The Dark Truth About Matcha Tea

Posted by Stephany Morgan on

Matcha green tea powder has exploded in Western markets over the past decade, as its superfood reputation as the Kind of Healthy Drinks spreads. In the US alone, the matcha market's growth has made it a common (if expensive) sight on supermarket shelves and coffee shop menus, and in everyone's morning smoothies.
However, is matcha all it's cracked up to be? Does it deserve its glowing reputation for being the be-all-end-all supertea, worth its painfully high price tag? Or is it simply an incredibly successful marketing campaign by the matcha industry?

 Matcha Chiffon Cake Matcha Alternatives

Why is matcha so popular?

Of course, fad diets and new superfoods make their appearances in the media constantly, thanks in part to the hyper-focused mindset us Westerners have regarding weight loss. Nearly every superfood is marketed for its ability to contribute to increasing metabolism and providing a desirable figure, while its nutritional benefits follow almost as an afterthought. After weight loss, we look to superfoods as the ultimate cure-all panacea in our ongoing search for the “magic” food that will either “cure” or prevent disease.

This assessment holds true for matcha. This now-mainstream green tea leaf powder is pushed on the public using buzzword phrases designed to catch our attention such as “boosts metabolism” and “high in antioxidants”.

It’s amazing what media and marketing can do! They’ve taken tea that is very expensive (if you are getting quality matcha) and grassy and bitter in flavor, and made everyone (and their mother) want it. It doesn't hurt that it's a beautiful traditional drink from Japan, a country known for its longevity and commitment to quality.

Meanwhile, they turn a blind eye to the current practice of adding dairy and sugar to matcha, a method that makes it more palatable but defeats the purpose of attaining any weight loss or health benefits that it was originally marketed for! 

Matcha desserts such as matcha ice cream, matcha frappes, matcha cookies, matcha frosting and yes, the omni-present matcha latte may all be tasty, but you can’t expect any health benefits. That’s like calling cake a healthy breakfast because it contains wheat, eggs, and milk!

Child with Cake

Antioxidants in Matcha

All the pro-matcha marketing says that it has more antioxidants than green tea, which it does - however, it's a relatively small difference. ORAC, a measure of antioxidants, is 1253 for green tea and 1384 for matcha. As you can see in the comparison chart below, though, there are a lot of other teas with considerably higher levels of antioxidants than matcha. 

Tea ORAC Comparison Chart - Matcha Alternatives

Matcha is also marketed as having 137 times the ECGC, a type of antioxidant, than green tea. However, this is utterly incorrect: if it did indeed have that much ECGC, matcha would be considered a toxin! It sounds great in marketing speak though... In actuality, it has about 3 times that of steeped green tea, the difference being because you are consuming the actual leaf (like with moringa tea powder).

Matcha varies a lot by grade, age, how it's stored and where it's grown, all of which effect how many antioxidants it has.

Our blog post "What is Matcha?" gives a detailed description of matcha grades and Japanese vs Chinese matcha taste differences if you'd like to dig deeper. 

 Matcha Latte

So What Matcha am I Buying?

The result for consumers is that matcha is more available than ever before, but due to demand for cheaper prices and restrictions on how much of each grade can be produced, most matcha being sold is low quality, culinary grade. If the package doesn't list a grade, it's almost certainly cooking/culinary grade. If you have ever compared matcha prices and wondered how a supposedly identical product can vary so significantly, the difference is the grade. 

In the process of researching the matcha cost comparisons below, it was amazing how many supposedly trustworthy tea stores don't give any details about their matcha, or give confusing descriptions like 'Premium Culinary Grade' or 'Sipping Matcha' (what does that even mean?!). Others will have Premium at a higher price than Ceremony Grade, and others will have it cheaper. Or worse, there will be an exceptionally expensive matcha (i.e. $2+ per cup) with no explanation at all! Frustrating to say the least.

Additionally, even average-priced matcha is far more expensive per mug than the vast majority of other teas. A rough cost comparison of green tea, herbal teas and matcha is given below, using the recommended serving sizes (which varies by tea type), prices from MatchaAlternatives.com for the teas we sell, and an average of Ceremony and Premium grade matcha prices from 14 different reputable American matcha vendors online (excluding shipping).

Tea Cost Comparison Charts - Matcha Alternatives

Finally, if you have culinary grade matcha and wanted to drink it for the antioxidant benefits, you’re missing out. The ORAC levels of matcha refer to ceremonial grade only, and are not a reliable approximation of antioxidant content in lower grade matchas. The same goes for the nutrition information, with an emphasis on the amino acids (L-theanine levels vary enormously across grades, with Ceremonial grade having the highest levels, and cooking grade having the lowest).

Matcha with Wagashi

Know what you’re drinking: Matcha vs mogo vs green tea powder

The producers cannot keep up with the demand for matcha. Because of this, there are matcha-like products on the market being passed off as matcha (called mogo). These are nearly indistinguishable from the true thing. One common trick is to market “green tea powder” as having the same nutrient profile as matcha, but it is NOT the same! The tea is grown differently, and is not an interchangeable drink.

Teas that are ground are simply powdered teas, and are not true matcha.

Green Tea Powder

Is matcha really the "King of Healthy Drinks"? (We don’t think so…)

Where did it earn the name “king of healthy drinks”? Is it truly king, when consumers are going to Starbucks  and drinking matcha lattes that are 50% sugar? Is it the high antioxidant claims that have led to the title of king? The nutrient profile? If so, I can think of MANY herbs that beat matcha by a long shot. Plus, they will be cheaper per unit of antioxidant as shown in the charts above. 

Consider Moringa: this plant is also a preparation of ground leaves that are whisked into water and enjoyed similarly to matcha. Let’s also compare Rooibos and Honeybush for fun. I've bolded in purple the facts I think are most interesting!

 

Rooibos (red)

Honeybush

Moringa

Matcha

Antioxidants (ORAC levels)

1537.6

2705 (!!!)

1575

1384

Complete plant protein

No

No

Yes

No

Blood glucose level moderation

Yes

Yes (improves glucose tolerance, increases insulin levels)

Yes (significant: improves insulin sensitivity)

Yes (limited to starchy foods)

Prevents high blood pressure

Yes

Yes (traditionally used to regulate blood pressure)

Yes

Initially increases blood pressure due to caffeine

Reduces inflammation

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Weight loss effects

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Caffeine

No

No

No

Yes

Provides energy

Yes and no: Rooibos increases endurance, but is also relaxing

N/A

Yes, due to being an adaptogen

Yes, due to caffeine

 

Matcha has its strengths, but it is not superior to other plants. For example, the caffeine content reduces its benefit for certain people, including those with high blood pressure. It is also touted as a plant that reduces blood sugar, but that’s misleading. Starches are broken down into glucose, which increases blood glucose levels – matcha interferes with this process. Actual sugar enters the bloodstream readily and matcha cannot affect that aspect.

Moringa, on the other hand reduces both blood pressure and blood sugar levels (it increases insulin sensitivity, allowing the body to moderate blood glucose) and it contains no caffeine (yet provides energy)!

In fact, Moringa is so nutritionally dense that it is used to address malnutrition, and is a complete plant protein (containing all 9 essential amino acids, and 17 of the 20 total amino acids)! Lots more information about it in our blog post 'Moringa: The Energizing, Caffeine-Free Matcha Alternative'.

So, based on these simple comparisons, do you think Matcha still holds claim to the title of “king”? Let me know in the comments below!

 Matcha Chocolate Cake

A Note From The Herbalist...

While polyphenols are the most abundant form of antioxidant found in the diet, consuming concentrated amounts during the final trimester of pregnancy is not recommended. For that reason, it’s best to avoid matcha (and purple tea) during this time. Because Rooibos, Moringa, and Honeybush are high in antioxidants, but contain about 3-4 times fewer polyphenols per serving, I would consider these instead. :-) 

Superior Moringa Powder Tea - Matcha AlternativesTropical Mango Rooibos Matcha AlternativesThe Purist Organic Honeybush Matcha Alternatives

If you enjoyed this piece, subscribe to the MA Blog so you never miss another! It's all about tea, alternatives to matcha, antioxidants and smashing the pseudo-science myths peddled by the wellness industry. Also, don’t worry we hate spam as much as you do: we won't send any marketing emails. Any new teas or occasional offers are simply included in the regular "latest blog" notifications :-)

 

More About Matcha - References and Further Reading

Detailed Matcha Guides:

https://thedailytea.com/news/matcha-merit/

https://www.eater.com/drinks/2015/2/11/8006039/everything-you-need-to-know-about-matcha

https://epicmatcha.com/matcha-benefits/

https://www.umamimatcha.com/benefits-of-matcha.html 

 

Moringa and Matcha

https://www.well.org/healthy-body/moringa-vs-matcha/

https://draxe.com/nutrition/herbs/moringa-benefits/

https://www.longdom.org/open-access/nutritional-values-of-moringa-oleifera-total-protein-amino-acid-vitaminsminerals-carbohydrates-total-fat-and-crude-fiber-under-the-1948-5948-1000396.pdf

 

Comparative Tea Health Studies

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308698607_The_potential_role_of_polyphenols_in_the_modulation_of_skin_cell_viability_by_Aspalathus_linearis_and_Cyclopia_spp_herbal_tea_extracts_in_vitro/figures?lo=1

 

Matcha Health Studies

https://www.livestrong.com/article/492149-high-blood-pressure-after-drinking-green-tea/

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/anti-inflammatory-tea#section1

 

Moringa Health Studies

https://www.scitechnol.com/abstract/effect-of-moringa-oleifera-leaf-powder-on-blood-glucose-levels-in-type-ii-diabetes-mellitus-patients-4411.html

Effect of the ethanolic leaf extract of Moringa oleifera on insulin resistance in streptozotocin induced diabetic rats: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/edfc/f92239e58b21728cccdb934c20cd894c9b24.pdf

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/essential-amino-acids

https://www.amchara.com/detox-and-cleanse/92-nutrients-and-46-antioxidants-in-one-tree-maringa-oleifera

https://www.longdom.org/open-access/production-of-a-functional-tea-from-moringa-oleifera-lam-leaf-powderoptimization-of-phenolic-extraction-using-response-surface-met-2155-9600-1000557.pdf

 

Rooibos Health Studies

Cardiovascular benefits of rooibos: http://cms.herbalgram.org/press/2008/clinicaltrialRooibos.html?ts=1566594712&signature=0604b0cee3b152141f8cde447e9ad192

https://getfit.jillianmichaels.com/red-tea-lose-weight-1252.html

https://sarooibos.co.za/rooibos-tea-to-boost-oceans-runners-performance/

Rooibos and Diabetes: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6017582/

Rooibos Tea: Research into Antioxidant and Antimutagenic Properties: http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue59/article2550.html?ts=1566662604&signature=2b954ac6694aa984411309319d68e550

The Potential of South African Herbal Tisanes, Rooibos and Honeybush in the Management of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6321617/

Studies of anti-inflammatory effects of Rooibos tea in rats: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19419525

Selective bronchodilatory effect of Rooibos tea (Aspalathus linearis) and its flavonoid, chrysoeriol: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17080260

 

Honeybush Health Studies

http://southafrica.co.za/benefits-honeybush-tea.html

https://www.healthbenefitstimes.com/honeybush-tea/

https://www.cansa.org.za/files/2019/02/Fact-Sheet-on-Honeybush-Tea-February-2019.pdf

Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Aspalathus linearis and Cyclopia spp. Extracts in a UVB/Keratinocyte (HaCaT) Model Utilising Interleukin-1α Accumulation as Biomarker. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27706097

 

 Matcha Price Analysis

Matcha Price Comparison with Other Teas - Matcha Alternatives

Note: The price given is a mixture of 14 Ceremony and Premium grade matchas, with the cheapest and most expensive outliers removed. The matcha price doesn't include shipping, while the other teas do.

Further tea reading Matcha Alternatives

And of course... All of the information regarding the herbs, botanicals, minerals, vitamins, etc., is information drawn from traditional use data or academic research and should be regarded as such. If you, the reader, has a health or medical concern, please consult your healthcare professional. The information found here is not meant to diagnose, treat, prescribe or cure and has not been evaluated by the FDA. If pregnant or nursing, talk to your physician prior to consuming teas. The information here is for educational use only.

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