Coffee could soon be green with envy as a new super food challenges its reign as the brew of choice in cafes across the globe.

That’s right, matcha madness has taken hold as one of this year’s biggest foodie trends and it is popping up in everything from lattes, to soups and desserts.

So what’s the big deal, isn’t it just green tea? Well kind of. Matcha is a finely ground powder made from specially grown and processed green tea leaves. The green tea plants are grown as normal right up until a few weeks before harvest when they are shaded to prevent direct sunlight. This little change makes a big difference to the tea leaves, slowing growth, turning the leaves a darker shade of green, increasing chlorophyll levels and causing the production of amino acids.

Once the plants are ready to harvest, only the finest tea buds are hand-picked and then laid out flat to dry where they will crumble a little and become known as ‘tencha’. The tencha is then de-veined, de-stemmed and stone ground to the very fine, bright green powder that we call matcha.

The flavour of matcha is dominated by its amino acids, which give it a distinctive green tea flavour that is much sweeter and a deeper that regular green tea. Aside from these amino acids, matcha also contains small amounts of various vitamins and minerals, but it’s real nutritional value comes from its rich source of an antioxidant called catechin.

Science is still a little on the fence about the benefits of green tea, but some studies have linked tea consumption to a reduced risk of certain cancers, lower risk of obesity, increased cell strength and immunity, and a faster recovery following exercise. Matcha also contains a small amount of caffeine which gives you more of a ‘calm alertness’ compared the edgy jitters delivered by coffee.

Matcha has been a very important part of Chinese culture as far back as the Tang Dynasty in 618. It was the 8th century Zen priest Eisai who then first introduced matcha to Japan, describing it as “the ultimate mental and medical remedy” with “the ability to make one’s life more full and complete”.

Matcha is traditionally used in the famous Japanese tea ceremonies which centre around the preparation, serving and drinking of matcha tea. During a ceremony a small amount of matcha is placed in a tea bowl using a bamboo scoop called a ‘chashaku’, and then hot water is added. Next the mixture is whisked to a uniform consistency using a bamboo whisk called a ‘chasen’ and can produce a froth or not according to preference.

Today, matcha is widely available and used for it’s distinctive flavour and delightful green colour in foods including ice-cream and soft serve, cakes, puddings, mochi, soba noodles, and Japanese sweets called ‘wagashi’. In the west is has become very popular to add milk to a matcha tea to make a matcha latte, and now you can even buy a Green Tea Latte at Starbucks. To make a comforting matcha latte at home try this simple recipe, or get a little more adventurous with this recipe for Green Tea Ice cream by Adam Liaw.