What is matcha tea?
Matcha tea is a Japanese variety of green tea that undergoes less processing after harvesting than regular green tea. The plants are moved into the shade a few weeks before the leaves are harvested. This encourages the plant to produce more chlorophyll, leading to a brilliant green colour. The leaves are then harvested and steamed to prevent the colour darkening, the stalks and stems are removed and it is ground to a fine, brilliant green powder.
This unique form not only makes an excellent instant beverage but also lends itself readily to incorporation in a wide variety of different types of foods. It is popular in Japan as an ingredient in wagashi, a sweetened mixture of rice powder and bean paste that is served as candy. It is also used in elaborate mousse cakes and ice creams to add both colour and flavour, and more recently has been added to cookies and doughnuts.
However for the less confident cook, here are some easier ways, both traditional and non-traditional to kick start your journey into cooking with matcha tea.
Choosing matcha tea
The Japanese tea ceremony has at its centre only the highest-grade matcha. Ceremony Grade Kama Matcha Tea is intense and has a balance of sweetness and astringency. If you are new to matcha then it is probably best first experienced as a drink and by choosing a high-grade product such as that offered by Art of Tea or Matcha Source to start off with you’ll then be in a better position to judge your matcha culinary efforts.
I would strongly advise against purchasing cheap matcha: its colour and flavour will be muddy and dull rather than brilliant and vibrant. This is often as a result of using Chinese green tea: a much greater quantity of this is produced, it has less stringent growing conditions and typically it does not have the stalks removed because it will be steeped and then discarded. All these factors mean that, while there is nothing wrong with Chinese green tea, it is quite a different product and therefore it is cheaper.
When using matcha as a cooking ingredient, choose a high-quality cooking or kitchen grade matcha from a reputable supplier in order to be certain you’re buying the real thing. Cooking grade matcha is cheaper than ceremonial grade and tends to have a stronger flavour in order to hold up against other ingredients.
An alternative to powdered matcha
Although this powdered form is the traditional preparation of matcha tea, it is not the only one. If you find the idea of powdered tea slightly out of your comfort zone, we recently came across this intriguing preparation from Whittard of Chelsea: Matcha Guricha loose tea. It successfully combines the flavour of matcha with the ease of use of a whole leaf tea. This Matcha Guricha is formed by coating Guricha (a type of Japanese green tea) in matcha powder. The result is a tea that you can brew in an infuser just like a regular green tea but has the flavour of powdered matcha. Instead of the creamy, frothy result obtained from traditional matcha, this yields a beautiful clear bright green liquid which, I think, works better with vinegar and also in sorbets as it is crystal clear.
Which foods go well with matcha tea?
Matcha tea has an astringent, full-bodied, refreshing character with a slightly sweet aftertaste. Generally, green teas like matcha, are a beautiful accompaniment to fish, seafood and chicken dishes. The delicate flavours are in perfect balance with each other. It also goes well with eggs, with most vegetables, with lighter fruits like strawberries and raspberries, with white chocolate and with cream. It makes excellent smoothies, sorbets, granitas and ice creams, giving the result a brilliant green colour.
Making matcha tea the traditional way
The traditional method uses a bamboo whisk and a tea bowl:
- Sift 1 to 2 teaspoons of matcha into the bowl using a small sifter.
- Add a small amount, around 50 ml (2 oz) hot water: it should be just off the boil but not boiling as you would have for black tea.
- Whisk vigorously until the tea is frothy.
- Top up with water to achieve the desired strength and consistency.
Making matcha tea in a shaker
A quicker, easier and less messy approach is to use a matcha shaker like Art of Tea’s Shaker Bottle. Used with their organic MatchaSticks ensures the perfect amount of matcha every time without needing to measure or sift, and the shaker has a fine mesh screen which helps to aerate the matcha for a perfectly smooth, frothy result.
These methods can also be used to add a zingy fresh green hit to other beverages. It makes an excellent partner to hot chocolate, especially white hot chocolate. Try adding it to hot plant milks such as almond, coconut or oat milk for a super-healthy vegan treat.
Matcha is slow to dissolve in cold water but can be used to make cold beverages like matcha lemonade or limeade by making it with hot water, allowing it to cool, refrigerate and then add to the fruit juice of your choice, plus sugar to taste if you wish.
Now some recipes.
The basic idea is to combine matcha with equal quantities of table salt, rock salt, or any other salt you would use for flavouring. You can just mix them together but you’ll get a much better result if you use a blender, or a coffee or spice grinder. Just one or two quick pulses are needed to combine all the ingredients.
This mix can then be augmented with other dry flavourings such as five spice powder, powdered ginger, chilli powder, pepper or wasabi powder. Used in place of ordinary salt in your recipes, this is an easy way of experimenting with adding matcha flavour to foods.
Matcha mayonnaise: makes 240 ml/ 1/2 pint/ 1 cup
- 240 ml/ 1/2 pint/ 1 cup good quality or homemade mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon freshly minced fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon freshly minced fresh lemongrass
- 2 teaspoons freshly chopped chives, or green spring onions (scallions)
- 2 teaspoons matcha green tea powder
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- Put all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk together.
- Cover and chill in the refrigerator for an hour.
Serve with seafood or as a dip with raw vegetables. It also goes well with chicken in a sandwich, or even with bacon and lettuce for a twist on the classic BLT.
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoons sesame oil (or olive oil)
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce (I use reduced sodium soy sauce)
- 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon finely minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon honey
- A good pinch of chilli flakes
- 1 tablespoon matcha powder
Combine the ingredients in a bowl and whisk thoroughly. Alternatively, place the ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake thoroughly. This dressing will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Once you’ve practised with some basic recipes you’ll see just how easy it is to use matcha as a cooking ingredient, and how versatile it is in combination with both sweet and savoury flavours.