Look out, Red Bull. Run for cover, 5-Hour Energy. There’s a new action beverage in town. And by “new” we mean, “ancient but suddenly in vogue,” of course.

It’s called matcha, it’s composed of handpicked green tea leaves ground into a fine powder, and it boasts many benefits over those flashier products—and even that old standby, coffee.

The appeal is simple: it boosts your energy, but it doesn’t cause the jitters and anxiety you often get from other options. Plus it carries a richer flavor—and greater health benefits—than green tea. But is this stuff legit?

Unlike its rivals, matcha possesses nutritional characteristics that enable it to be both energizing and calming. The caffeine is slowly released over three to four hours rather than getting dumped into your bloodstream all at once.

A Trend Grows in Brooklyn

“I think right now a lot of men are trying to figure out how to be more productive and how to be more healthy,” says Graham Fortgang (above right), who recently opened MatchaBar, New York’s first specialty matcha café, with his brother Max (above left) in Williamsburg. The café sources its matcha from an independent family farm in Nishio, Japan and sells it online, too.

Fortgang caught the matcha bug while pulling 60-hour workweeks, selling real estate during the day and running a music and event production company by night. The fine powdered green tea provided the energy he craved, minus the side effects he experienced from coffee, such as heartburn.

The beverage, he believes, provides prolonged energy and calm focus without the sleepless nights and other drawbacks. It helps him perform at his best and find a small way to look out for his health amidst a hectic urban lifestyle. And he prefers the earthy, sweet flavor of matcha to green tea.

Unlike its rivals, matcha possesses nutritional characteristics that enable it to be both energizing and calming. It’s only slightly lower in caffeine than coffee, but because its caffeine molecules bind to the catechins contained in the drink, the caffeine is slowly released over three to four hours rather than getting dumped into your bloodstream all at once. That equals steady energy over a long period, rather than a spike followed by a crash.

Additionally, the amount of health-boosting power you’ll digest in a cup of matcha far outweighs what you’ll get from green tea, for two reasons. First, the tea leaves used for matcha are from the top of the plant, which has the most exposure to sunlight. And second, the matcha powder is actually ingested, rather than being soaked in hot water. The result? You’re consuming ten times as many free radical-fighting antioxidants in a cup of matcha as you would be with green tea.

“It’s a huge immunity boost,” says Fortgang. “If you’re drinking matcha on a daily basis, your antioxidant count is going to be higher. You’ll be getting sick less, getting common colds less, and you’ll have more energy throughout your day to focus on your life.”

matchabar-matcha-cupsHot or cold? Just a couple of MatchaBar’s numerous options. 

Try This At Home

Matcha is relatively easy to make on your own, too. Simply sift or measure the amount of powder needed in a measuring spoon, add half of the hot (or cold) water, whisk with an electric whisk, and add the remaining water. You can then add milk (or almond, hemp or soymilk), a sweetener of your choice, and any flavors you’d like.

Ippodo Tea Company previously only made matcha available in Kyoto and Tokyo, and by mail order from Japan, but they’ve recently opened an international outpost in midtown Manhattan.

If you’re looking for a more traditional approach, their Hajime-no-Ippodo matcha starter kit includes a bamboo ladle for scooping the powder, a ceramic tea bowl, a bamboo whisk, a tea cloth, and accessible instructions—complete with images—on how to get started.  Similar sets are sold by Panatea and others.

Indeed, matcha is popping up everywhere.

Raw coconut water manufacturing company Harmless Harvest’s newest offering is Namacha, a bottled cold-brewed beverage comprised of raw, organic Japanese tea leaves. The drink is available in three flavors: unsweetened, raw honey and lemon, and raw peppermint.

ippodo-matcha-starter-kitDIY energy: Ippodo’s comprehensive starter kit.

Tea Totaler, Beware

Some variations aren’t raw and unfiltered, however. For example, the matcha green tea latte mix that Trader Joe’s began selling last spring, and similar variations found in health stores, are little packets loaded with sugar, milk powder and other ingredients.

And companies like Starbucks are joining the party, sort of. They offer green tea lattes and other faux matcha-like drinks which tap into the market, at least in name and flavor.

Matcha-flavored or matcha-inspired beverages, or powders containing only a percentage of matcha may share the flavor (a bit), but they are likely devoid of most of the health benefits when compared to ceremonial grade powder ground in a stone granite mill. It’s like the difference between Nescafé and a gourmet cup of Joe.

Meanwhile, MatchaBar and places like it incorporate matcha into their food items and offer a variety of specialty beverages, such as matchaccinos, mattchiattas, traditional matcha lattes, matcha shots, and added flavors. (Cucumber and cinnamon hemp, anyone?)

In the end, this trend may have been inevitable. “Tea’s been big all over the world since the dawn of man, on par with coffee,” notes Fortgang. “So it was only a matter of time before it made its way to the American market.”

That being said, if the alternatives aren’t quite making the grad, perhaps it’s time you gave matcha a shot. So to speak.