Thursday, February 19, 2015

Top Ingredients of 2015: Matcha

In its most basic meaning, matcha is powdered green tea. But to true matcha lovers, it is so much more. Matcha is the emerald green powder used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Not to be confused with more common sencha green tea, matcha is made with tencha tea leaves. Tencha is shade grown green tea, harvested by hand only once a year. The harvested leaves are dried then stone-milled into a fine green powder. Other green teas are steamed or pan fired, resulting in some fermentation, but with matcha, you are essentially consuming the fresh green tea leaf, resulting in a sweet, deeply flavorful beverage with low bitterness.

Benefits of Matcha
The benefits of matcha are the same as green tea, except more concentrated. The growing and harvesting process increases the levels of chlorophyll, catechins and L-theanine. Catechins are the compounds for which green tea is so well known, clinically documented to have antioxidant activity and potentially provide protection against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Chlorophyll is the pigment responsible for the green color in matcha. Chlorophyll is known to be a potent detoxifier.  L-theanine is an amino acid that provides what has been called “calm alertness.” It is a great stress reliever, producing calm in the body without making you sleepy. It may explain why the caffeine in matcha seems to have a less pronounced effect, not making you feel jittery like coffee or other teas. These benefits may explain why one well-known TV doctor recommended that every woman should be drinking matcha every day.

Making Matcha
To brew the perfect cup of matcha, follow these suggested guidelines:
1. Sift 1 tsp (2 g) matcha into a mug or matcha bowl. Sifting helps to break up any clumps.
2. Add 2.5 ounces (70 ml) hot water – 165-170° F.
3. Whisk with a bamboo matcha whisk (or chasen) until a rich, creamy foam appears – about 15-25 seconds.

For those who are not purists and want the convenience of tea bags, you can find matcha blended with sencha green tea in tea bag form. It offers a fast, convenient way to get your matcha.

However you choose to brew it, Matcha is one to watch (and drink!) in 2015. Expect to see it not only as a green tea beverage, but as an ingredient in cookies, smoothies, shakes and cakes. If you want to experiment cooking with matcha, here is a Matcha shortbread cookie recipe from Clotilde Dusoulier from her Chocolate & Zucchini blog. Enjoy!