In Japan, the confluence of old and new is striking. The culture’s collective sensibility is steeped in tradition, while its ultra-modern cities are connected by high-speed trains and clustered with sleek skyscrapers.
One of the nation’s oldest food traditions — matcha green tea — is leaving a new mark on global cities from Miami to Paris.
Introduced to Japan by way of China between the 7th and 9th centuries, matcha is deeply connected to Japanese daily life, playing an integral part in elaborate tea ceremonies. More recently, the green-tea powder has found its way into the hands of pastry chefs, who are melding the Japanese ingredient into Western-style desserts like matcha eclairs, macarons, scones, croissants and financier cakes.
“Matcha is very perfumed, and the powder’s texture is unlike any other tea,” said Gontran Cherrier, whose bakeries in Paris, Singapore and Tokyo all incorporate matcha in some pastries. “It has a beautiful color and aroma, but I use it for its slight bitterness.”
Matcha mania has descended on Miami, too, where independent tea shops, juice bars, restaurants and even chains like Starbucks and Smoothie King are getting in on the superfood action.
“It was a natural decision to add matcha, because it has a special class of antioxidants called catechins that are only found in matcha,” said Rachel Novetsky, a health adviser to Miami-based Jugofresh, which recently added a Green Genius drink containing matcha to its new beverage menu. “Matcha also adds metabolism-boosting benefits by detoxifying your system naturally and burning calories.”
Matcha’s detoxifying qualities may be diminished when combined with alcohol, but leave it to Miami to mix up matcha cocktails.
At 27 Restaurant at the Freehand in Miami Beach, the Green Acres drink features gin and matcha-infused vermouth with lemon juice and the earthy liqueur green Chartreuse.
“The unique taste of the matcha and its bitterness go really well with the botanicals of gin and notes from the Chartreuse,” said 27 co-owner Gabriel Orta, who has been working with matcha for years.
Matcha advocates point to its health benefits as well as its caffeine lift; a bowl of the powdered tea has a little more than half the caffeine of a cup of coffee, yet the jolt is more intense and longer-lasting, avoiding coffee’s jitters-to-crash potential. Zen Buddhist monks were known to drink matcha before long periods of stillness to help stay alert while remaining calm.
Matcha powder is cultivated from tea grown in the shade for more than 20 days. This imparts a mild astringency, which in tea talk means the flavor is not too sharp, and it produces extra theanine, an energizing amino acid that mitigates the negative effects of drinking too much caffeine (this component is not found in coffee). The plants create tons of chlorophyll under straw mesh canopies, and this is when the distinct green color and deep richness in flavor develops.
After steaming and drying the leaves, workers remove the veins; some leaves are then used to make tencha, or loose-leaf green tea, and others are hand-ground in a stone mill to create the fine powder known as matcha. (Japanese green tea varies greatly depending on processes like steaming, roasting, rolling and blending, but matcha is always a powder made from tencha.)
Matcha is best known for its role in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony known as chanoyu, a meditative practice that dates to the 12th century.
Tucked away on the fourth floor of an all-glass highrise in the center of Kyoto is a tearoom built by Fukujuen, a tea company established in 1790. For tea master Tomoko Sasaki, the serene space provides an escape from the pressures of life, where tea-drinking offers a restorative moment.
Sasaki, who has studied tea for 15 years and worked at Fukujuen for seven, says four pillars guide the tearoom universe: harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. There are numerous choreographed steps to the ceremony, from cleansing one’s hands to loudly slurping the last drop of tea as a sign of deference to the host.
If Japan is not the next stop on your journey, Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach hosts “The Way of Tea,” an interactive tea ceremony demonstration, one Saturday a month at the Tea House, 4000 Morikami Park Rd. The next class is scheduled for April 11.
Additionally, there is a Buddhist community center known as Zen Village in Coconut Grove, 3750 Main Hwy., that hosts donation-based tea ceremonies as well as master classes for those looking to sharpen their skills. Visit zenvillage.org for more information.
At the stylish tearoom and restaurant Small Tea, 205 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, matcha is served and sold by the gram along with the tools for making it at home. The store sources its matcha from China, adding a high-altitude tea from Kenya that has “three times the antioxidant value of regular green tea,” owner-partner Daniel Benoudiz said, who proudly notes that his matcha is ceremonial-grade.
“Tea lovers and matcha lovers really appreciate it,” he said. “And new matcha drinkers have been impressed when they try it because of its bold taste, and then they got hooked.”
Galena Mosovich is Miami.com’s visual arts and nightlife editor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teavana: Multiple locations, including Aventura Mall, Village at Merrick Park, Sawgrass Mills and Westfield Broward Mall; teavana.com.
Small Tea: 205 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables; facebook.com/smallteaco. Small Tea sells matcha for $5.50 an ounce and a matcha tea set for $38.
Zen Village: 3750 Main Hwy., Coconut Grove; zenvillage.org.
Fukujuen: Kyoto Flagship Store, Shijo Tominokoji, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan; fukujuen-kyotohonten.com.
Cran-Lemon Tea Muffins
2 cups white whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons matcha green tea powder
Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 cup coconut oil, melted (see note)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a muffin pan with vegetable oil spray or paper muffin cups. In one mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and matcha powder. In another bowl, combine eggs, lemon juice and zest, honey and buttermilk. Pour wet mixture into dry, then gently mix in melted coconut oil. Fold in cranberries. Batter will be lumpy. Scoop an equal amount of mixture into each muffin cup and bake in preheated oven 18 to 20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on rack about 10 minutes and then serve. Makes 12 muffins.
Note: Instead of coconut oil, you can use butter for a richer taste.
Source: Kiss Me Organics, tested by Alison Sherwood.
350 grams flour
15 grams baking powder
100 grams powdered sugar
5 grams matcha powder
30 grams butter, melted
185 grams whole milk (about 3/4 cup)
1 egg white, slightly beaten
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, sugar and matcha in a mixing bowl. With mixer on, add butter and milk. After dough forms, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to about 3/4-inch thickness. Cut dough into 1 1/2-inch squares and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush tops of dough with egg. Bake about 22-25 minutes.
Source: Gontran Cherrier.
1 1/2 grams matcha tea powder, about 1 teaspoon (see note)
1/4 cup fresh water
Add matcha to a small bowl. Bring water to a boil, let it cool briefly to about 175 degrees, then add to bowl with tea. Rapidly whisk with a bamboo tea whisk in a up-and-down pattern until mixture becomes frothy. Sip immediately, or add 3/4 cup warm milk to make a latte.