When people off-handedly say, “Oh, it’s an acquired taste” just before spoon-feeding you something they love eating, it’s usually a setup for you to try something that might make you wince. But by all accounts, matcha is an on-the-fringe drink that can change how you think about green tea.
“Most people are introduced to it by another [matcha] drinker,” says Naomi Rosen, owner of the online tea company Joy’s Teaspoon near Silverado Ranch. Rosen is a tea expert who since 2010 has helped Las Vegas expand its tea culture by launching the Las Vegas Tea Series and the Las Vegas Tea Fest. “There are a lot of people who draw peace and comfort from the act of making matcha, as well,” she says. “The ‘ceremony’ of making it is relaxing and beautiful to watch or participate in.”
So, what’s all the fuss? High in antioxidants, green tea in general has long been known for fighting ailments such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, cancer and diabetes. However, green tea is also sort of the cilantro of the tea world, either loved or hated for its intriguing acidity, minerality and grass-in-a-cup tendencies.
As with black and white varieties, you make green tea by steeping the goodness out of leaves that eventually get tossed in the trash. Matcha, on the other hand, is made from green tea leaves that are ground up in their entirety, forming a talcum-like green powder that is whisked with water and slowly sipped. Depending on the water temperature, water-to-powder ratio and the quality of tea, matcha is at times bitter, smooth or vegetal. And because you’re drinking whole leaves and not just the water they took a bath in, one cup equals 10 of green tea. It bursts with the amino acid L-theanine, which is known for relaxing the mind and increasing clarity. It also has more caffeine than other teas, which makes it a darn-good natural stimulant if you shun coffee or soda, and can even curb sugar cravings.
Harvesting matcha is intense. Rosen buys hers from a grower in Japan’s Izu Province to sell at JoysTeaspoon.com, and says that bushes are covered toward the end of their season to slow growth and increase their chlorophyll levels (another health benefit). Then, leaves are usually handpicked, steamed, dried, de-stemmed and ground. Wildly popular in Japan, as with other beloved artisanal foods, most matcha grown in Japan stays there, which makes it expensive to buy here ($8-$35 for 2 ounces). In Las Vegas, you can order matcha at Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf locations that serve it latte-style with milk and sugar, a bastardized version far from the original that may taste sweet, but won’t be as healthy.
“I don’t sell a lot of matcha to locals,” Rosen says, citing a “huge lack of education pertaining to matcha in general,” especially its preparation. (See below for advice on serving a traditional cup at home.) That said, “If someone tries a matcha latte from Starbucks and has an eye-opening experience and becomes a traditional matcha drinker, then I applaud those efforts.”
Making Matcha at Home
Is it as easy as tossing a tea bag in hot water? No. But it’s not rocket science, either. All you need are a few tools and a dash of patience to turn making matcha into a moment of ritualistic bliss.
Using a traditional bamboo spoon, measure two almond-shape mounds of matcha into a fine sieve placed over your bowl. Sifting helps remove clumps. (Note: The Matcha Police won’t hunt you down if you use a teacup or mug.) Add 4-6 ounces of hot (not boiling) water (about 175 degrees). The hotter the water, the more biting your brew, so be careful and experiment with whether you like matcha usucha (thin) orkoicha (thick). (Warm cow, soy or almond milk can sub for water in a creamy version.) Using a bamboo whisk, stir the matcha using an “M” motion rather than circles (this helps create more froth, which is a good thing). Then, sip … and go attack the next thing on your to-do list, since all that caffeine will help you through the rest of your day. Buy online at JoysTeaspoon.com, MatchaSource.com,TheEnglishTeaStore.com or Teavana.com.