I\u2019ve been getting asked about matcha a whole lot lately; this trendy green tea is becoming mainstream and winning over even dedicated coffee lovers. If you\u2019re curious about matcha, here's more about what it is, plus the health benefits. Matcha is a special form of green tea Matcha literally means "powdered tea." When you order traditional green tea, components from the leaves get infused into the hot water, then the leaves are discarded. With matcha, you\u2019re drinking the actual leaves, which have been finely powdered and made into a solution, traditionally by mixing about a teaspoon of matcha powder with a third cup of hot water (heated to less than a boil), which is then whisked with a bamboo brush until it froths. Unlike traditional green tea, matcha preparation involves covering the tea plants with shade cloths before they\u2019re harvested. This triggers the growth of leaves with better flavor and texture. The leaves are hand selected, steamed briefly to stop fermentation, then dried and aged in cold storage, which deepens the flavor. The dried leaves are then stone-ground into a fine powder. Matcha Latte offers health benefits Because matcha is made from high-quality tea, and the whole leaves are ingested, it\u2019s a more potent source of nutrients than steeped green tea. In addition to providing small amounts of vitamins and minerals, matcha is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, which have been tied to protection against heart disease and cancer, as well as better blood sugar regulation, blood pressure reduction, and anti-aging. Another polyphenol in matcha called EGCG has been shown in research to boost metabolism, and slow or halt the growth of cancer cells. It contains caffeine Because you\u2019re consuming whole leaves in matcha, you may get three times as much caffeine than a cup of steeped tea, about the amount in a cup of brewed coffee. Matcha aficionados say that compared to the caffeine buzz from coffee, matcha creates an \u201calert calm\u201d due to a natural substance it contains called l-theanine, which induces relaxation without drowsiness. Still, I do believe it\u2019s best to nix all forms of caffeine (including matcha) at least six hours before bedtime, to ensure a good night\u2019s sleep. It traditionally involves meditation The preparation of matcha is the focus of Japanese tea ceremonies, and it has long been associated with Zen. This is likely one reason it\u2019s becoming so popular, as meditation is becoming more and more mainstream. I believe that if preparing and sipping matcha becomes a way for you to slow down and be in the moment, its benefits will extend far beyond the antioxidants it provides\u2014because meditation, in any form, has myriad rewards. It's been shown to reduce cortisol (a stress hormone known to drive appetite and increase belly fat), lower inflammation (a known trigger of premature aging and disease), curb impulsive eating, lower blood pressure, and boost self-esteem and compassion. The powders may be sweetened, and the quality varies The taste is of matcha is strong. Some people describe it as grass or spinach-like, and it has an umami taste. Because of this, it may be sweetened to improve its palatability. One client was thrilled to tell me that he was drinking matcha, but instead of traditional matcha powder, he was drinking a powdered mix. The first ingredient was sugar, and it also contained powdered milk, so it was essentially like hot chocolate\u2014but with cocoa swapped for matcha\u2014something I wouldn\u2019t recommend. Tea experts also warn that with matcha, quality is key, and it comes at a cost. In other words, high quality, fresh, pure matcha is expensive. A low price tag can be a red flag for a poor quality product. Lead contamination is a concern Even organically grown green teas have been shown to contain lead, which is absorbed by the plant from the environment, particularly tea grown in China. When traditional green tea is steeped, about 90% of the lead stays in the leaf, which is discarded. With matcha, since the whole leaf is consumed, you will ingest more lead. One independent group, ConsumerLab.com, which tested teas, estimates that a cup of matcha may contain as much as 30 times more lead than a cup of green tea. Therefore, they recommend drinking no more than one cup daily, and not serving it to children. Matcha can be incorporated into meals Matcha is hot with chefs, not just as a beverage, but as an ingredient in both sweet and savory dishes. If you Google matcha recipes, you\u2019ll find everything from matcha muffins, brownies, and puddings, to matcha soup, stir-frys, and even matcha guacamole! I love experimenting with it, and in a previous story I wrote about the potential weight loss benefits of umami foods . But due to concerns about lead, I recommend avoiding \u201cmatcha madness.\u201d Even with superfoods, you can get too much of a good thing. So look for pure, organic, quality matcha, and enjoy it in moderation.