Coffee has long been part of our culture with London’s coffee house dating back to 16th Century. However, in recent years our consumption has boomed. According to ICO data the imports of ground coffee roughly doubled from 1997 to 2010. ‘Coffee culture’ has infiltrated our high street, our homes, and our offices. Coffee shops are found everywhere, supermarkets, service stations, markets, festivals and pretty much every other shop front!
As a nutritional therapist people come through my door every day with serious coffee habits, it generally is a well guarded ‘guilty pleasure’ or “I just NEED my morning cup of coffee".
But there is a new kid on the block - matcha, a powder green tea traditionally drunk by Zen monks in Japan. For starters, it has many similarities to coffee such as containing caffeine and being made with milk/milk alternatives to create a 'latte' style drink. But it has its differences too - it has a brilliant green colour with a contrasting flavour profile.
So from a nutritional perspective, how do they match...a up?
Caffeine and Energy
2 grams or ½ teaspoon, which is what I use in my lattes has 68mg of caffeine, almost the same as a single shot of espresso 64mg. From this info alone you would have thought that they would have similar effects on energy levels. However, Matcha contains another component that coffee does not, called L-Theanine. L-Theanine is an amino acid or protein molecule that has a calming effect on the body, with the effect that the caffeine gives a sustained energy boost for 6-8 hours. On the other hand, coffee can raise adrenaline, cortisol and insulin levels, which in turn create jitter, nervousness. Matcha's L-Theanine promotes the GABA neurotransmitter pathway that can enhance mood, improve memory, and promote better concentration.
Anti-oxidants are molecules that protect us against damage to our cells, which means protection against disease on larger long-term scale. A varied high anti-oxidant diet reduces risk against everything from cancer, to heart disease, to Alzheimer’s. On a more immediate basis, it supports liver detoxification that keeps everything in tune, from your hormones to healthy skin and prevents oxidative stress which can lead to injury and illness.
Both coffee and matcha score highly in introducing anti-oxidants to our diet. In fact, in America coffee is thought to be one of the major sources of anti-oxidants in the diet. On the ORAC scale, coffee has 150-170 units per 1g whereas matcha has a whopping 1300,1600 units per 1g. In particular matcha contains catechins, such as the epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which has been linked to many health benefits.
These catechins have been shown to work by supporting the liver. Increasing the liver's production of the mother of anti-oxidants glutathione, this, in turn, reduces cholesterol production and protects the liver cells themselves. On the flip side there is research that has shown that coffee can be toxic due to a mold that is present creating a by-product called Ochratoxin A.
The caffeine present in both coffee and matcha will, to a small extent, raise your metabolic rate especially if used in conjunction with exercise. However, studies have concluded that green tea has thermogenic properties and promotes fat burning beyond that explained by its caffeine content per se. It may be used to help the control of body composition via activation of thermogenesis or fat burning, or both.
I am a huge fan of matcha and confirmed convert, both from a health and taste perspective and I can’t wait for it to become more readily available.
Libby Limon is a Nutritional Therapist BSc mBANT