive function, aiding weight loss, soothing anxiety, lowering cholesterol and protecting against disease.
You can drink matcha, put it on your skin and use it in baking, desserts and even savoury foods. Interested in giving it a go yourself?
We’ve got everything you need know if you’d like to learn how to make matcha tea for yourself, right here on the Health Hub.
Handpicked article: 5 healthy reasons to drink green tea
The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
Last updated: 10 November 2022
Joined Holland & Barrett: April 2019
Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry