Tea Scapes’ Blog

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Health Benefits of Matcha

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 6, 2009

Put bluntly, the health benefits of Matcha are extensive – by and large, Matcha is disproportionately healthier than all teas, including regular green teas. Intriguingly, the amazing health benefits of matcha are derived by the virtue of how it is consumed; unlike steeped teas, where the nutrients are dissolved into the water and then the leaves are removed, drinking matcha tea requires that one consumes the ground leaves whole. Overall, when it comes to steeped teas, only between 5% and 15% of its original dry weight in nutrients is consumed – however, when drinking matcha tea, one consumes 100% of it.

tea cupsOne cup of matcha tea is the equivalent of 10 to 15 cups of green tea in terms of both its nutritional value and antioxidant content (depending on quality). I’m sure that you’re familiar with the antioxidant properties of many different foods, including orange juice – however, by comparison, matcha contains approximately 70 times the antioxidants found in orange juice!

In addition to being loaded with antioxidants, matcha tea is also extremely nutritious – it contains iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and a host of other minerals. As for vitamins, the matcha contains Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Vitamin U (S-Methylmethionine), Vitamin P (Bioflavonoids) as well as others like thiamine (Vitamin B1) and folate (Vitamin B9).

I’m sure you’ve at least heard about the amazing health benefits of green tea – this includes its apparent ability to mitigate some symptoms of cancer, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and the role of its antioxidants in preventative medicine. However, the vast majority of these studies are predicated on subjects consuming between 5 to 10 cups of fresh green tea a day! For most North Americans, this amount is unfeasible to achieve at best – on the other hand, given that one cup of matcha equals roughly between 10 to 15 cups of regular green tea, this condition is satisfied in one cup!

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Matcha Preparation

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 6, 2009

japan tea gardenIn general, there are two ways to prepare matcha:

  1. Usucha (‘thin tea’): is prepared with half a teaspoon of matcha and about 2.5 oz of fresh hot water which can be whisked for frothiness. Usucha is lighter and slightly more bitter.
  2. Koicha (‘thick tea’): requires as many as 6 teaspoons of matcha powder and 3/4 cup water. Koicha requires a slower stirring motion which does not produce the foam. Koicha is a sweeter tea.

To prepare a standard serving of matcha, put two tea scoops (approx. 1.25g to 2g) or ½ a level teaspoon of matcha tea into a bowl – afterwards, take between 1 to 6 oz of hot water (depending on preference) that was once boiled and now cooled to 80 oC, and pour it into the bowl. Now, take a bamboo whisk and gently whisk the tea until a fine froth develops on the surface.

For those that do not have access to a bamboo whisk, the process is a bit more involved; you must add a droplet of water into the bowl with the tea to make a thick paste first, and then slowly add water while stirring to eventually dilute the tea to one’s preference.

Overall, determine the sweetness and general flavour of the matcha will depend on when the leaves are harvested – generally, matcha that was harvested later in the year will have less flavour and sweetness as opposed to matcha harvested earlier in the year (which is considered the highest grade).

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Production of Matcha

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 6, 2009

Traditionally, matcha tea is made with only the highest quality Japanese green tea leaves available in the market – however, there are different grades of green tea, and the highest is known as ‘gyokuro’.

About 4 weeks before the harvest, the entire tea plantation is covered with bamboo to allow for shading – essentially, this causes the tea plants’ physiology to recognize that there is not enough light to continue the process of photosynthesis. As a result, the tea plant takes natural countermeasures – namely, the base of the plant begins to synthesize much greater concentrations of chlorophyll and deposits them in the leaves. Indeed, this physiological response is to help absorb and convert into energy the little light that comes through the shading. Of course, this is all part of the tea farmer’s strategy – by taking advantage of this natural mechanism, the tea farmers immediately harvest these now highly chlorophyll-rich tea leaves and steam, dry and sift them.

From there, the dried tea leaves are ground using granite grinding wheels – this produces a very fine powder, known as matcha powder. Subsequently, the matcha powder is inspected by laboratories for quality, packed in air tight containers, and flown across the globe to consumers world-wide. Actually, upon opening the tin of matcha, one can immediately assess the freshness and fineness of the tea – if the tea is fresh and was packaged and prepared properly, the green powder will “puff” into the air upon opening.

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History of Matcha

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 6, 2009

Broadly speaking, all Japanese teas are green – matcha is green tea leaves that have been ground to a fine powder, hence the translation ma (ground) cha (tea). However, since matcha drinkers consume the entire leaf, rather than steeping the tea and throwing out the leaves, they truly secure its energy and health benefits – actually, drinking the entire ground leaf makes it possible for one cup of matcha tea to equal 10 cups of regular green tea!

Historically, matcha tea was first introduced in the Song Dynasty of Southern China – in 1191, matcha was brought to Japan by a Zen Buddhist monk named Eisai. Intriguingly, due to the Mongol invasions of the Song, the powdered style of drinking green tea was lost in China – however, Japan, whose forces were successful at repelling the Mongol invasions of the time, managed to hold onto the matcha tradition. Indeed, matcha tea and its consumption has changed very little since the days of Eisai, which reflects a nearly thousand-year-old tradition that is now making its way into North America.

Although matcha is popular in all of Japan, it is primarily grown in three major areas: Aichi, Kyoto and Shizuoka – however, Aichi is Japan’s principal production region for premium matcha. Interestingly, the city of Nishio in the Aichi region is located far from the major urban centers – many matcha enthusiasts in Japan argue that this allows for the clean air and mountain waters to create the highest quality tea plants.

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Green Tea vs. White Tea Price and Overall Value

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 6, 2009

Because white tea is hand plucked from special bushes, during only a few days of early spring, and treated in such a delicate manner, it is much scarcer than other types of tea – of course, that means that it is also more expensive. In fact, white tea can be up to three times more expensive than green tea for the best qualities.

On the other hand, less white tea is needed to get a fresh and potent infusion of antioxidants that strengthens the immune system and helps protect the body – amazingly, only a spoonful of white tea buds is enough to brew about one quart (one liter) of white tea, several times!

Conclusion

Undoubtedly, drinking green tea daily is an excellent habit which assists you in getting the antioxidants you need in your system. That being said, you could go one step further and drink white tea to enjoy 3x the amount of antioxidants. Moreover, the smooth taste and extremely low caffeine content of white tea usually convinces people of its benefits. Really, the only drawback to white tea is its higher cost compared to green tea – however, a little bit sure does go a long way! Overall, if you are looking for a tea that is extremely high in antioxidants with a smooth taste and lower caffeine content, white tea is the brew for you.

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Green Tea vs. White Tea Taste and Appearance

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 6, 2009

Let’s face the reality of the situation here – for all the important health reasons you may drink tea, taste is still the most important aspect of the experience.

Of course, taste preferences will differ among everyone; however, many people find the more subtle and sweet taste of white tea much more appealing than that of green tea. For many, the often “grassy” aftertaste associated with green tea is simply unbearable – on the other hand, white tea has a smooth, silky and almost sweet taste, which again is usually considered much ‘lighter’ than green tea. Moreover, with white tea, there are also many extremely delicious alternative flavours such as blueberry white tea.

Moreover, many people find the “golden” appearance of white tea more to their liking as well – the appearance of correctly brewed white tea has been described as a pale gold, not unlike a young white wine.

Caffeine Content

While both white tea and green tea contain lower caffeine levels than other forms of tea – and certainly much less than a cup of coffee – the caffeine content of white tea is even lower than that of green tea. White tea contains about 15 mg per serving compared to the 20 mg for green tea. Therefore, if caffeine tends to make you jittery and/or anxious, white tea may be the better choice. Moreover, its lower caffeine content makes white tea the best choice for a late night brew if you want to relax.

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Green Tea vs. White Tea Antioxidants and Health Benefits

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 6, 2009

Many studies have shown that white tea leaves retain antioxidants in much higher concentrations than green tea does – in fact, studies have shown that white tea has a concentration of antioxidants that is three times higher than in green tea. For another comparison, one cup of white tea contains approximately twelve times as much antioxidants as fresh orange juice. Essentially, white tea contains nearly the same concentrations of antioxidants as the young and fresh tea leaf buds that are still attached to the bush. Overall, this makes white tea have the highest antioxidant content of any tea, and is the main reason many people have begun drinking white tea.

So we know that white tea trumps green tea in terms of antioxidant content, but what about other healthy properties? In 2004, a study at Pace University showed white tea had more anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities than green tea  – remarkably, it’s especially effective at killing the bacterium which causes tooth decay.

Moreover, one study examining the composition of brewed green and white teas found that white tea contained more gallic acid (a potent anti-oxidant with anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-cancer properties) and theobromine (an alkaloid that causes vasodilatation, or blood vessel widening, which can help increase circulation).

Finally, as white tea is made out of young leaves and buds, it has a higher concentration of the amino acid theanine (which has relaxation-inducing and mood enhancing properties) than green and black teas which are made from older leaves.

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Green Tea vs. White Tea: A battle for Camellia sinensis supremacy!

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 6, 2009

Introduction

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about green tea and its ability to improve your overall health by being loaded with a high concentration of health-promoting antioxidants. Moreover, the popularity of green tea seems to be growing rapidly – more and more health-conscious people are making the enjoyment of green tea a part of their daily routine. After reviewing the facts, it’s easy to understand why – green tea contains a relatively high concentration of antioxidants, has a relatively low caffeine content, and unlike most ‘health food’ items, it actually tastes good. As a result, it would seem that green tea is the undisputed champion of healthy beverages.

However, there is another type of tea on the horizon that is making its green comrade a little bit nervous about keeping its title. White tea, which originates in the Chinese province of Fujian, is rapidly gaining a reputation as the healthiest brew, and is even claiming to surpass its green counterpart in antioxidant content!

When discussing white tea vs green tea, it is important to realize that they both come from the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis. Generally, the main difference between the two types of tea is that the white tea leaves are harvested at a younger age than the green tea leaves – that is, white tea leaves are picked before they open fully, when the buds are still covered in fine, white hairs. Of course, that is why it’s called “white” tea. However, both green tea and white tea undergo very little processing – while green tea is partly fermented, white tea is not fermented at all. On the other hand, black tea is fully fermented. Because they are so gently treated, both white tea and green tea retain a sizable content of beneficial antioxidants – however, as we’ll see in the  Green Tea vs. White Tea Antioxidants and Health Benefits section, they greatly differ in the actual amount of antioxidants they contain.

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Black Tea vs. Green Tea

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 6, 2009

Antioxidant Showdown

Until recently, medicinal research regarding tea has focused on green tea – actually, this is understandable, given that green tea is loaded with the compound epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg), a powerful and easily detected anti-oxidant.

Generally speaking, since the fermentation process used to make black tea converts EGCg into other compounds, researchers in the past assumed black tea had less health benefits than green tea.

However, recent studies indicate the compounds contained in black tea – theaflavins and thearubigens – do more than contribute to its dark color and rich flavour – that is, theaflavins and thearubigens also provide health benefits which were originally attributed solely to green tea!

A recent article by Dr. Leung at the Chinese University of Hong Kong reported that drinking black tea has benefits equal to those of drinking green tea in terms of their antioxidant capacities – briefly, this is because theaflavins present in black tea possess at least the same antioxidant potency as catechins present in green tea.

As reported in related studies, it is clear that a group of theaflavins (TF) in black tea, specifically theaflavin-3,3′-digallate (TF3), has strong antioxidant activity similar to (-)-epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is a major antioxidant in green tea.

However, the concentration of diverse antioxidants in the different teas should be first considered before drawing any conclusions about overall health benefits of teas.

In several studies, the total concentration of antioxidants in green tea and black tea were tested – for example, in a study from Cornell University, black and green teas contained total phenols equal to 124 and 165 mg gallic acid (an antioxidant measurement standard), respectively. Moreover, those same researchers found that the antioxidant capacity per serving of green tea (436 mg vitamin C equivalents) was much higher than that of black tea (239 mg).

Therefore, we must conclude that green tea has more health benefits than an equal volume of black tea in terms of antioxidant capacity.

Ok ok, but what about the TASTE?!

Let’s be honest – the recent surge of health food products may help lengthen our lifespan, but they don’t do much in terms of stimulating our taste buds. Put plainly, the taste of green tea for some folks is a major turn off – on the other hand, some don’t mind the taste of green tea initially, but then find the ‘grassy’ aftertaste to be unpleasant.

On the contrary, black tea tasting ‘sweeter’ and it being more pleasantly smelling is commonly accepted, at least in Western culture – conversely, in China and many Eastern countries, the taste of green tea is preferred to black tea. However, black tea is the most consumed type of tea world-wide – therefore, if it is a consumption numbers match-up, black tea wins it.

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Black Tea and Cancer Prevention

Posted by Susan Lutfallah on June 6, 2009

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently conducted a study which adds to the growing body of evidence that compounds found in both green and black tea have strong anticancer properties on tumours. In fact, the results, which are published in the Journal of the Agricultural and Food Chemistry, suggest that consumers may benefit more by drinking both green and black tea together!

During the study, nine green tea catechins, three black tea theaflavins, and theanine – extracted using either water or a water/ethanol mix – were used on human cancer cells and normal cells.

The majority of the compounds, and all general tea extracts, reduced human breast, colon, liver and prostate cancer cells.

The water/ethanol extracts were found to contain higher levels of flavonoids and kill more cancer cells – because all of the compounds were most effective when used together (a phenomenon known as ‘synergism’), the researchers recommended that consumers drink both green and black teas mixed together!

Moreover, studies done at Rutgers University reveal that black tea may help prevent stomach, prostate, and breast cancer – again, the scientists confirmed that it is the compounds known as thearubigins and theaflavins which may slow down cancer growth. Dr. Kuang Yu Chen and his team at Rutgers argued that some of the cancer cells were undergoing programmed cell death (apoptosis), which seemed to be induced by the thearubigins and theaflavins found in black tea.

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