You’re Probably Drinking Matcha Wrong — And It’s Making It Less Healthy

Matcha is one of those “it’s been around for centuries but it’s suddenly trendy” drinks with a major health halo. Made of finely ground leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant, matcha is a type of green tea that originated in China and was first introduced to Japan in the 12th century. Today, you may drink matcha lattes and frothy iced matcha drinks because they’re “healthy,” but do you know why? And do you realize that the way you prepare your drink could undo some of the nutritional properties that make matcha healthy?

These are the health benefits of matcha (before you add anything to it).

Matcha is made through a meticulous process in which Camellia sinensis plants are shaded for several weeks before the youngest leaves are hand-picked, steamed shortly afterward to prevent oxidation, and ground into a fine powder using stone mills to preserve their nutrients and taste.

“Unlike regular green tea, where the leaves are steeped and then discarded, matcha involves consuming the whole leaf, which provides a higher concentration of nutrients and antioxidants,” explained Kimberley Wiemann, a registered dietitian.

Packed with epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), the most potent form of the phytochemicals known as catechins, studies suggest that matcha’s antioxidant properties can help boost metabolism and aid in weight loss, as well as reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, which are often the culprits behind chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

“Matcha [also] contains caffeine and [amino acid] L-theanine, which can provide a calm yet alert feeling, making it suitable for morning consumption to kick-start the day or in the afternoon to combat midday fatigue,” added nutritionist Lisa Richards. Per cup, matcha has about 70 milligrams of caffeine, while an 8-ounce cup of black coffee has 95 to 200 milligrams.

What’s the drawback of adding milk to matcha?

Despite its health benefits, matcha’s intense bitter and grassy taste — due to its high concentration of catechins — leads some people to dilute and sweeten it with milk and syrups, a reason matcha lattes are such a hit.

Even when you add nothing but hot water, only about 16% to 20% of matcha’s catechins get absorbed into your bloodstream because of their poor solubility, said food scientist Bryan Quoc Le. Still, the ones that don’t make it into your bloodstream might nonetheless benefit your gastrointestinal tract.

However, adding milk can further impede the body’s ability to absorb catechins. “The decrease in catechin bioavailability [after adding milk] is something like 5%, so from 16% to 11%,” Le said.

This is because catechins will chemically bind to caseins, which make up about 80% of the total protein in cow’s milk. “In a way, this is beneficial because then the body can break down the protein and absorb the catechin simultaneously,” Le explained. “But the issue is that in something like matcha, where the concentration of catechins is very high, some of the catechins inhibit the digestive enzymes in your stomach if you’re consuming the matcha with milk.”

These digestive enzymes help break down the milk proteins for our body to absorb, so, with fewer of them available, “now your body has a harder time breaking down the protein itself because of all the inhibition going on. It’s a combination effect. If you’re drinking a lighter tea, like a white tea with low amounts of catechins, then there’s not going to be as much inhibitory effect if you’re drinking it with milk,” Le explained.

What if you use plant-based milk?

Le said plant-based milk doesn’t have as much of an impact on catechin absorption in the body. Plant proteins, like those found in oat and almond milk, “have fewer chemical components that interact with catechins so they make the inhibition process less likely to occur,” he said.

Look for matcha with a vibrant green color, labeled as ceremonial grade and made from 100% pure powdered green tea leaves.

yunxi xie via Getty Images

Look for matcha with a vibrant green color, labeled as ceremonial grade and made from 100% pure powdered green tea leaves.

But if you’re thinking about switching up your milk choice, there’s a tradeoff. Plant-based milk contains less protein, so a matcha latte with oat milk means less protein in your diet, although your body will absorb more catechins. On the flip side, using cow’s milk gives you more protein, but your body will take in fewer catechins.

So, which milk variety is best? “It’s ultimately a matter of which [nutrient] you’re going for, you can’t have it all in this case,” Le said.

Here’s how to shop for matcha if you make your drinks at home.

Milk choice aside, investing in high-quality matcha can help you get the most out of its health benefits. You want tea that is vibrant green, labeled “ceremonial grade” and made from 100% pure powdered green tea leaves, Richards advised. “The texture should be fine and silky, without clumps or grittiness, which ensures it mixes well and maintains its nutrient integrity,” she added.

Look for matcha specifically from regions like Uji, Nishio or Kyoto in Japan, which is generally considered superior due to meticulous cultivation and processing methods.

Here’s how to properly prepare matcha for optimum health benefits.

Many studies use a dosage of between two and four grams of matcha per day, often spread into a couple smaller servings, which equates to about two to four cups per day,” Wiemann said. “It’s important to remember that green tea, including matcha, contains caffeine and should be limited to avoid too much caffeine intake.”

If you’re making matcha at home, it’s important to pay attention to the water temperature, since the right temperature will help you get the most nutritional benefits and the fullest flavor from the tea, Richards said. “When water is too hot, above 185°F, it can scald the matcha and potentially degrade some of its delicate nutrients.”

Most of matcha’s beneficial health effects aren’t immediate.

While how you prepare and consume matcha influences the absorption of nutrients in your body, the extent to which it positively impacts your health depends on various factors, including your gut microbiome, the amount of milk you use and the quality of the matcha you consume over time.

“In the grand scheme of things, if you’re drinking tea, it’s always beneficial. If you’re drinking milk with tea, you’re still getting some benefit but it’s less than if you’re going to drink the tea directly,” Le said. “Your risk of cardiovascular disease may be lower and a lot of the processes with aging and chronic disease may slow down, but it’s really going to be about what you’re going to experience in five or ten years.”

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