Next door at Serita Coffee, our matcha latte is an expression of our tastes from home. Most of us are Japan natives here at Commune and crave what many in the States may see as a hip food craze. And it’s no wonder. From matcha ice cream to Lady M’s mille crepe cakes to Matchabar’s energy drinks, matcha has become more popular than ever before that it’s even got us asking, “What is the deal with matcha?”
Steeped in history, we explored its origins and crossover from beloved treat to growing trend.
Long before its gastronomic fervor, matcha was the drink of choice for meditating monks and the aristocratic elite. Tea had already been an import from China by traveling Buddhist priests, but powdered green tea, along with Zen Buddism, was adapted later on by Japanese monk Eisai in 1191. Grown and produced in Kyoto, the tea leaves were roasted, grinded into a fine powder, then blended into hot water with a whisk. For monks who spend hours meditating, the health and caffeine benefits were certainly a perk!
From the very first seedling, growing matcha is methodical. The groves of tea leaves are shaded to allow the chlorophyll and amino acids to increase its brilliant green color and flavor, respectively. As a means to gain sunlight, the young leaves grow wider but thin. They are plucked, steamed to halt fermentation, then sifted and dried, and finally milled to its fine powder form. Even with the modernization of technology and hand-picking replaced by machines (though some plantations still do it by hand, it's rare), the actual stone grinding hasn't compromised its process. Many now electric, the stone grinders are constantly moving at a steady pace all day to produce only 30 grams of matcha.
Infusing principles of wabisabi, the Japanese tea ceremony was formed to honor Zen principles of spirituality, simplicity and natural space. Soon the ritual became high culture as it was included in the homes and gardens of noblemen.
The tradition has continued to be enjoyed in the realm of cherished ritual. The etiquette in chado (literally "way of tea") and its elaborate simplicity is certainly an awe-inspiring experience. Matcha is prepared two ways - "koicha" a thick blend of more powder to hot water and "usucha" a frothy thinner blend. Both are meant to underline the true flavor of matcha while creating a moment of serenity. A slurp of the last drop is customary for not only showing appreciation of the ceremony and preparation but to inspect the bottom of the chawan (tea bowl) for respect of the craftsman's pottery work.
Aside from its ceremonial presentation, matcha has been consumed for health and mixed in desserts for decades in Japan. With the production of matcha becoming more efficient and available, matcha could be bought at a lower price and global franchises in Japan like Starbucks and snack companies began to serve matcha latte and matcha flavored Pocky and Kit-Kat bars. Soon matcha was not only a beloved national flavor, but a marketable export.
Rich in antioxidants and uplifting caffiene, health nuts have flocked to enjoy the many benefits of matcha as a coffee alternative. However as Japanese cuisine has become more familiar on the American palette and fused with favorite sweets, we've emerged into the right time and place for innovators, patissiers and baristas to show the variety of uses of matcha. For foodies, the entrance of the word "umami" in culinary jargon has everyone curious how the sweet and bitterness of matcha can reveal itself in confectionary recipes. The allure of matcha's history and its unmistakable flavor continues to captivate everyone.
For traditionalists, venture to Atelier TD for top-notch blends in Williamsburg. Owner, tea specialist and graduate of legendary tea house Urasenke, Stefen Ramirez educates his guests about the wonders of tea. Be sure to sign up for their newsletter for tea tasting events and follow them on Instagram for incredible photos!
Whether you're fascinated by its culture, wellness or culinary versatility, there's so many ways to incorporate matcha in your everyday. Try out this delicious granola recipe for starting out the day with matcha!