The $80 Cup of Tea That Will Change Your Whole Day
Generally, if you’re not familiar, matcha is a dried and powdered version of specialized green tea. The Chinese brought it to Japan around 1100, but it’s become popular in the U.S. in the past decade, especially at such health-conscious/sceney places as Urth Caffé in Beverly Hills.
If you want matcha with plenty of beautiful models and Instagram stars, visit Cha Cha Matcha on Broome Street in New York. (If you’re pretty enough, they’ll even draw a portrait of your dog in your drink.)
I don’t recommend going there having just rolled out of bed.
Cheuk and his business partner, Keane Tan, worked for a year to develop their special variety of the neon green powder, traveling to Asia and back to source matcha tea from Uji, in Japan’s Kyoto prefecture. They selected high-grade ceremonial matcha (koicha) from Tencha tea bushes shaded from the sun for the final 30 days before their harvest. That protection from blistering sunlight increases their chlorophyll production, which also increases their levels of amino acids, including one key element called L-Theanine. (I’ll get to that in a minute.)
The tea leaves are handpicked, ground on a granite block, air-sealed, and then distributed by H.o.M., as Cheuk calls it, online and at a few other distributors including his famously elite gym. A starter set like the one I used, which includes 40 grams of the neon powder, a tiny scoop, a bamboo whisk, and a bowl, costs $79.
Why is all of this important? Cheuk cites studies (and 800-plus years of Japanese longevity) that indicate drinking matcha improves cognitive awareness, concentration, immunity, mood, and overall health.
“To endure long hours of intense meditation, Zen monks would drink matcha tea to foster calm alertness—natural relaxation while simultaneously heightening concentration,” Cheuk says. The same goes for samurai warriors, who drank matcha for its energizing properties before they fought.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, matcha improves cognitive awareness through amino acids such as L-Theanine, which stimulates production of serotonin, dopamine, and alpha-wave activity in the brain. (One cup of H.o.M. tea has as many antioxidants as 10 cups of brewed tea, since grounding the leaves rather than just soaking them releases many more vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants.) Antioxidants like polyphenols and flavonoids seem to protect against free radicals, increase metabolism, control blood sugar, and help lower cholesterol, while the chlorophyll from the leaves detoxifies your body from chemicals and heavy metals.
By drinking matcha regularly, people report having quicker thinking, improved memory retention, and elevated moods including “a calm sense of euphoria,” Cheuk says.
I can’t claim to have reached a state of nirvana over the course of drinking it for a week, but it did achieve one noticeable goal: energized concentration without the crash that sugar and coffee impart.
It was an easy process: I used the little bamboo scoop (chashaku) to add matcha to the glass bowl (three scoops for thick tea), then broke up the matcha by pressing the bamboo whisk (chasen) down on the powder. Then I poured hot water over the matcha until the bowl was mostly full—I like it on the thicker side, but you can do it to your taste. I used the bamboo whisk on the mixture, passing it vigorously through the bowl in an M pattern until it frothed. The end result was smooth and creamy on top.
It tastes green, but more powdery than grassy; the effect is mild and smooth.
Anyway, as the matcha digests in your stomach, caffeine molecules in it bind to larger, more stable molecules like catechins (an antioxidant). That binding apparently slows the breakdown of the caffeine and what are the usual negative side effects from coffee, like shaking and cold sweats.
That was more than enough to persuade me to add it to my daily routine for a week (the powder tastes slightly bitter, so it complements sweet things like protein shakes, pancakes, and baked goods).
As for samurai-level reflexes? I expect them to kick in within a week or two. No pun intended.