Who knew that a Japanese green tea powder would make last year’s list of top ten food trends and would fill our Instagram feeds with green dreams. I’m talking about the marvelous matcha. Traditionally part of Japanese tea ceremonies that are centuries old, this green tea has found its way outside of the teacup and into our baked goods and smoothies too. But before we jump to modern recipes that are totally Pinterest worthy, let’s look to the tea basics.
Matcha is traditionally produced in Japan. Green tea leaves are shaded from the sun during the last few weeks of their growth prior to being harvested (this process increases the chlorophyll which gives the tea powder its vibrant green hue). Once harvested, the veins and stems of the tea leaves are removed and the leaves are steamed, tumbled dry and then ground into a powder using ancient stone mills. Consider this a cliffs notes version of the tremendous process from tea garden to cup. Just keep in mind that this very precious tea powder (that is shaded and steamed to preserve its very essence) also carries a very short shelf life. So, once you open a tiny tin of the tea (how it’s often packaged), you’ll want to use it within two weeks to experience the very best flavors and health benefits. See, the tins are tiny for a reason.
Often referred to as the espresso of the tea world, matcha shares similar characteristics to its coffee counterpart. Like espresso, matcha is likely served in small quantities and meant to be consumed immediately rather than savored with slow sips over a long period of time. The reason behind this quick consumption is that the powder won’t actually dissolve in water, and is just simply suspended. So, after mere moments the powder will settle to the bottom of the cup or bowl. I’m not suggesting that you sip the tea in one slurp, but rather savor the matcha in a shorter period of time than you would your traditional morning cup of earl grey. And threading back to the coffee comparison, matcha is known for its natural bitter notes that are truly pleasing (think super dark chocolate). To balance this pleasing vegetal/savory bitter note, subtle sweet notes may pop up along with a creamy mouthfeel. Although, every grade of matcha can carry varying tastes.
Speaking of matcha grades, there are two main categories to consider: ceremonial and culinary. You’ll want to use culinary matcha when baking treats or mixing it into smoothies, as the culinary grade is intended to pack a punch of flavor to stand up to other ingredients. If you’re simply sipping the tea with water (or a bit of milk), opt for the ceremonial grade that has subtle nuances that are meant to be enjoyed on their own. And before we move on to “DIY recipes” let’s chat caffeine. Unlike espresso and coffee brews, matcha is known for carrying a high dose of the amino acid L-theanine (thanks to the final shading from the sun) that helps to promote a calm alertness (instead of jittery moments that lead to a caffeine crash…and power naps).
You have the green tea powder tucked in your kitchen cabinet, right? Now, how do you use it? Well, there are several ways to prepare this green tea treat. Ideally you want to heat your water to a temperature around 170 degrees (as boiling water will in essence “burn” the tea and negatively alter the flavor). Although if a kitchen thermometer is not in your culinary toolbox, then simply bring water to a boil, pour it into a tea cup and then into the teacup where you intend to make the matcha. At that point, the water will be cooled to approximate temp.
Traditionally, you would sift the matcha into a bowl (to break up the granules for a smoother sip), and then add a splash of the hot water to create a paste (to help briefly dissolve the powder), and then add the remainder of the hot water and mix with a bamboo whisk in the shape of a letter “m” until a thick froth appears. Although, if you haven’t committed to being a morning matcha master with an array of tools, you can simply add matcha to a large mug or latte bowl, break it apart with a fork or whisk with gentle sweeps, then add a splash of hot water to make a matcha paste, and then add the remainder of the hot water and whisk until a bit of froth appears (p.s. if you have a milk frother, you can totally use that to whisk the sip into a frothy delight). So it’s a sift, mix into paste, add water and stir until frothy. Pretty simple! Try a ratio of 1 heaping teaspoon of matcha to 4oz of water (but feel free to experiment to find a ratio that works for you). To balance the pleasant bitter notes, matcha is traditionally served with a small sweet in Japanese tea ceremonies (so, experiment with pieces of chocolate when taking sips of the tea during your afternoon pick-me-up session).
Did you know that matcha green tea powder is used to make treats like green tea ice cream and green tea mochi? Well, to channel that sweet treat dream you can easily make a matcha latte. Whether you’re using almond milk, coconut milk, cow’s milk or any other dairy delight, just know that you’ll want to heat it to a simmer (and not a boil). If your sweet tooth is singing, add your sweetener (honey, sugar, agave) to the milk while it’s heating to allow time for it to dissolve. For a cheat to sweetness, you can always use a sweetened vanilla almond milk which instantly transforms the sip into an indulgence. In terms of the “how-to,” simply mix 1 heaping teaspoon of matcha into ¼ cup hot water (170 degrees approx) until smooth, then stir in ¾ cup steamed milk and mix. Make this sip an airy dream by using a handheld milk frother to whisk the milk into a frothy delight before mixing with the matcha.
If you want a channel a chilled vibe, then here’s your recipe for matcha on the rocks. Break out your glass jam jar (at least 8oz) or cocktail shaker. Add 1 heaping teaspoon of matcha to the bottom of the jar or cocktail shaker. Mix in 2oz cold water and stir until slightly smooth. Add a handful of ice then top off with 4oz of cold milk. Seal the lid of the jar or cocktail shaker, and shake vigorously for 60 seconds to dissolve the matcha and create a froth (and if you want to nix the milk, simply swap the dairy delight for 4oz cold water for part two of the mix). One of my favorite tips, is to serve the iced matcha in the jam jar with a cute straw. Not only will your sip look lovely, but if the matcha starts to settle to the bottom you can just seal the lid airtight and give it a shake to mix it up again. For a stronger matcha taste, simply add more matcha.
And if you’ve mastered matcha and want to dive into a world of recipes, make a matcha juice shot. Sift ½ teaspoon of matcha into a small glass and mix in ¼ cup of fresh honeydew juice for a sweet sip or cucumber juice for a taste that’s crisp and somewhat savory. Just note that you’ll want to strain the cucumber and honeydew juice before mixing with the matcha for the smoothest sip.
Outside of the cup, try sprinkling it onto goat cheese that you’ve spread on a cracker or pancakes/waffles fresh from the griddle. And that’s just the tip of the tea cup (trust me, just search #matcha on IG). It’s easy to see why this traditional green tea steeped in centuries of customs is taking over the tea world and finding its way into our cups, treats and hearts.