Green tea has gotten props for years for its health benefits, but there’s one type in particular that really stands out: matcha.
In case you’re not familiar with it, matcha is a bright green drink that’s made by taking young tea leaves (from the camellia sinensis plant), grinding them up, and then whisking that powder with hot water.
“The tea leaves are cultivated under cover to avoid direct sunlight for three to four weeks from April to May,” explains New York-based nutritionist Asako Miyashita, RDN. “This process increases the leaves’ chlorophyll content and amino acid content, and creates a darker green color.” It also suppresses the formation of catechin, the compound that gives green tea a bitter taste.
Though originally from China, matcha has strong ties to Japan. In the 12th century, Japanese Buddhist monk Myoan Eisai left for China to find green tea, Miyashita says. “Eisai realized that drinking matcha before meditation helped maintain his concentration,” she says. So, he brought the matcha back to Japan and wrote a book called Kissa Yojoki (Drinking Tea).
Traditionally, only matcha made from Japanese tea leaves was considered legitimate, but these days, it’s produced pretty much everywhere, says Miyashita.
Why the recent popularity? In addition to a rich history, matcha also has some solid health benefits. “It provides the same health benefits of green tea, amplified,” says nutritionist Jessica Cording, RD, author of The Little Book of Game-Changers. These include antioxidant activity and improved heart health.
Since you consume the actual tea leaves when drinking matcha, you get about twice the amount of the antioxidant EGCG that you would from drinking regular green tea, Miyashita adds.
The traditional way to whip up this beautiful green beverage is with a bamboo whisk, says Miyashita. However, if you don’t have a whisk, you can use a spoon. Just add half to one teaspoon of matcha to a cup, add a splash of hot (not boiling) water, and whisk until frothy before adding more liquid.
In addition to brightly-hued lattes, you’ll also find matcha in cheesecakes, cookies, and other yummy desserts these days.
Interested in adding matcha to your routine? Here’s what to know about how matcha’s caffeine content compares to coffee.
Does matcha have caffeine?
Just like green tea, which contains about 28 milligrams of caffeine per eight-ounce cup, matcha contains caffeine. Since you drink down the actual tea leaves with matcha, though, it contains more caffeine than your standard cup o’ green.
Like other teas—and coffee!—the amount of caffeine in a cup of matcha can vary, says nutritionist Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet. Typically, an eight-ounce cup of matcha, which is made with one teaspoon of matcha powder, contains 70 milligrams of caffeine. “However, depending on the how concentrated one likes their cup, it could have a little less or more,” she says.
Does matcha have as much caffeine as coffee?
If you’re considering making the switch from java to matcha, know this: In general, a cup of matcha will contain less caffeine than a cup of coffee.
That said, the exact difference can seriously vary from cup to cup. An eight-ounce cup of regular coffee can contain anywhere from 95 to 200 milligrams of caffeine, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Depending on how strong your usual brew is, your average cup of matcha can contain anywhere from 25 to 130 fewer grams of caffeine.
If you’re more into espresso, the caffeine levels are more comparable. One shot of espresso averages around 63 milligrams of caffeine, according to the USDA.
And if you usually go for decaf coffee? A cup typically ranges between two and 15 milligrams of caffeine. So, in this case, a cup of matcha would actually give you more of a buzz.
Will you have a caffeine crash after drinking matcha?
If one of your qualms with coffee is that you get a quick hit of energy only to come crashing down, well, consider yourself about to be even more intrigued by matcha.
Here’s the cool thing about it: Matcha contains an amino acid called l-theanine, which helps your body absorb the caffeine more slowly, says Gans. (Coffee doesn’t contain this magical stuff.)
That’s not to say experiencing a caffeine crash after chugging matcha isn’t possible, but “l-theanine is believed to have a calming effect in the body,” Gans explains.
Still, it’s best to limit yourself to three to four cups of matcha per day so that you don’t go over the Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommended limit of 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, Miyashita adds.
Is there such a thing as decaf matcha?
If you want to sip on a pretty green latte without worrying about caffeine at all, you’re in luck.
Decaf matcha does exist, Gans says. However, keep in mind that you might not get ~all~ of its perks if you go this route. “The process of eliminating caffeine may remove some of the antioxidants,” she says. Ultimately, it’s a cost-benefit thing. If caffeine is an absolute no for you, go for the decaf.
Should you opt for matcha instead of coffee?
Ultimately, whether you decide to sip on matcha or coffee for a tasty boost depends on your personal preferences.
If you can’t stand the taste of matcha, don’t force yourself to get into it just for the sake of that EGCG. However, if you like both matcha and coffee, there are a few times you might want to reach for a cup of the green stuff instead of your usual java.
Matcha is good for “people who want some caffeine in the morning or afternoon but want to avoid a caffeine crash,” Miyashita says. (Thanks again, l-theanine.)
It’s also worth trying matcha if coffee just hasn’t been doing it for you lately. “Both matcha and coffee provide numerous health benefits, but if you are sensitive to caffeine or find coffee to be too acidic, matcha may be a gentler alternative that still offers some caffeine,” says Cording.
The bottom line: Matcha’s caffeine content is generally lower than coffee’s, and it contains l-theanine, which may slow the effects of its caffeine for a gentler effect. That said, both coffee and matcha offer multiple health benefits, so which you drink comes down to preference.