I feel like for most people, the reaction to “Let’s try a week without coffee” would be, “You can pry my morning Starbucks from my cold dead hands.” Dramatic? Perhaps. But we’re passionate, particularly when it comes to that double shot of espresso before work. It’s a ritual of sorts… some of us can’t even wake up and start the day without it.
I decided to see if I was one of those people and forsake my morning iced coffee for seven days. The replacement? The ultra-popular, ultra-healthy alternative from Japan — matcha.
So how did I fare after giving up my daily coffee for a matcha latte substitute? I won’t bury the lede here… it went really well. But before we dive into my personal anecdote, let’s wind back a bit and look at why matcha is such a big deal and how it stacks up against coffee.
As I sit here writing this to you, I’m drinking my day 9 morning matcha — yes, this experiment was intended to last a week, but this drink is so, so good.
What Is Matcha
Simply put, matcha is green tea — but not the kind you steep in a sachet. Young tea leaves from Japan are stone ground into a fine, vibrant powder, which creates a rich, concentrated, earthy beverage when whisked with water (typically hot water).
This powdered green tea originated in China but took off in popularity in Japan during the 12th and 13th centuries when the Japanese monks discovered matcha’s uplifting, energizing properties (hello, caffeine!) that could help them stay awake. This spurred the beginning of the Japanese tea ceremony, called sadō (or chadō), which is still practiced today.
Before PubMed and the National Institutes of Health had clinical studies on the health benefits of matcha, before Gwenyth Paltrow was posting about it on her Instagram, Japanese Buddhist monk Eisai brought this special green tea from China to Japan in 1191 and said, “Tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and has the ability to make one’s life more full and complete. Tea has an extraordinary power to extend someone’s life. Everywhere where people will plant tea, long life will follow.” (Perhaps this is correlated with Japan being a “blue zone” for long lifespans!)
Matcha has permeated mainstream American culture, particularly in the wellness world, thanks to its numerous health benefits (we’ll get to that) and its distinctly different caffeine experience (we’ll also get to that!).
Ceremonial Grade vs. Culinary Matcha
There are two main types of matcha (in the US) that serve different purposes: ceremonial and culinary. As you probably gathered, the ceremonial grade matcha has roots in centuries-old tea ceremonies. This premium matcha is seen as the highest quality and used to drink straight up with water, whereas the culinary matcha is more so used in recipes (think: smoothies, cakes, ice cream).
This isn’t how matcha is viewed in Japan, however. Japanese brand Naoki Matcha explains that the two categories are the product of American marketing, and in Japan, matcha is examined on more of a spectrum, assessing a variety of characteristics, including color, flavor notes, how and when it was harvested, and where it came from.
There doesn’t appear to be a difference between the two in terms of nutritional profile. However, ceremonial matcha may have more caffeine.
What I Used
To create my new morning pick-me-up, I used Ippodo Matcha “Rich” Ummon-no-mukashi ceremonial grade matcha from Japan, which I was able to purchase online. I have to say — this is by far the best matcha I have ever had, hands down. I was blown away when I first tasted it.
Health Benefits of Matcha
You’re probably wondering, why is this stuff so popular with all the health nuts in my life? In short, those friends of yours are justified; matcha is packed with good-for-you compounds. This straight-from-the earth morning cuppa’ can improve your body and mind in a number of ways, thanks to the four most important of those aforementioned compounds: EGCG (the superstar, an antioxidant also known as green tea extract), other antioxidants (vitamin C, flavonoids, and polyphenols), caffeine, and L-Theanine.
EGCG, Green Tea Extract
Matcha is super high in EGCG — much higher than other types of green tea. One study found that matcha has 137 times more of this green tea extract than a steeped green tea (they tested one called “China Green Tips”). EGCG has been studied clinically for a variety of conditions, and research suggests that it may support cognitive function and cardiovascular health. It may also support metabolic health, as well as fat burning and weight loss efforts.
Matcha is also loaded with antioxidants, which fight the free radicals that cause oxidative damage and can lead to disease. The science around whether antioxidants prevent disease is shaky, but it’s been shown to be beneficial and safe when consumed from a natural source (i.e., in your food, not in a supplement).
Caffeine and L-Theanine
Matcha has caffeine (less than coffee) in an amount that enhances performance and mental clarity without the jittery effect of coffee. This is believed to be the effect of caffeine, and L-Theanine consumed together; L-Theanine (a plant-derived amino acid) may help you enjoy the benefits of caffeine without the downsides.
My Matcha Latte Recipe
There are sooo many ways you can use matcha. FitOn PRO has a bunch of awesome recipes that have me adding more matcha powder to my online shopping cart. But for this week’s experiment, I opted for a slightly sweet iced latte each morning — it was perfect for bringing on my morning walks with my dog. Here’s what I used:
- 1 tsp matcha
- 2 oz cold filtered water
- 6 oz cold rice milk
- 4 oz cold light coconut milk
- Raw sugar, to taste
Traditionally, matcha is whisked in a bowl (this is technically the correct way to prepare it). I hadn’t yet invested in the supplies (just dipping my toe in the shamrock green waters over here), so I put everything but the ice in my Vitamix and whirled it all together on the lowest setting to avoid making a lot of foam. I poured it over a jumbo ice cube, et voilà: iced matcha latte. You can substitute any liquid you’d like for this recipe, keeping the 1 tsp matcha to 12 ounces of fluid ratio. I personally found that coconut and rice milk blended really nicely with my matcha powder in terms of viscosity and flavor profile.
And you can use matcha as so much more than a coffee swap! As alluded to with the culinary grade of matcha, you can cook, bake, sprinkle, blend, or mix this into some delicious recipes (one of the cutest recipes I’ve seen: matcha turtle cookies).
Swapping Coffee For Matcha For Seven Days
This week was far easier than I imagined — in fact, it was super enjoyable. I haven’t felt deprived a single day of these past seven, and I’ve continued to drink matcha beyond my allotted experiment time.
Coffee vs. Matcha Caffeine Effects
Caffeine is categorized as a drug (the most popular psychoactive substance in the world!) — it’s a performance-enhancing, mind-altering substance that provides an energy boost, if not a euphoric feeling. So when comparing how I felt on each, the easiest way to describe it is a “different type of high.”
Coffee is hit or miss for me. I can feel perfectly fine and simply a bit more alert, or I can get jittery, anxious, and succumb to a caffeine-induced migraine.
Each day with matcha, though, was consistent — and it was smooth. In fact, on one night of my experiment, I only got one hour of sleep and assumed I would be completely depleted the next day. I made my matcha and somehow had the energy to get out and garden, walk the dog and accomplish my tasks. Matcha gives me the kind of lift I wish I got from coffee … and now I understand first hand why Japanese monks fell in love with it almost a thousand years ago.
And despite the two drinks having disparate amounts of caffeine (coffee has anywhere between 75 and 150mg of caffeine, while matcha hovers around 40mg), I felt just as energized with matcha as I have with coffee.
Coffee vs. Matcha Flavor
I know some people get hung up on the flavor, and these are two totally different flavor experiences (as if that weren’t obvious from the color alone) — so it’s hard to compare.
My coffee connoisseur mother’s eyes will burn reading this, but I am not much of a coffee snob. I can definitely tell when it’s a nicer espresso, but for the most part, I’m pouring the grocery store Starbucks unsweetened iced coffee from my fridge into a Yeti, throwing in a splash of oat milk or cream, and calling it a day. That said — I love the taste of my coffee. I love going to grab an espresso with friends; I just truly enjoy the flavor.
As I’ve grown so accustomed to the flavor of coffee in the morning, I was admittedly a tad concerned that the flavor of matcha would be too… green … for my tastes, but was proven oh-so-wrong. As mentioned, I chose a really premium grade, high-quality matcha powder. This made for an exceptionally enjoyable experience, and the flavor is just so smooth.
I still love a cup of coffee, but now I also love my matcha. I feel like I have more variety in my mornings now.
Coffee vs. Matcha Health Benefits
It’s true that both coffee and matcha are plant-derived sources of a caffeinated morning (or afternoon!) pick-me-up. But how they impact your health varies.
Because they both have caffeine, they may help your body burn fat, and can boost your metabolism. Both could also boost your physical performance (this is why you’ll find caffeine as an ingredient in some pre-workout drinks).
Where coffee has some B vitamins (up to 10% of your daily B2), matcha has roughly 10% of your daily vitamin C (and… also has some vitamin B, too). Coffee and tea drinkers have both been shown to have a significantly reduced risk of getting type 2 diabetes (particularly coffee). The nutrient profile seems to be more robust for matcha, but it’s hard to tell if I experienced any major, long-term effects after just a week. That said, coffee seems to pose more potential risks than matcha — but everything in moderation, right?
This weeklong coffee-matcha swap has made a green tea convert out of me! The energy I experienced from this magical verdant powder was powerful — smooth, light, clear, and with no jittery or anxious side effects. I never once had a caffeine headache or caffeine-induced anxiety. I’m blown away by the nutritional benefits of matcha’s potent EGCG content, in love with the spiritual, historic background of this special tea, and wildly impressed by the ultrasmooth flavor of the ceremonial grade product I found. Will I still drink coffee? Absolutely — I love a good espresso latte. But will I drink it as much? Not anymore… matcha has earned a permanent spot in my morning routine.