Tea houses in Japan are brimming with options. Should you pick the sweet sencha? Or perhaps sip a fragrant cup of kukicha? Or what about imbibing the highly caffeinated gyokuro?
Amongst the 20-odd varieties available, you’ll discover matcha, a vibrant green tea powder that, when fully dissolved in near-boiling water, results in an astringent cuppa.
Because you consume the entire ground-up tea leaf, the claims of potent health benefits have made it an increasingly popular choice on coffee-shop menus in North America. And, as its star status grows here, Japan’s other use for it, as an ingredient in food, is coming to light in Edmonton’s restaurants.
A Cold Reception
“I would say less than two per cent of the really good quality stuff [matcha powder] makes it out of Japan,” says Nana Demachi, from the family-run restaurant, Yokozuna. In other words, the matcha we get here is often strong, bitter and powdery tasting. “It’s not very palatable for a lot of North American customers,” she explains.
Tomoya Mutaguchi explains that his restaurant, Izakaya Tomo, along with many local Japanese restaurants, entice Edmontonians to try matcha’s flavour through the locally made green tea ice cream by Pinocchio. Izakaya Tomo’s menu also features its own matcha crme brle.
Yokozuna occasionally features a matcha tiramisu, which has a tea infused Zen liqueur and matcha powder layers, on its menu.
To further sweeten your introduction to matcha, you’ll find it blended in mainstream cafes’ smoothies and sugary drinks.
Demachi says that once your palate has warmed up to matcha, try sprinkling matcha powder and sea salt on your tempura, serve soba noodles infused with matcha, or substitute it in place of cocoa powder in your favourite recipes.
To make the perfect cup of matcha, a bamboo whisk (shown above), known as a chasen, is essential. Use the chasen to dissolve the matcha in hot water until a smooth froth forms on top. You can buy the whisk separately, and pair it with a bowl from The Tea Girl (formerly Steeps).
In the Japanese tea ceremony (called the chado, or sado, which translates to “the way of the tea”), the aim is to find peace through drinking a bowl of tea. Yokozuna’s Demachi says “you have to cleanse your hands, rid yourself of negative energy, you look at the garden, then you go into the tea room.” The host prepares a bowl of tea for each guest in turn, using a chasen. The guest then drinks the tea in exactly three and a half sips, while sitting with a formal, straight back.
Did You Know …
Drinking matcha may give you up to three times the amount of cancer-fighting catechins than regularly steeped green tea, according to a 2003 U.S. medical study
Catechins can also reduce bad cholesterol, lower blood sugar levels and limit the effects of food poisoning.
Matcha also contains vitamin C, which can result in healthier skin.
Matcha’s caffeine content is released more slowly than coffee, giving you a more sustained energy level.
This matcha-infused buttercream can be used as a filling in macarons, or as a lovely icing for cupcakes. Recipe courtesy of Lillian Tse from her website, BeyondUmami.com.
1 tbsp matcha powder
1 tbsp of hot water
25 g of cold water
80 g of superfine sugar
1 egg yolk
160 g of soft, cubed butter
1. Dissolve the matcha powder in hot water using a small whisk. Leave to cool.
2. Heat the water and sugar in a pan until a candy thermometer reads 120C. Try not to mix the solution. Minimize boiling by brushing the edges with a damp pastry brush.
3. Separately whisk eggs until lighter in colour, then add the hot sugar mixture, whisking until it cools. It should resemble a glossy meringue.
4. Cream, then whisk the butter until thickened.
5. Slowly whisk the thickened butter into the meringue mixture until it looks like buttercream.
6. Whisk, then beat the matcha mixture and buttercream, until it is smooth.