It’s a flavor. It’s a drink. It’s a superfood. Matcha powder is a little bit of all three. It’s trendy, healthy, and tasty and has taken the culinary world by storm. This green tea powder features in teas, desserts, smoothies, lattes, and much more. Where does matcha come from and why is it so popular? And how can those in the restaurant business incorporate matcha into their menus.
The Roots, Leaves and Buds of the Tea
It’s a bit surprising that even though countries have warred over teas more than once, the world’s most loved drink comes from a plant that you could plant in your yard if you lived in a warm climate. Green tea and several other popular tea varieties come from the Camellia sinensis shrub.
Do you know how tea was invented? Legend has it that back in the 10th century a servant of the Chinese emperor Shen Nung had been boiling water for the king outdoors in order to purify it, when a Camellia sinensis leaf flew into the cup. The emperor tasted the brew and enjoyed its taste, and the caffeine stimulation it provided. Soon after, tea became popular across China.
Nowadays, all parts of the Camellia sinensis plant are used for different varieties of tea. The leaf buds are processed to make white tea; tender leaves are boiled into green tea; and black tea is produced by oxidizing the plant’s leaves.
From Carmellia Sinensis to Matcha Tea
Like traditional brewed teas, matcha is also made from the Camellia sinesis plant, but it wasn’t invented by a Chinese emperor accidentally brewing the leaves. It actually sources from the mountains in Japan, where locals began cultivating Camellia sinesis. The mountains were naturally humid and misty, perfect for growing green tea.
After experimenting, Japanese farmers learned that they could produce stronger flavors by shading their growing plants from sunlight. (From a scientific perspective, photosynthesis, a plant-reaction to light, prevents tea plants from converting their amino acids into a bitter and strongly flavored antioxidant called catechin. In other words, the less sunlight, the more catechin. The more catechin, the stronger and deeper the flavor.). Japanese farmers initially planted their tea plants in forests to provide them with shade and preserve their flavor.
Eventually, farmers started building artificial shade for their plants, using wooden structures with straw on top. The straw roof allowed Japanese tea growers to change the placement and thickness of the shading, depending on the weather. The result was Camellia sinesis leaves with even bolder, smoother flavors.
These Camellia sinensis leaves — ones that are specifically cultivated using shading techniques (modern farmers use a nylon and pulley system instead of the traditional straw and wood) and with a specific blend of nutrients to give the leaves its bold, strong flavor — are called matcha tea leaves. These leaves are ground into matcha powder which has a strong flavor and also provides numerous health benefits.
Grinding the Matcha Tea
Once the matcha tea leaves are harvested (some traditional Japanese farmers still do this by hand), they need to be ground into matcha powder. First, the leaves are carefully de-stemmed and de-veined. The result is a loose leaf green tea substance called tencha, a delicacy in its own right and a step in the matcha powder production.
Next, the leaves are carefully dried in a special brick oven called a hoiro. After they exit the horio, the dried tencha is ground into matcha powder. Most matcha is still ground in the ancient, traditional manner, using a stone mill called an ishi-usu. The result is a very evenly ground, fine green tea powder that retains the leaves’ strong bitter and umami flavors.
From Japan to the World
With all the effort that goes into growing, drying, grinding and producing matcha powder, it’s clear that this tea holds special significance in Japanese culture. Traditionally, Japanese will drink ordinary green tea on a daily basis, but reserve their ceremonial-grade matcha for elaborately scripted tea ceremonies. These ceremonies are so scripted that the host sometimes trains for years to master the exact choreography of serving the tea.
However, matcha powder has also made its way out of Japan and into Western cuisine (sans the ceremony). Chefs prize the substance for its irresistible blend of umami and bitter flavors, and health practitioners laud the green tea’s potential nutritional benefits.
In contrast to tea, where the leaves’ caffeine and nutrients are boiled down into a cup of water, matcha is produced from the whole leaf, which means the Camellia sinenis leaves’ health benefits are fully maximized. One such benefit comes from catechins, the same compound that imparts matcha with its strong flavors. Catechins are antioxidants and a diet rich in antioxidants may be able to prevent cellular damage. Some studies have also shown that matcha tea can protect the health of the liver and kidneys. Matcha may also be able to reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.
Matcha also contains more concentrated caffeine than traditional teas. Consequently, consuming the powder can boost attention and memory, and may also improve brain function for seniors. Additionally, matcha tea contains a compound that prevents the usual “caffeine crash.” The L-theanine in matcha powder allows for the full alertness benefits of caffeine without the drained feeling that usually follows. Also, possibly because of the caffeine and resultant energy boost, matcha is associated with weight loss.
Matcha Powder: Not Just for Tea
Matcha isn’t just good for your cells and your heart. It tastes good too. In traditional tea ceremonies in Japan, matcha powder is mixed into a tea drink. But, chefs worldwide have found numerous other uses for the trendy, tasty green tea powder. Some potential uses of matcha include:
- Tea: Many people like to start the morning with a hot drink. As mentioned above, matcha tea offers benefits over coffee in that it stimulates and energizes, without the resultant caffeine crash, and the caffeine is stronger and more concentrated. To make matcha tea, you should first sift the dry powder to avoid clumping. Pour a small amount of hot water onto the matcha powder (¼ teaspoon of matcha is recommended for an eight-ounce cup), and whisk gently to create a foam. For this, you will need an electric milk whisk or a traditional bamboo whisk. Whisking with a fork will not work. Once the powder is blended into the water, add more hot water to fill up the cup. Matcha has an intense umami, bitter, and slightly verdant flavor. For some, it may be too bitter. If so, adding honey or sugar can improve the flavor.
- Lattes: Matcha lattes are made the same way as matcha tea, except instead of using water as the base, steamed and heated milk is mixed with the matcha powder. Matcha lattes make creamy, earthy morning drinks. To make your latte iced, mix the matcha with milk and flavoring in a blender and then pour over ice.
- Smoothies: Matcha has a wonderful earthy, umami flavor, which is perfect for smoothies. Blend it up with yogurt or milk (or a non-dairy milk substitute), alongside other superfoods and veggies. Don’t forget to add a sweetener to the mixture for maximum taste and benefit.
- Syrups: Mix the matcha with hot water and sugar for a matcha syrup that you can mix into condiments, use to flavor dishes, and even incorporate into cocktails.
- Condiments: Matcha can impart its flavor and nutritional profile into any salad dressing or party dip. For example, try mashing up avocado, seasoning, tomatoes, onions, and a little bit of matcha to give your guacamole an extra zing.
- Baked goods: Matcha is a powder, so when baking with it, substitute it for an equal amount of flour. Matcha pairs well in cookies, cakes, muffins, breads, and so many other dishes. Japanese make traditional milk bread using matcha powder to add flavor and color. To mimic this dish, whisk milk and flour over heat. In a mixer, mix this roux with yeast, sugar, eggs, flour, and butter. Set aside half of this mixture and add matcha to the second half. After these doughs rise, mix the matcha-infused dough back into the ordinary dough for a marbleized look.
- Ice cream: There are several ways to make matcha ice cream. The easiest way to make an “ice cream” is to freeze a matcha smoothie. You can also use an ice cream maker or find a different ice cream making method online. Mix in the matcha powder (along with sufficient sugar) as an ice cream flavoring. Matcha ice cream, in addition to being a sweet, refreshing treat, has the added energizing and caffeinating benefits. If you don’t want to go full ice cream, you can also add matcha powder to other frozen treats, like whipped cream or popsicles.
- 2 and a half cups of frozen peaches
- 1 banana
- 1 cup baby spinach leaves
- 1/4 cup shelled and roasted pistachios
- 2 teaspoons of culinary-grade matcha powder
- 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
- 1 cup coconut milk (you can exchange for other plant-based milk substitutes for a slightly different smoothie flavor)
More About Matcha
If you are looking to cook with matcha powder, you can find it in most major supermarkets and online on Amazon and Walmart’s websites. If you live near a store that specializes in Asian foods, they will stock matcha powder as well.
There are two types of matcha powder that stores carry: ceremonial-grade matcha and culinary-grade matcha. Ceremonial-grade matcha is higher quality, and usually more expensive, and has a more nuanced flavor. Ceremonial-grade matcha is intended for those who plan to enjoy brewed matcha tea. By contrast, if you plan to mix the matcha flavor into another recipe, for example a latte, a smoothie, or a cookie, you don’t need as high-quality of a matcha powder. Culinary-grade matcha is appropriate for use in recipes that incorporate matcha as one of the ingredients. It’s cheaper and often has a bolder flavor.
Incorporating Matcha Into Your Menu
Matcha is trendy and popular with the Gen Z and Gen X crowds, and with consumers seeking healthy, exotic foods. Incorporating matcha into your menu can draw in customers and, since matcha powder is so versatile, it can be used in nearly any type of restaurant.
One easy way to market your matcha is to add matcha tea or matcha lattes to your drinks menu alongside your teas and coffees. Matcha is seen as more of a luxury, exotic drink than a standard hot beverage. Since global flavors and healthy foods are so popular and trendy, consider suggesting matcha tea as a pairing to other popular dishes, or portraying it prominently on your drinks menu. If you serve cocktails or mocktails, you can also add a matcha cocktail to your alcohol menu as a specialty item. If your establishment specializes in nutritious, plant-based, and organic offerings, matcha will offer an additional draw as a plant-based superfood, with numerous health benefits.
You can also advertise these benefits when cooking with matcha, letting this superfood become a star beyond the drinks menu. Matcha makes eye-catching, green desserts and smoothies that are visually appealing to customers, so if you already have desserts or smoothies on the menu, consider adding some matcha-themed options to target young diners, and those who are interested in healthful and planet-friendly foods.
Instead of (or in addition to) having matcha standalone or baked in, offer it as a garnish. Matcha pairs well with many dishes. If you sell pizza for example, why not add pizza with a matcha garnish. A hamburger joint can offer a matcha hamburger seasoning. Matcha could make an interesting garnish in an exotic, natural-themed salad dressing. Matcha is fairly versatile, and the sky, and your creativity, are the only limits when it comes to incorporating its taste and benefits.
Make Your Own Energy-Boosting Matcha Smoothie
Up your smoothie game with this plant based matcha smoothie recipe for an energizing, and Instagrammable, way to start your day.
You will need:
Add the ingredients to your blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy just before a workout or on your way to work.