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Coffee vs matcha: how do they compare?

Australia has cemented itself as the stomping ground of world-class coffee, with Melbourne touted as the latte capital of the world. Simultaneously, another contender has quietly been brewing in Japan, ready to take the place of your quintessential cup of joe. Enter matcha, finely ground green tea leaves – for centuries a staple drink in Japan, available everywhere from temples to vending machines – that have rocketed in popularity in recent years due to perceived health benefits.  

But how does this vibrant green alternative compare against your morning cup of coffee and how does it stack up when delivering that sweet caffeine hit? Let’s plunge in with Deakin University’s Dr Elena George to see who will win out for your morning sip. 

What is Matcha? 

Matcha, a staple of Japanese tea ceremonies, has made its mark in Western countries due to its remarkable health benefits. Not to be confused with traditional green tea powder, matcha offers a unique natural sweetness and distinct umami flavour notes, making it a standout in the world of teas, shares Dr George.  

Did you know there are different grades of matcha?  

Ceremonial grade matcha is more expensive and delicate, made from the sweeter, younger leaves (with no stems or veins to be seen!) and boasts a smooth texture, making it ideal for traditional consumption.  Culinary-grade matcha, on the other hand, is made from slightly older tea leaves, and offers more robust flavours and an often-surprising intensity. 

‘Ultimately, the ceremonial grade is recommended only to be mixed with hot water, while culinary varieties are used for anything from ice cream to cookies and cakes,’ shares Dr George.  

What are the health benefits of Matcha? 

The way matcha is grown, processed and consumed contributes hugely to its potential health benefits. ‘The tea leaves are ground and consumed entirely, so you’re getting more antioxidants compared to leaves that are just steeped in water and removed like with normal tea,’ Dr George says. 

Antioxidants are food compounds that, when ingested, ferociously inhibit oxidation, the chemical reaction which can produce free radicals. It’s possible that antioxidants within matcha can help prevent the onset of various diseases, including cancer, however you would have to be consuming a healthy quantity.

There are other wonderful benefits to the humble cup of matcha. ‘Having a diet high in antioxidants can help improve health outcomes by reducing cell damage and preventing some chronic diseases. Including matcha to increase antioxidant intake, alongside a healthy diet and lifestyle, will be favourable for preventing chronic disease, including heart disease.’  

How do the health benefits of coffee compare? 

It may surprise you, but coffee may also provide some health benefits. 

‘There is now a substantial body of literature to support the health benefits of coffee, ranging from showing improvements for heart health, diabetes, brain health, and even enhancing the health of your liver,’ Dr. George notes. Consuming coffee at a moderate level can also increase life expectancy. 

Can you drink matcha every day?  

While antioxidants have a positive impact on our health, high intake (including every single day) can be harmful, much like caffeine. ‘Very high intake of catechins featured in matcha have also been associated with effects on mood, heart health, concentration, and potentially poor liver outcomes. The physical side-effects of matcha are very much the same as what we see with a high intake of coffee due to the caffeine it contains.’ 

Can you have too much coffee? 

It’s the caffeine intake where the trouble lies. Caffeine quickly enters the central nervous system and piggybacks onto receptors involved in the release of dopamine, the brain’s feel-good hormone. This process boosts metabolism, heart rate, and blood pressure, potentially enhancing alertness and concentration. However, Dr. George warns that there’s an upper limit. ‘Most guidelines suggest any more than four coffees are harmful for your health due to the amount of caffeine included in that intake amount. The inclusion of sugar as an addition to coffee can also take away the health benefits,’ she explains. 

‘People who have a high daily intake of coffee sometimes experience jitters, increased heart rate or blood pressure, as well as anxiety and negatively impacted quality of sleep,’ she continues.  

The showdown: is matcha better than coffee?  

Both options have been shown to increase your energy, but coffee has a higher volume of caffeine which will boost your energy levels at a greater pace than matcha will. 

While coffee delivers a rapid energy surge, matcha offers a more sustained release of energy thanks to the presence of L-theanine, an amino acid that promotes relaxation and concentration by increasing alpha waves in the brain.  

With matcha, you can experience peak concentration within just 30 minutes of consumption – a tempting proposition for those seeking a focused start to their day.  

So, will you stick to your morning coffee routine, or are you ready to find your matcha in this green tea alternative? 

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Dr Elena George
Dr Elena George

Senior Research Fellow,

Faculty of Health,

Deakin University

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