I get asked this question a lot, which is surprising to me because of the recent surge in popularity of matcha-style milkshakes (lattes), matcha cakes and cookies, and matcha smoothies. I guess people are buying these things because someone told them it was good for them (really?…with all the fat and sugar added?)
Matcha is a ground tea leaf made from a specific shade-grown cultivar of the Camellia sinensis plant. It traditionally comes from Japan, and is used in the Japanese Tea Ceremony. The tea leaves are first finished as a green tea and then carefully and slowly ground by stone to a fine powder. Matcha prices vary a lot—from $11 per pound for food-grade matcha to $50 for a 30 gram sealed can. The flavor and natural sweetness can vary quite a bit depending on the grade and freshness of the matcha. Most matcha-lovers look for smaller (30 gram) sealed cans bearing the date of manufacture(you can get a good quality, good tasting matcha in the $20 to $30 price range).
Many people enjoy matcha as an everyday drink, prepared simply in the Japanese traditional fashion. Preparation for enjoyment of matcha involves wisking (using a traditional bamboo wisk) the powder with hot water (140F) until completely smooth and frothy. The ratio of tea powder to water is a personal taste preference, but I tend to go with 1//2 tsp per half cup of water. If you decide to try matcha I recommend buying the best quality you can afford and to include the purchase of a bamboo wisk. I’ve personally tried using a kitchen wisk and it just doesn’t break up the little clumps like the bamboo wisk.
Is matcha better for you than regular steeped tea? I don’t know—I’m not a chemist or food scientist. From my STI education I have been taught that shade grown teas develop different levels of certain compounds because of plant stress: caffeine development is increased; chlorophyll is increased; polyphenols are decreased; and L-theanine (the brain-calming amino acid) is increased.
Just like any tea, if you like matcha then drink it, but remember that tea is part of a healthy lifestyle overall.