Matcha as a Nootropic
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Match has been enjoyed and even worshiped for millennia. Ever since the Chinese discovered that you could make a creamy, moreish beverage just by whipping up specially-prepared green tea with hot water, this drink has been celebrated in dedicated tea ceremonies across the world.
It’s only in recent years that scientists have discovered something which the Zen Masters probably already knew about: matcha’s long list of brain-enhancing (the fancy word for which is nootropic) benefits.
That’s right, in addition to burning calories, improving circulation, and tasting great, matcha does wonders for your brain. It can sharpen memory, improve focus, and give energy -- as countless scientific studies and personal anecdotes have shown.
Without further ado, let’s get into talking about what a nootropic is, where matcha gets all of its nootropic benefits from (making it unique from normal green tea), and how you can take advantage of them.
What is a nootropic?
A nootropic is any compound -- found in nature or synthesized in the lab -- which improves mental performance. This might include improving anything from memory to motivation.
The word nootropic was coined by the Romanian scientist Corneliu Giurgea, who said that a nootropic should fit the following criteria:
- It should enhance learning and memory
- It should make the mind harder to disrupt
- It should protect the brain against both physical and chemical damage
- It should improve the efficiency of brain control mechanisms
- It should not possess any significant side effects or toxicity
His exact words were a little different, but you get the point.
When we talk about a nootropic in everyday language, we might also be referring to a mixture of different nootropic compounds -- just like matcha.
Where do matcha’s nootropic effects come from?
There are a few compounds in matcha tea which are responsible for a whole host of nootropic effects. Like with most natural substances, the list could go on forever, but here are the most important ones:
Caffeine is probably the most common nootropic in everyday life. Found in teas, coffees, and soft drinks, caffeine stimulates the entire nervous system. Without any reasonable doubt, this reduces fatigue and increases concentration.
Matcha has quite a significant caffeine content -- between 80 and 120mg per bowl -- which makes it great for focus. This is equivalent to around three cans of Coca Cola or one average cup of coffee, except -- of course -- you get all the benefits of green tea without that extra sugar.
The problem with caffeine is that this intense mental stimulation is also associated with anxiety, restlessness, and trouble sleeping. As a result, many of us have to limit our caffeine intake (which is often in the form of tea or coffee) and lose out on getting the most mental benefit. In a second, you’ll see how drinking matcha avoids this problem.
In the words of Examine.com, theanine is a psychoactive drug which is known to promote “relaxation without sedation”. Basically, this compound will prevent you from feeling over-stimulated (which might be associated with anxiety, stress, or restlessness) without hindering your cognitive abilities in the slightest.
What this means is that when taken together with caffeine, you’ll get a huge energy boost with all of the nootropic benefits without having to suffer the mal-effects of drinking a caffeinated drink.
Green tea naturally has a high ratio of theanine to caffeine (2 to 1), but matcha tea has been shown to have as much as five times as much theanine with twice as much caffeine. This excellent ratio along with the high quantities of both compounds makes matcha a fantastic way to get a significant caffeine fix without too much kick back.
EGCG, short for epigallocatechin gallate, is yet another compound in green tea that has nootropic benefits. Although it has many other physical properties, it makes an excellent antioxidant -- preventing the busy brain from any oxidative damage -- and has been linked directly to a better mood, memory, and other such cognitive functions.
What’s more, EGCG is thought to work synergistically with both theanine and caffeine, which matcha possesses in abundance.
It’s all of these three ingredients together (along with the many others that haven’t yet had the chance to be fully researched) that lead matcha to conclusively improve “memory, attention, and learning.”
What makes matcha so special compared to normal tea?
You might be surprised to know that although normal green tea is also good for you, matcha is thought to be a whole lot better when it comes to the nootropic side of things.
Matcha tea is unique from most other green tea preparations in how the leaf itself is consumed. Normally, green tea leaves are brewed in hot water and then discarded; with matcha, the pre-ground tea leaves are mixed into the drink meaning that you consume the entire leaf, absorbing all of the good stuff.
This is exactly what’s thought to give matcha all its extra benefits, including the mental ones. By drinking the entire leaf, you maximize your intake of naturally occurring nootropic compounds like L-theanine, caffeine, and EGCG, which we’ll get to later.
The other feature that makes matcha so special is how the tea leaves are shaded for a few weeks before being harvested. It’s thought that during this shaded growth period, the plant produces more theanine and caffeine (along with a bunch of similarly useful compounds).
How should I drink matcha to boost mental performance?
If you’ve gotten this far, you’ll definitely be wondering what you can do to take advantage of all of matcha’s nootropic benefits.
More focus, less fatigue, none of the jitteriness from traditional caffeinated drinks -- what’s not to want?
Making the most of matcha is simple. Phase out your current tea/coffee ritual, and begin with a single cup of properly prepared matcha every day. As your body gets accustomed to the drink, you’re welcome to up your dose to as much as 5 cups of matcha per day.
Any more than this would exceed the recommended daily intake of caffeine and other such nootropics commonly found in green tea, which might cause ill effects.
And that’s all there is to it! Matcha makes a fantastic nootropic thanks to its high contents of caffeine, theanine, and EGCG -- along with many more unexplored components -- which shine due to matcha’s unique production and preparation. You too can join in on the fun with a daily ritual of anywhere between one and five cups of lovingly made tea.
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