I have spent countless days since I came to UCLA perfecting one of my most treasured skills: the art of making a perfect ice cream cone. I’ve mastered this skill through repeated practice at Feast, but contrary to what you may think, it’s not just the ice cream that appeals to me – it’s the fact that the ice cream is matcha green tea-flavored.
Matcha has been a global food trend for a few years now. People love experimenting with matcha in all sorts of food and drinks, and have even created special matcha cafes and bars with matcha food. In 2014, the sales of matcha tea in the United States increased five-fold in 25 years to more than $10 billion dollars.
The reason behind the increase in popularity is matcha has fallen subject to columbusing, the act of “discovering” and popularizing a pre-existing cultural aspect, which is a form of cultural appropriation. This may problematic because by turning a cultural practice into a trend, columbusing undermines meaning behind the practice. In this case, by viewing matcha as a commodity, one often fails to recognize its historical importance. However, if an effort is made to understand the cultural significance of matcha before claiming it as one’s own, then participating in the trend can have positive benefits for your body and your life.
One of the most common misconceptions about matcha is that it is just ground green tea leaves. Matcha and ground green tea are far from the same thing. There is a product called “green tea powder,” but don’t mistake it for matcha. Matcha is often more expensive than ground green tea powder because the process of making matcha is much more complicated than that of simple green tea. It not merely production, but a form of art.
Unlike unfiltered green tea powder which can be made from any species of green tea, matcha is made only from three cultivars – the finest Yabukita, Gyokuro and Asatsuyu green tea plants. After the best leaves and stems are chosen from the green tea plants, they are shredded, steamed, cooled and baked. Then, the stem and leaves are carefully separated, any bits of sand and dust are removed and most bacteria and germs are killed. Finally, the tea is dried and ground in a natural stone mill, instead of manufactured in machines like green tea powder. Each grain of the finest matcha powder is only 2 to 20 micrometers in diameter.
Preparing matcha tea requires following a strict procedure. First, the bowl must be warmed with boiling water. Next, approximately 2 grams of matcha are stirred into the bowl with a small amount of water. Finally, the tea is whisked by a chasen in a zig-zag motion, until a thick coating of foam is created. Now your matcha tea is ready for drinking!
Some may not understand why people undertake this complex process to simply make a cup of tea, but this process, called “cha dao,” is a crucial part of Chinese and Japanese culture. While drinking tea, people can rid themselves of the distractions of everyday life and find their inner peace. This is also why columbusing matcha is inappropriate – matcha tea is not just a “trend,” but rather a ceremony which only the most respectable guests are treated to, or a ritual practice for introspection.
Other than its philosophical values, matcha is also known for its variety of health benefits. First of all, the L-theanine in matcha can help you relieve stress when preparing for midterms and finals. L-theanine is a modified amino acid that gives matcha its slightly brothy taste. It has been shown to help relieve stress and maintain healthy sleep cycles.
Like other forms of tea, matcha also has catechin molecules that could potentially play a role in preventing cancer. Matcha has 137 times more of the catechin EGCG than China Green Tips green tea, and at least three times higher in EGCG than other all-green teas.
Another benefit is of matcha is that it may help increase the metabolism rate. One experiment done by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a significant increase in the rate of burning calories on subjects treated with matcha tea, from 8 to 10 percent of daily energy expenditure, to 35 to 43 percent. Other benefits of matcha may include improving vision and promoting longevity.
Today, with the health benefits of matcha becoming well-known to the public, more food-lovers like me are starting to join the matcha fan club. Matcha is no longer limited to brewing it in a cup. From matcha cookies to matcha milk and matcha ice cream, people can now enjoy the savory, lasting taste of the tea fused into their favorite sweets and drinks.
Matcha tea has existed for more than a thousand years, traveled all over eastern Asia and witnessed the destruction of multiple ancient empires. Yet only recently has this deliciously bitter tea finally started to receive the recognition it deserves.