Its no secret we at Bon Appétit love the powdered green tea known as matcha. Heck, we even put it in our holiday cookies. But were not the only ones smitten by matcha. With one finger on the mug of our green tea latte and the other on the pulse of all things up-and-coming in the food world, we cant help but notice that the chatter about matcha is getting louder. Food-forward Instagrammers are increasingly as likely to snap a picture of a matcha latte (using the hashtag #matcha, of course) as they are a cappuccino, and they can now do so at specialty matcha cafés cropping up across the country, from New York to California to Hanoi.
Matcha drinkers are purchasing whisks and glass bowls to prepare the beverage at home. Theyre sipping for a sustained energy boost, loads of antioxidants, a calm-alertness thanks to an amino acid called L-Theanine, increased metabolism, and a caffeine hit without the jittery after-effect. All this means that theres a matcha movement happening, and its about to reach a fever pitch.
What makes this green machine so special? Vibrant in hue, matcha is a finely ground powder made from green tea leaves. Traditional matcha growers gradually shade the plants before hand-picking the leaves and stone-grinding them into a verdant dust. This process preserves both the color and nutritional qualities of the tea. Its ritualistically prepared in single batches by adding hot but not boiling water and whisking vigorously in an M shape to dissolve the powder and froth the top. The finished matcha is then drunk in a few sips directly from the glass bowl in which it was prepared. The powder gradually settles to the bottom of the bowl or cup, so it should be drunk quickly.
This means that matcha drinkers must prepare the tea immediately before consuming. Giant-sized cup of coffee to be slurped throughout the day, this is not. And that, according to its devotees, is exactly what makes it so attractive.
A Homemade Ritual: DIY Matcha
A well-made shot of matcha has a creamy mouthfeel that is reminiscent of an espresso with a nice amount of crema. The term shot is marginally misleadingalthough its only about 2-3 ounces of liquid, a matcha shot is sipped, not tossed back. To achieve this level of matcha-nirvana, youll need the right equipment and good-quality tea. Although there are many different grades available, most drinkers agree that the daily matcha gets made with decent-but-not-obscenely-expensive tea. (High-end matcha can retail for as much as $165/20 grams, as sold by Samovar tea). Not sure what price point is right for you? Christine Muhlke, BAs executive editor says: I recommend to those starting out to buy in the $14-$18 range. The $8 stuff is for baking. The $30-$60 stuff comes later. And if youre still balking at the price, consider the fact that one of those tiny tins lasts Muhlke six months or more. She orders in 20-gram tins from Panatea and Ippodo, and stores them in the fridge to keep them fresh.
A freshly-whisked cup of matcha is attractive in its simplicity. But that doesnt mean this green tea cant play nice with other flavors. In fact, many home-whiskers (its not brewing, per se) have a unique take on the drink. Muhlke says that her favorite way to take a cup of matcha to the next level is to swap hot water for homemade almond milk. She explains: Almond milk has its own natural sweetness, with a gently rounded flavor that complements matchas angular grassiness. Milk is too fatty in its mouthfeel and overpowering/cloying for some reasonit cancels out the matcha. Soy is fine, but almond also manages to create a nice cremaperfect for lattes.
The technique is pretty simple: Just add liquid and whisk until frothy. But in case youre looking for a little guided instruction, the matcha community is eager to share its knowledge. Panateas website features a how-to video, and we even published a pictorial step-by-step on bonappetit.com last year. The San-Francisco-based Breakaway Matcha aims to educate converts through its online Matcha Masterclass. MatchaBar, a café devoted to all things green and tea-like in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, offers matcha-making classes every Sunday at 7 P.M. (You get a discount if you come as a date, says co-owner Graham Fortgang.) For $85$80 for couples or friendsyou get hands-on instruction, as well as a matcha starter kit. We dont actually make all that much money on the classes, says Fortgang. But thats not the point. Its all about spreading the knowledge.
Matcha Out and About: The Rise of Matcha Cafés
In addition to traditional coffee drinks, the menu at Chalait, a café that opened on January 5th in Manhattans West Village, features matcha front-and-center on the menu. The green tea options at Chalait are modeled after an espresso menu, with drinks like the americano, cortado, and mocha. Although the café offers both tea and coffee, the bar is separated into two distinct stations: One for matcha and another for coffee. I wanted to really give our staff the space to prepare it properly, explains co-owner Michelle Gardner, who is so passionate about matcha that she quit her job in finance and enrolled in the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) before honing her chops as a barista.
A trip to Japan inspired Gardner, and her partner Ramon Puyani to open their own café in the states. During their time in Kyoto, Puyani tried his first cup of matcha; Gardner had been a longtime devotee. They were both enchanted by the ritual method of preparing itas well as its grassy, fresh flavor. Although they are careful to preserve traditional preparation methods at Chalait, they also aim to present the beverage in a manner that appeals to the Western palate and first-time matcha consumers.
We make each cup of matcha to order, explains Puyani, but we serve it in an espresso mug [as opposed to the glass bowl]. It familiarizes the experience. Chalait aims to make a morning mug of matcha as much of a daily ritual for New Yorkers as a cup of joe. We hope matcha will become to tea what espresso is to coffee, says Puyaniessentially, a way to deepen into the experience. And thats in large part why Chalait is offering a full coffee bar of matcha options. Puyanis initial question to first-time matcha drinkers is: How do you take your coffee? If a customer tends to like it sweet and light, hell use matcha in a milky latte. If theyre fans of black espresso, theyll get the full monty: A matcha shot made with the traditional whisk and hot water.
#Matcha: Its a Lifestyle
Talk to Graham Fortgang about his café for any extended period of time, and youll hear the term Matcha Fam (short for family) at least once. As in, We love our customerstheyre our matcha fam, or Nothing makes me happier than seeing the matcha fam come in all pumped about their day. The Fortgang brothers are hardcore matcha enthusiasts, in part because it changed their own lives.
Before matcha, I was working in real estate and had my own event production company. And I was also trying to graduate college. And says Fortgang, who grew up in Manhattan and, despite speaking at a very lively clip whenever the tea is mentioned, feels calmer and more centered since embracing matcha. In addition to general feelings of anxiety and stress, Fortgang suffered from acid reflux and a minor heart palpitation which were both aggravated by his coffee and Red Bull consumption. He decided to switch to matcha, and was immediately hooked. In the modern world, people dont want to just be successful; they want to be healthy in a sustained way, he says. Its this quality, this pursuit of an all-around better-for-you lifestyle, that separates the matcha sippers from the espresso shooters.
Matcha isnt for everyone, but those who do embrace it really embrace it. Whats special about the matcha drinker prototype is an openness to inviting a new ritual into their life, explains Fortgang. Weve had a lot of converts who have totally switched from coffee to matcha. To do that, you really have to believe you can. Our biggest challenge is getting people to believe in an alternative. It might not be matcha. But believing in an alternative puts you in the right mindset.
Big Tea: Have We Reached Maximum Matcha Saturation?
Is it inevitable that matcha will go the way of chai tea? Seasoned chai enthusiasts will remember when the tea was an artisan novelty; now syrupy chai-flavored lattes are poured from cardboard cartons at every corner coffee shop. Lloyd appreciates large-batch matcha makers for spreading the word and piquing an initial interest. Once a potential matcha drinker tries a sweet matcha latte, she says, theyre more likely to branch out and try a straight cup, prepared traditionally.
Despite the cult-like qualities of the matcha community, its a surprisingly open and collaborative community. Fortgang even cites MatchaBars competition as having a passionate, kind, open-arms kind of attitude. And whether youve been drinking it for years or youre about to sip your first cup, rest assured: Theres a place for you in the Matcha Fam. Says Fortgang, My hope is that my customer drinks their matcha and then goes out into the world. And that day, whether they yell at their intern less, whether they fit in a run at the end of their day, or whether they have a salad instead of a crappy burger for lunch, I dont care. But one healthy habit leads to another. Matcha is inspiring in that way.
Rochelle Bilow (January 14, 2015)