Behold, the Matcha Latte—a delicious and healthful beverage of beauty—which has found itself infiltrating Instagram feeds and coffee shop menus across North America. In it's purest form, the Matcha Latte represents the exact point in which the Coffee and Health Industries intersect. This crossover is what makes Matcha particularly exciting.
As is true for any ingredient, not all matchas are created equal. With tea steadily growing the way of specialty coffee in the west, mindful purveyors of matcha are hunting for the best tencha leaves to transform into the most flavorful and nutrient packed green powder on the planet. Stephen Shannon of Matcha Ninja is one of those such people.
I first encountered Matcha Ninja on the shelves of a yoga studio in Los Angeles. A quick read on the back of the resealable package led me back to Toronto—Matcha Ninja's headquarters—where I had the opportunity to connect with Stephen. Well spoken, passionate, and thoroughly researched, Stephen's knowledge about Matcha, and best practices in the tea and health food industries is enlightening.
I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share this incredibly thoughtful and informative interview with Matcha Ninja's founder Stephen Shannon:
tLBCC: What exactly is Matcha?
Stephen Shannon: Matcha is finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea. It is special in two aspects of farming and processing: The green tea plants for our matcha are shade-grown for three weeks before harvest, and our stems and veins are removed in processing. These processes increase the chlorophyll and antioxidant content of the leaf and also remove bitterness in order to make the best tasting matcha without having to add anything.
tLBCC: What compelled you to create a matcha that is instant/cold brew?
Stephen Shannon: I am a big believer in matcha as a health product. It's health benefits are so vast and new studies are coming out all the time on how good green tea is for us. However, I think healthy food should taste good and be accessible in order for people to realistically incorporate it into their everyday lives. I saw two big problems with traditional matcha on the market.
1. The really good matcha (ceremonial matcha) takes too long to make. Not everyone has time to make matcha with warm water and a whisk every morning.
2. A lot of lesser quality raw matcha can taste very bitter. Many companies (Starbucks included) mix a ton of sugar into their matcha powder to mask the taste. But when you do this you are no longer selling a health product—in a way you are kind of pulling the wool over peoples eyes who think they are being healthy ordering a matcha instead of a latte.
So, I went about fixing these two problems. Matcha Ninja is instant matcha which is completely raw and organic without compromising on taste or quality. No fillers, additives, and best yet it is the best tasting matcha on the planet.
tLBCC: Matcha Ninja is certified organic. Why is it important to drink organic matcha?
Stephen Shannon: Yep. Our Matcha Ninja is now Triple Certified Organic (US, Canadian, and the most strenuous- EU) by the two biggest Organic certifiers in the world: EcoCert, and CERES. The reason you want to make sure your matcha is organic is that in the tea industry many top conventional tea makers don't wash the tea leaves before they are bagged. This means that while your tea is steeping, hundreds of pesticides can potentially be released into your cup. One of the bigger controversies over the years was when lab testing showed 100% of Teavana and 91% of Celestial Seasonings teas were contaminated with pesticides that exceeded the U.S. limits for human consumption.
Now take this and multiply it by 100 with matcha because with matcha you are actually ingesting the tea leaf as opposed to steeping and discarding it. Buyers beware!
At Matcha Ninja we take quality control very seriously. There is another level of concern people need to be aware of. Sometimes simply choosing an organic Matcha these days is not enough. Many farms are exposed to industrial pollution because of their geographic location.
We have our independent labs do heavy metal testing as well as pesticide testing on our matcha. High levels of not only lead but other potentially dangerous metals are found in lesser quality matcha. We test for Lead, Mercury, Arsenic, Chromium, Cadmium, and all pesticides. We produce Certificates of Analysis for both pesticides and heavy metals on our matcha.
tLBCC: People are turning to matcha as a coffee alternative as well as a health product. What are the benefits of Matcha Ninja? Physiologically, how does drinking matcha compare to drinking coffee?
Stephen Shannon: Where do we start!
In comparison to coffee you get a much more concentrated and focused energy due to the high amount of the amino acid L-Theanine found in matcha. It is a 'calm energy' without the coffee jitters or crash. When you drink matcha you ingest the entire leaf and receive 100% of the nutrients of the leaf. One cup of matcha = 10 cups of regularly brewed green tea in terms of nutritional content.
That is just to start, lets cover the main benefits. Matcha
- Is packed with antioxidants including the powerful EGCg
- You measure the antioxidant levels of foods using ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity). Just to give you a little perspective, check out the ORAC values for some of the most popular super foods:
Goji berries 253
Dark chocolate 227
Wild blueberries 93
Açai berries 60
Matcha comes in at 1,440! That is literally a higher ORAC value than all of those combined.
- Boosts metabolism and burns fat
- Detoxifies effectively and naturally
- Calms the mind and relaxes the body
- Is rich in fiber, chlorophyll and vitamins
- Enhances mood and aids in concentration
- Provides vitamin C, selenium, chromium, zinc and magnesium
- Prevents disease
- Lowers cholesterol and blood sugar
tLBCC: A lot of big box coffee and tea shops are jumping on the matcha bandwagon. What do you think consumers should know about the matcha they are drinking at large coffee chains?
Stephen Shannon: For sure. I think it is great that matcha is growing in popularity! There are however, a couple of things to look out for when buying your matcha. We covered the importance of organic and metal content already. On top of this, some companies are passing off green tea powder as matcha. In order for matcha to be matcha it should be made of tencha leaves. Simply put this means they have gone through shading and de-steming process.
tLBCC: What are the indicators of a high quality matcha?
Stephen Shannon: Ceremonial grade matcha is the champagne of matcha (Matcha Ninja is only ever 100% ceremonial grade matcha)
Check out the colour—a brighter green is a good sign. Matcha also oxidizes so it is important to keep air away from your powder. That is why I am not keen on popular tins which have a lot air in them. We flat pack and ziplock seal our matcha in pouches as soon as it's ground to ensure freshness. We worked an entire year on redesigning the seal so the pouch can close easily. Matcha is such a fine powder that it gets caught in many of the pouches out there making it difficult to reseal, and then the precious matcha goes off. We recommend keeping your matcha in the original Matcha Ninja packaging and in the fridge once opened.
Taste—we use baby tencha leafs from the top of the tea plant which are sweeter and more nutritionally dense. A more bitter matcha may indicate a bigger lesser quality leaf was used and the leaf was not de-stemed. This happens in the matcha word a lot as it is easier and quicker for companies to make.
People say 'the best matcha comes from Japan'—we contest this. We were originally sourcing from Yame, Japan, but stopped due to people's concerns over Fukushima and radiation. The radiation issue in Japan is still a real concern, especially for teas that are consumed through ingesting the whole leaf, of which matcha is made.
We spent a year researching a better source. We sampled from dozens of organic farms, had them tested for purity. Our goal was to offer a the best matcha in the world. We settled on special organic farms in Zhejiang, a province in eastern China. This is the largest green tea producing region in China and home to the infamous Dragonwell tea.
We source from an exclusive range of high altitude farms in Zhejiang. Most of Zhejiang province is covered with hills and ranges of small mountains. The region has a humid subtropical climate with distinct seasons and a seasonal precipitation pattern, which is perfect for growing the tencha leaves used in matcha.
tLBCC: Where can I buy and try Matcha Ninja?
Stephen Shannon: We have partnered with loads of local businesses here in Toronto and further abroad.
Downtown Toronto we are in:
Any of the Noahs Health Stores, Bolt Fresh Bar, Live Food Bar, Live Market, The Detox Market, any of the Greenhouse Juice Bars, 4 life Natural Foods, The Big Carrot, any of the Healthy Planets, The Healthy Butcher on Queen, The Quirky Carrot, Hibiscus, Spark Fresh Bar, The Fix and Co., Helen + Hildegard, Yyoga studios, Yoga Tree studios to name a few.
We are just finishing talks with Wholefoods and Urban Outfitters at the moment so look out for us there real soon also!