Green powder matcha is at the heart of the Japanese way of drinking tea, and you can cook with it, too


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City builders are building green, farmers are farming green, and you and I are encouraged to eat, drink and think green. Kermit the Frog must be delirious with joy. Now it's easy being green.

In foodie circles these days, there is much ado about green tea. Americans are used to seeing dark, dried tea leaves, loose or in tea bags. But when certain Japanese green teas are dried and powdered, the result is matcha. Other green teas are grown throughout the world, but matcha is unique to Japan, where it is used for a beverage or as an ingredient in pastries and confections. I became a fan of matcha when I vacationed for a month in Tokyo a few months back.

Matcha (pronounced mah-chah) is the heart of the Japanese way of tea, and it has been celebrated in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony for hundreds of years. The stylized formal ritual involves special cups, ladles, hot pots of water, and matcha, frothed and foamy from brisk stirring with a bamboo whisk.

When served hot, matcha tea has a complex flavor. At first sip, it is grassy/vegetal, which gives way to a light bitterness and then a gentle sweetness. The first time I tasted a cup of full-bodied, hot matcha, it reminded me of my initial tastes of very dark chocolate -- complex.

When used in recipes for confections and sweets, however, the taste of matcha becomes subtle. It blends easily with the ingredients in lattes, smoothies, all sorts of cakes, even sauces.

Why should you care much about matcha? The hottest buzzword in nutrition marketing is antioxidants. If we believe what we read in the wellness magazines, we should eat blueberries, pomegranates and spinach and drink green tea because their antioxidants can keep aging and diseases such as cancer at bay.

But not all antioxidants are created equal. In terms of its nutritional value and antioxidant content, one glass of (powdered) matcha tea is the equivalent of 10 glasses of green tea brewed from tea leaves. That's because when you drink matcha green tea, you ingest the whole leaf, not just the brewed extract.

I don't want to get too technical, but matcha contains an amino acid (L-theanine) known to relax the mind, which gives it another plus as a mood enhancer. (Buddhist monks drank matcha to assist in meditation. Maybe they still do.) The amino acids, I'm told, give matcha its distinctive taste and rich, almost creamy, mouth feel. There is just enough caffeine to give a light buzz, call it a calm alertness, for a few hours. But my favorite reason to drink matcha is that some scientists believe that one of the antioxidants in green tea suppresses the appetite, giving it weight loss and fat-burning qualities.

Any drink that can claim the trifecta of stimulant, relaxant and fat-burner is, well, my cup of tea.

How's it get so green?

Matcha is grown in limited amounts only in Japan since its introduction from China in the 1200s. Local farmers cultivate it by traditional methods, from growing to grinding. A couple of weeks prior to harvest in the spring, farmers cover the tea plants with bamboo mats or tarps, slowly reducing the amount of sunlight that reaches them. This step gives matcha its distinctive green color.

After hand-picking, the leaves are steamed, air dried, sorted, then destemmed, deveined and stone-ground to a fine powder. Japan is a small country, and, because of high domestic demand, only exports about 1 percent of its teas. Japanese teas tend to be more expensive than teas produced in other countries. A 1- to 2-ounce box of matcha costs about $8 in Pittsburgh, but a little goes a long, long way.

Free-style matcha

Add the green tea powder to all sorts of recipes. Stir it into yogurt smoothies or shakes. Fold it into soft ice cream. Add some to hot or cold milk and froth with an immersion blender.

For a hot cuppa, heat some water. Add a few drops of hot water to matcha in a mug or cup. Make a paste. Then add hot water. Stir and drink. Try 1/2 teaspoon to 6 ounces of water. Adjust future measurements to suit your taste.

Add 1 teaspoon matcha to the batter of any white or yellow cake or cupcake recipe. The hue will be pale green. (Yes, you do so like that tint. Remember all the pistachio cakes we used to make in the '70s?)

Sprinkle matcha on yogurt, granola, pudding or savory things like hard-cooked eggs. Green tea can be added to cooking either in powder or liquid form.

Make a matcha-banana shake or smoothie: whirl 1 teaspoon matcha, 1 banana, berries if you have them, 1 cup milk, sugar and ice cubes in a blender to make one drink.

Cold-brew iced green tea: Temperature matters. Heat brings out the bitter flavors in matcha. Ice will bring out the sweetness and the rich creamy mouth feel unique to matcha. Add 2 teaspoons or more matcha to a pitcher. Fill the pitcher halfway with ice cubes and set aside for a few hours to "steep." When ready to serve, add ice water and more ice cubes. Sweeten with simple syrup or sugar that's been muddled with mint leaves. Garnish the pitcher and glasses with sprigs of mint. The flavor is sweet and mild.

Traditional hot-brew matcha tea: Skipping the formal ceremony, do this -- Warm a tea bowl, cup or mug with hot water. Throw out the water and wipe the container dry. Put about 1/2 to 1 teaspoonful of matcha into the bowl or cup. Add a few drops of hot water to make a paste. Mix in hot water using a whisk to blend the mixture. Because "straight" hot matcha can have a bitter note, a small sweet is usually served with it.

In Tokyo, matcha colors and flavors soft-serve ice cream, creme brulee and all sorts of confections. You can expect matcha soon to go mainstream here in the States, and when it does, you'll be finding it in cereals, cookies, entrees, energy bars and many "wellness" products.

Sources

To try before you buy: Cafe Cravings on Virginia Avenue in Mt. Washington makes a yogurt-based Green Tea Chiller Smoothie, Green Tea Latte and Iced Green Tea.

To buy locally: Matcha in several sizes and price ranges is available at Tokyo, a Japanese grocery on Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside, and at many other Asian groceries. It's best to buy a small container anyway because over time, it will fade to a khaki color. Once opened, use within two to four weeks for best taste. Store matcha in your refrigerator in an air-tight, light-tight container.

To buy online:

• Matcha Source offers three grades: Kama Matcha, which has the highest concentration of amino acids; Morning Matcha, recommended for those new to matcha; Gotcha Matcha, an ingredient grade that is just right for blending into drinks and recipes. The hipsters at Matcha Source even have a Facebook page and encourage comments: matchasource.com.

• AOI Tea Co. has manufactured matcha for a century. Aoi is Japanese for "hollyhock,", and it is on the five-generation family crest of the owners, the Honda family. This is the largest organic matcha green tea cultivation in Japan. The company's fields are certified organic by the Japanese Agricultural Standards Association, with USDA Organic status soon to be conferred. Go to aoitea.com.




Green Tea Ice Cream

PG tested

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons matcha (green tea powder)
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/3 cup sugar

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream, milk and salt to a bare simmer. Whisk in the green tea powder until dissolved. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar.

Whisk 1 cup of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture to temper the eggs, then slowly pour the eggs into the saucepan, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens to a custard (it will be thick enough to coat the back of the spoon).

Immediately remove the pan from the heat and strain the custard into a medium bowl set over a bowl of ice water. Stir the custard until it is cold.

Freeze the custard in an ice cream maker until frozen, then transfer to an airtight container and freeze until hardened.

Makes about a quart.

-- Los Angeles Times




Green Tea Cupcakes

PG tested

Make these fast cupcakes when egg whites are piling up in the fridge. This is a good, no-fail recipe for kids to make. Use all-purpose flour if there's no cake flour. The texture might be a bit rougher, but the cakes will be delicious anyway.

  • 1/4 cup egg whites (about 2)
  • 1 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon matcha
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup milk

In a small bowl, let egg whites come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour bottoms of a 12-cup muffin pan or place paper liners in each cup.

Sift flour with sugar, baking powder, matcha and salt into a large bowl. Add butter, vanilla and milk. At low speed on a hand-held electric beater, beat about 30 seconds, scraping side of bowl. At medium speed, beat 2 minutes.

Add unbeaten egg whites and continue beating 1 minute more. Spoon batter evenly into 11 prepared cupcake cups. Bake about 20 minutes.

Remove to a rack to cool before frosting.

Makes 11.




Peanut Butter Frosting

PG tested

You can make a vanilla butter cream and add 1/2 teaspoon matcha to color it. But I like this peanut butter frosting with the cupcakes.

  • 1 tablespoon soft butter
  • 1/4 cup creamy or chunky peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • Colored sprinkles or
  • jimmies, optional

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and beat well with a hand-held electric mixer to a creamy consistency. Frost cupcakes and sprinkle the tops with colored sugar or jimmies.

-- Marlene Parrish


Marlene Parrish is a writer who lives on Mount Washington. Contact her at 412-481-1620 or marleneparrish@earthlink.net .


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