If there’s one thing in the world that I absolutely can’t stand, it’s when people lecture me about drinking too much coffee. But as a latte addict, who averages at four cups per day and would gladly hook herself up to a French Roast IV, I tend to get this lecture a lot.
And yet, my unwavering devotion to coffee began to crack this summer when I traveled to Japan and discovered matcha, a caffeinated drink made from whisking finely-milled green tea leaves into water. While on my trip to the Kyoto region—home to one of the main tea-growing areas in Japan—matcha became a regular part of my day, from matcha lattes with breakfast to the matcha ice cream served on the plane over. Once back in New York City, I couldn’t help but notice that matcha has become a full-on craze, and my interest in the drink became borderline obsessive.
The caffeine content in matcha varies greatly, but in the highest quality versions of the tea, it comes in at around 70 milligrams per cup as compared with coffee’s approximately 150 to 200 milligrams and green tea’s 35 to 70 milligrams. The reason matcha’s caffeine count differs from regular green tea, which involves steeping tea leaves and then removing them from the water, is because matcha drinkers consume the entire leaf, giving them not only a slightly higher dose of caffeine but also up to 10 times the antioxidants. Win!
Chef and certified tea expert Melanie Franks explained to me that the caffeine molecules in matcha are also more complex than those of coffee, meaning they stay in your system longer. Translation? Matcha drinkers get all the buzz associated with coffee, minus the crash.
“The coffee caffeine cycle can be a little crazy; you’re either smoking or eating or you need some more coffee or you need a chocolate,” Franks said. ”[With matcha], that will be gone and you’ll have a little more peace in your life.”
Part of this is because matcha contains high levels of L-theanine, an amino acid with calming benefits that’s often used in natural anti-anxiety supplements. It’s also the main reason Matthew Morton and Conrad Sandelman, who together founded NYC cult matcha bar Cha Cha Matcha, swear by the stuff.
“The kind of buzz [matcha] gives you is this focused energy,” Sandelman explained to me recently. “With coffee, sometimes you get so jittery that you actually get unfocused.”
It’s not surprising then that the vibrant green powder has long been used by Zen Buddhists during meditation.
But enough talk about the purported benefits of matcha—none of these words mean anything if the drink doesn’t deliver in reality, particularly for a coffee addict like me. So I decided to put the centuries-old tea to the test: For the next week, anytime I’d usually grab a coffee, I vowed to reach for matcha instead.
To be honest, I secretly hoped this challenge would double as a way to prove to coffee-shamers that my standard iced latte has no rival. I thought I’d use this experiment to shut down holier-than-thou tea enthusiasts—I never expected to become one in the process.
Click through the slideshow below to read how it all went down, plus get some advice on buying, making, and drinking matcha from all the best experts in town.