Friday, December 6, 2013

Tea Time: Magical Matcha

Americans are not generally speaking very sophisticated tea drinkers, but matcha, a finely powdered, high-quality tea from Japan, has achieved something of a small cult following as a result of its successful marketing by a number of widely franchised companies, including both Jamba Juice and Starbucks. For those unfamiliar with matcha, the best analogy to something in your experience may be this:

matcha: green tea :: expresso: coffee

Intense, concentrated, bitter, slightly medicinal in flavor, both matcha and expresso have an immediate effect on the drinker because they pack so much into such a tiny volume. I am not a regular matcha drinker, but I do appreciate matcha as a means of amping up the flavor, texture and, of course, caffeine of green tea. 

Today's brew is just such a matcha-infused tea, coming from Muzi:

Muzi is already a high-quality, organic sencha tea (not a blend), but this particular batch has been dusted with matcha as well. My first matcha-dusted tea experience came by way of Stash, perhaps unsurprisingly. For a while, their matcha-dusted Premium Green was my go-to green tea. Unfortunately, they appear to have ceased production of that splendid blend, as it is not available anywhere--not even at Amazon, where I used to buy boxes of 100 bags (which generally last me a month or two). 

The problem, I believe, is that true matcha comes always from Japan, and there have been lots of issues with products coming directly from that lovely archipelago since the tragic nuclear power plant accident at Fukushima on March 11, 2011. Many consumers have been paranoid about radiation of anything being produced in Japan since then, and I confess that I was too, which is why I called the Stash company to ask whether their Premium Green was affected. They assuaged my worries by revealing that for a while now they have been sourcing their green tea from Brazil. So that was good in one way (though we naturally prefer Japanese Japanese products!!!!), but the matcha was still being sourced from Japan, so it may be that it became prohibitively expensive or difficult. I know that companies continue to subject their products to rigorous radiation testing, and all of that has got to take a toll. Stash probably just decided that it wasn't worth it.

What to do? Well, it turns out that I happen to have a decent supply of matcha on hand:

A while ago, when I started to realize the potential for matcha--not only for dusting medium-grade tea, but also for cooking--I bought a couple of large bags of the silken peridot green powder. I store it in airtight jars (such as the one above), and it holds up well. 

Matcha has a bitter, alkaloid taste similar to cocaine or Vicodin. (Yeah, I know what they taste like.) But it makes a fantastic flavoring for ice cream (which you'll know, if you've ever experienced green tea ice cream at a Japanese restaurant), and also for baked goods. Basically, you can turn any humdrum recipe for vanilla or sugar what-not into a matcha masterpiece by simply throwing in a spoon or two of the magical powder. Major yum.

I bought two bags of matcha powder. One is "culinary grade"; the other is "drinking grade", which is more expensive and produced under very rigid conditions, because it is consumed directly, with no filtering, by "whiskers". I don't produce matcha that way, with a whisk and a bowl. I only use it to improve the taste of other teas, and I have found that the culinary grade works perfectly fine for my tea infusions. (Matcha snobs may snicker, but it's simply the truth.) 

Once again, on reflection, I realize that when I told Jalé the other day (on Facebook), that I do not mix my own blends of tea, I was wrong! In fact, I was also wrong when I claimed that I never add anything to sencha. I add matcha! I was thinking of course about "condiments" such as sugar and cream and lemon, added to brewed tea. Matcha, in contrast, I mix into the dried tea before brewing. With the following effect:

As you can see, the tea is thick and brothy as a result of the matcha. I also use a medium-grained mini-colander-type strainer, which lets the smaller particles through:

This means that the tea which I end up drinking is fairly opaque:

But it tastes delicious!!!! Maybe I am closer to the "whiskers" than I think, given that the small tea particles and matcha which pass easily through the filter ensure that my final beverage has quite a bit of oomph to it! One thing that this juice is not, however, is bitter. The intense bitterness of whisked matcha is not found in matcha-dusted sencha, in my experience. This method simply produces a good, hearty, broth-like brew. Perfect for cold winter days!!!!!

Kim mentioned in a comment on the previous (sencha) post that she starts the day with a green tea latte, and I have to say that I love that beverage, too! I accidentally began drinking green tea soy lattes when I purchased some Kikkoman green tea soy milk. It's basically indistinguishable from a prepared green tea soy latte. 

To my consternation, I recently learned that the matcha at Starbucks is a sweetened powder. I learned this the hard way, because when I ordered a green tea soy latte with half the syrup and double the matcha, it was still way too sweet for me. Upon Googling "Starbucks matcha powder", I learned that each scoop has 25 calories! Pure matcha powder has no or negligible calories, so I basically sabotaged my effort to reduce the sweetness level by doubling the matcha powder. (The issue for me was not calories, but sweetness...) Oh well, next time (if there is a next time for that drink...), I'll request ZERO syrup and a couple extra scoops of matcha and see how that goes...

Now it's your turn. Please share your matcha stories and experience!!!! As for me, I believe that it is time for another cup of matcha-dusted sencha...


  1. Very Interesting!
    I have been experimenting with matcha tea myself. I love that a fellow fragrance lover , is also a
    tea ritual connoisseur!
    I have had the same concerns regarding Japanese matcha tea.
    I have learned a few things in my dabbling as a practicing barista:
    Matcha is similar to champagne in the way that the word is only to be used by japan for green tea powder, even though China and Korea have it also. Quality is subjective to the user, I always thought I would only like japanese GTP until I was forced to change brands, as the market only had a Chinese GTP, and much to my surprise I preferred it.
    I make green tea lattes at home using my handy bodum frothing, and any kind of milk you wish.
    I top mine off with a bit of homemade raspberry syrup for sweetness.
    I have also learned that the temp you mix with the powder has an effect on how sweet the drink will taste, apparently if the water is warm as opposed to hot, the tea will be sweeter naturally.I am still experimenting.
    You did give me the idea to try mixing it with other tea, I think I will give that a go next.
    I actually began this whole at home specialty drink mission because my daughter was having no problem plunking down six dollars every time we were going out on one of these drinks. Since I home make everything else, it was just in my nature to conquer this too.
    Actually I have had so much fun working on my barista skills, I have come up with a few of my own blends. Of course while also wearing a perfectly appropriate fragrance.
    My chinese GTP came in a lovely box with a cute serving size spoon, and a list of health benefits, making it worth including a cup a day to my already extensive beverage repertoire!

    1. Hello, Kim!

      Yes, I think that it's good to keep an open mind. I was quite prejudiced against any ingestible coming out of China for quite some time. Partly it was the stories about melamine in cat food and toothpaste; partly it was my unfortunate experience with what can only accurately be described as "nuclear garlic". Seriously, I bought a plastic container of pre-peeled garlic sourced from China, and no matter how many layers of plastic and glass I tried to bury it in, it still made my refrigerator--and house--reek of garlic! Honestly it was frightening, and I strongly suspect GMOs!!!!

      Recently, however, I was pleasantly surprised by the China Green Tips offered by Tazo in the "advanced" mesh infusion bags. It's really quite tasty. I think that I was driven away from Chinese teas by some of the cheaper greens, but there is no reason, in principle, that they would not have some great teas. For heaven's sake: China was the birthplace of brewed tea, was it not? It's just a matter of avoiding the Chinese equivalent to Lipton. ;-)

      On the cost of lattes: yes, you're right that $6 a morning would add up quickly and doesn't make a lot of sense. You should try the Kikkoman green tea soy milk. It's essentially a premixed latte! All you have to do is heat it up and it's delicious. They also make coffee-flavored soy milk, so anyone who's after a coffee soy latte could save a lot of money that way. Kikkoman is a Japanese company, so naturally the quality is great.

      "They say" that green tea is great for us. So drink up! ;-)

  2. Your matcha-mix seems a great match... I have to confess that I'm not a regular drinker of matcha, but your mix-macha-combo sounds good. Btw, tried the pudding today - and it's gone, i.e. three young girls, one middle-aged man and the cook herself ate it up in 30 minutes. Thanks for this inspiring idea.

    1. Hello, Jale!

      I am so excited that you tried--and liked--the chai rice pudding recipe. This should open up new horizons for us as well, since other flavored teas will likely produce good puddings, too!

      Matcha really improves the flavor of mediocre green teas, so if you ever have a bag that you're not happy with, you can salvage it by stirring some matcha into the dry tea leaves. I'm not sure that the dusty green lint filter bags can be saved by any means, but you wouldn't be buying those anyway! ;-)

      I'll probably do a white tea in one of the next two episodes ... stay tuned!


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